Anne Krauss: Farewell and Adieu, November 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: November 11, 2018

Weather Data from home

Conditions at 1615

Latitude: 43° 09’ N

Longitude: 77° 36’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1027 mbar

Air Temperature: 3° C

Wind Speed: SW 10 km/h

Humidity: 74%

 

Science and Technology Log

 

Participating in the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey provided a porthole into several different career paths. Each role on board facilitated and contributed to the scientific research being conducted. Daily longline fishing activities involved working closely with the fishermen on deck. I was in awe of their quick-thinking adaptability, as changing weather conditions or lively sharks sometimes required a minor change in plan or approach. Whether tying intricate knots in the monofilament or displaying their familiarity with the various species we caught, the adept fishermen drew upon their seafaring skill sets, allowing the set and haulback processes to go smoothly and safely.

Chief Boatswain Tim Martin deploying the longline gear. The sun is shining in the background.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin deploying the longline gear.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin is preparing to retrieve the longline gear. A grapnel and his hand are visible against the water.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin preparing to retrieve the longline gear with a grapnel

Even if we were on opposite work shifts, overlapping meal times provided the opportunity to gain insight into some of the careers on board. As we shared meals, many people spoke of their shipboard roles with sentiments that were echoed repeatedly: wanted a career that I could be proud ofa sense of adventureopportunity to see new places and give backcombining adventure and sciencewanted to protect the resources we have

I had the opportunity to speak with some of the engineers and fishermen about their onboard roles and career paths. It was interesting to learn that many career paths were not direct roads, but winding, multilayered journeys. Some joined NOAA shortly after finishing their education, while others joined after serving in other roles. Some had experience with commercial fishing, and some had served on other NOAA vessels. Many are military veterans. With a name fit for a swashbuckling novel set on the high seas, Junior Unlicensed Engineer Jack Standfast, a United States Navy veteran, explained how the various departments on board worked together. These treasured conversations with the Engineering Department and Deck Department were enlightening, a reminder that everyone has a story to tell. I very much appreciate their patience, kindness, and willingness to share their expertise and experiences.

Hard hats, PFDs, and gloves belonging to the Deck Department are hanging on hooks.
Hard hats, PFDs, and gloves belonging to the Deck Department
Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway standing on deck.
The ship had a small library of books, and several crew members mentioned reading as a favorite way to pass the time at sea. Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway shared several inspiring and philosophical websites that he enjoyed reading.

 

Lead Fisherman and Divemaster Chris Nichols:

In an unfamiliar setting, familiar topics surfaced in conversations, revealing similarities and common interests. Despite working in very different types of jobs, literacy was a popular subject in many of the conversations I had on the ship. I spoke to some of the crew members about how literacy factored into their daily lives and career paths. Some people described their family literacy routines at home and shared their children’s favorite bedtime stories, while others fondly remembered formative stories from their own childhood. Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols recalled the influence that Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling had on him as a young reader. He described how exciting stories such as Captains Courageous and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer inspired a sense of adventure and contributed to pursuing a unique career path. Coming from a family of sailors, soldiers, and adventurers, Chris conveyed the sense of pride that stems from being part of “something bigger.” In this case, a career that combines adventure, conservation, and preservation. His experiences with the United States Navy, commercial fishing, NOAA, and scuba diving have taken him around the world.

Echoing the themes of classic literature, Chris recommended some inspiring nonfiction titles and podcasts that feature true stories about human courage, overcoming challenges, and the search for belonging. As a United States Navy veteran, Chris understood the unique reintegration needs that many veterans face once they’ve completed their military service. He explained the need for a “tribe” found within the structure of the military or a ship. Chris described the teamwork on the ship as “pieces of a puzzle” in a “well-oiled machine.”

A pre-dive safety briefing takes place on the ship's bridge.
Led by Divemaster Chris Nichols, also the Oregon II’s Lead Fisherman and MedPIC (Medical Person in Charge), the team gathered on the bridge (the ship’s navigation and command center) to conduct a pre-dive operation safety briefing. Nichols appears in a white t-shirt, near center.

Chris also shared some advice for students. He felt it was easier for students to become good at math and to get better at reading while younger and still in school. Later in life, the need for math may resurface outside of school: “The things you want to do later…you’ll need that math.” As students grow up to pursue interests, activities, and careers, they will most likely need math and literacy to help them reach their goals. Chris stressed that attention to detail—and paying attention to all of the details—is extremely important. Chris explained the importance of remembering the steps in a process and paying attention to the details. He illustrated the importance of knowing what to do and how to do it, whether it is in class, during training, or while learning to dive.

Chris’ recommendations:

  • Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
  • Team Never Quit Podcast with Marcus Luttrell & David Rutherford
The sun rises over the Gulf of Mexico.
Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin:

Before joining NOAA, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin served in the United States Coast Guard for fifteen years (active duty and reserves). After serving in the military, Chuck found himself working in education. While teaching as a substitute teacher, he saw an ad in the newspaper for NOAA careers and applied. Chuck joined NOAA in 2000, and he has served on NOAA Ships Bell M. Shimada, Pisces, Gordon Gunter, and Oregon II.

Echoing Chris Nichols’ description of puzzle pieces in a team, Chuck further explained the hierarchy and structure of the Deck Department on the Oregon II. The Deck Department facilitates the scientific research by deploying and retrieving the longline fishing gear while ensuring a safe working environment. From operating the winches and cranes, to hauling in some of the larger sharks on the shark cradle, the fishermen perform a variety of tasks that require both physical and mental dexterity. Chuck explained that in the event of an unusual situation, the Deck Department leader may work with the Bridge Officer and the Science watch leader and step in as safety dictates.

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin
Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin. Photo courtesy of Chuck Godwin.

In addition to his ability to make a fantastic pot of coffee, Chuck has an impish sense of humor that made our twelve-hour work shifts even more interesting and entertaining. Over a late-night cup of coffee, I found out that we shared some similar interests. Chuck attended the University of Florida, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Ecology. He has an interest in writing and history, particularly military history. He co-authored a published paper on white-tailed deer. An avid reader, Chuck usually completes two or three books during a research cruise leg. He reads a wide range of genres, including sci-fi, westerns, biographies, military history, scientific texts, and gothic horror. Some of his favorite authors include R.A. Salvatore, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Darwin. In his free time, he enjoys roleplaying games that encourage storytelling and creativity. For Chuck, these adventures are not about the end result, but the plotlines and how the players get there. Like me, Chuck has done volunteer work with veterans. He also values giving back and educating others about the importance of science and the environment, particularly water and the atmosphere. Chuck’s work with NOAA supports the goal of education and conservation to “preserve what we have.”

 

 

Personal Log

Far from home, these brief conversations with strangers seemed almost familiar as we discussed shared interests, goals, and experiences. As I continue to search for my own tribe and sense of belonging, I will remember these puzzle pieces in my journey.

A high flyer and buoy float on the surface of the water.
A high flyer and buoy mark one end of the longline.

My path to Teacher at Sea was arduous; the result of nearly ten years of sustained effort. The adventure was not solely about the end result, but very much about plotlines, supporting (and supportive) characters, and how I got there: hard work, persistence, grit, and a willingness to fight for the opportunity. Every obstacle and roadblock that I overcame. As a teacher, the longline fishing experience allowed me to be a student once again, learning new skills and complex processes for the first time. Applying that lens to the classroom setting, I am even more aware of the importance of clear instructions, explanations, patience, and encouragement. Now that the school year is underway, I find myself spending more time explaining, modeling, demonstrating, and correcting; much of the same guidance I needed on the ship. If grading myself on my longline fishing prowess, I measured my learning this way:

If I improved a little bit each day by remembering one more thing or forgetting one less thing…

If I had a meaningful exchange with someone on board…

If I learned something new by witnessing natural phenomena or acquired new terminology…

If I encountered an animal I’d never seen in person, then the day was a victory.

And I encountered many creatures I’d never seen before. Several species of sharks: silky, smooth-hound, sandbar, Atlantic sharpnose, blacknose, blacktip, great hammerhead, lemon, tiger, and bull sharks. A variety of other marine life: groupers, red snapper, hake, and blueline tilefish. Pelicans and other seabirds. Sharksuckers, eels, and barracudas.

The diminutive creatures were just as interesting as the larger species we saw. Occasionally, the circle hooks and monofilament would bring up small hitchhikers from the depths. Delicate crinoids and brittle stars. Fragments of coral, scraps of seaweed and sponges, and elegant, intricate shells. One particularly fascinating find: a carrier shell from a marine snail (genus: Xenophora) that cements fragments of shells, rocks, and coral to its own shell. The evenly spaced arrangement of shells seems like a deliberately curated, artistic effort: a tiny calcium carbonate collage or shell sculpture. These tiny hints of what’s down there were just as thrilling as seeing the largest shark because they assured me that there’s so much more to learn about the ocean.

A spiral-shaped shell belonging to a marine snail.
At the base of the spiral-shaped shell, the occupant had cemented other shells at regular intervals.
The spiral-shaped shell belonging to a marine snail.
The underside of the shell.

Like the carrier snail’s shell collection, the small moments and details are what will stay with me:

Daily activities on the ship, and learning more about a field that has captivated my interest for years…

Seeing glimpses of the water column and the seafloor through the GoPro camera attached to the CTD…

Hearing from my aquatic co-author while I was at sea was a surreal role reversal…

Fishing into the middle of the night and watching the ink-black water come alive with squid, jellies, flying fish, dolphins, sailfish, and sharks…

Watching the ever-shifting moon, constellations, clouds, sunsets, and sunrise…

Listening to the unique and almost musical hum of the ship’s machinery and being lulled to sleep by the waves…

And the sharks. The breathtaking, perfectly designed sharks. Seeing and handling creatures that I feel strongly about protecting reinforced my mission to educate, protect, and conserve. The experience reinvigorated my connection to the ocean and reiterated why I choose to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Capturing the experience through the Teacher at Sea blog reinforced my enjoyment of writing, photography, and creative pursuits.

 

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss looks out at the ocean.
Participating in Teacher at Sea provided a closer view of some of my favorite things: sharks, ships, the sea, and marine science.
The Gloucester Fisherman's Memorial Statue
The Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial Statue

In my introductory post, I wrote about formative visits to New England as a young child. Like so many aspects of my first glimpses of the ocean and maritime life, the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial statue intrigued me and sparked my young imagination. At that age, I didn’t fully grasp the solemn nature of the tribute, so the somber sculpture and memorial piqued my interest in fishing and seafaring instead. As wild as my imagination was, my preschool self could never imagine that I would someday partake in longline fishing as part of a Shark/Red Snapper Survey. My affinity for marine life and all things maritime remains just as strong today. Other than being on and around the water, docks and shipyards are some of my favorite places to explore. Living, working, and learning alongside fishermen was an honor.

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss visiting a New England dock as a young child.
I was drawn to the sea at a young age.
Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss in Gloucester
This statue inspired an interest in fishing and all things maritime. After experiencing longline fishing for myself, I revisited the statue to pay my respects.
A commercial longline fisherman's hand holds on to a chain, framed against the water.
A New England commercial longline fisherman’s hand

Water and its fascinating inhabitants have a great deal to teach us. The Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico reminded me of the notion that: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Whether misattributed to Plutarch or Yeats or the wisdom of the Internet, the quote conveys the interest, curiosity, and appreciation I hope to spark in others as I continue to share my experience with my students, colleagues, and the wider community.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in Teacher at Sea, and I am also grateful to those who ignited a fire in me along the way. Thank you to those who supported my journey and adventure. I greatly appreciate your encouragement, support, interest, and positive feedback. Thank you for following my adventure!

A collage of images from the ship. The shapes of the images spell out "Oregon II."
Thank you to NOAA Ship Oregon II and Teacher at Sea!
The sun shines on the water.
The sun shines on NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Did You Know?

Xenophora shells grow in a spiral, and different species tend to collect different items. The purpose of self-decoration is to provide camouflage and protection from predators. The additional items can also strengthen the snail’s shell and provide more surface area to prevent the snail from sinking into the soft substrate.

Recommended Reading

Essentially two books in one, I recommend the fact-filled Under Water, Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. The text was translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

Cover of Under Earth
Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; published by Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2016

One half of the book burrows into the Earth, exploring terrestrial topics such as caves, paleontology, tectonic plates, and mining. Municipal matters such as underground utilities, water, natural gas, sewage, and subways are included. Under Earth is a modern, nonfiction, and vividly illustrated Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Cover of Under Water
Under Water written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; published by Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2016

Diving deeper, Under Water explores buoyancy, pressure, marine life, ocean exploration, and several other subjects. My favorite pages discuss diving feats while highlighting a history of diving innovations, including early diving suit designs and recent atmospheric diving systems (ADS). While Under Earth covers more practical topics, Under Water elicits pure wonder, much like the depths themselves.

Better suited for older, more independent readers (or enjoyed as a shared text), the engaging illustrations and interesting facts are easily devoured by curious children (and adults!). Fun-fact finders and trivia collectors will enjoy learning more about earth science and oceanography. Information is communicated through labels, cross sections, cutaway diagrams, and sequenced explanations.

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Krauss: Tooth Truth and Tempests, September 30, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 30, 2018

Weather Data from Home

Conditions at 1515

Latitude: 43° 09’ N

Longitude: 77° 36’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1026.3 mbar

Air Temperature: 14° C

Wind Speed: S 10 km/h

Humidity: 71%

 

Science and Technology Log

My students sent me off with many shark questions before I left for the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. Much of their curiosity revolved around one of the most fear-inducing features of a shark: their teeth! Students wanted to know:

Why do sharks eat fish?
How and why do sharks have so many teeth?
Why do sharks have different kinds of teeth?
Do sharks eat each other? What hunts sharks, besides other sharks?
And one of my favorite student questions: Why do sharks eat regular people, but not scientists?

Most people think of sharks as stalking, stealthy, steel-grey hunters. With a variety of colors, patterns, fin shapes, and body designs, sharks do not look the same. They do not eat the same things, or even get their food the same way. Instead, they employ a variety of feeding strategies. Some gentle giants, like the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), are filter feeders. They strain tiny plants and animals, as well as small fish, from the water. Others, such as the angel shark (Squatina spp.), rely on their flattened bodies, camouflage, and the lightning-fast element of surprise. Instead of actively pursuing their prey, they wait for food to come to them and ambush their meal. These suction-feeding sharks have tiny, pointed, rearward-facing teeth to trap the prey that has been sucked into the shark’s mouth. This video demonstrates how the angel shark uses clever camouflaging and special adaptations to get a meal:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/videos/shark-kill-zone/angel-shark-stealth-2838.aspx

A circle hook is held up against the sky. The horizon is in the background.
Circle hooks are used in longline fishing. Each hook is baited with mackerel (Scomber scombrus).
A pile of frozen mackerel used as bait.
Frozen mackerel (Scomber scombrus) is used as bait.
Circle hooks are placed along the edges of plastic barrels. The hooks are connected to thick, plastic fishing line called monofilament.
The circle hooks and gangions are stored in barrels. The hooks are attached to thick, plastic fishing line called monofilament.
100 circle hooks baited with mackerel. The baited hooks are placed on the edges of barrels, which are sitting on deck.
All 100 circle hooks were baited with mackerel, but sharks also eat a variety of other fish.

The sharks we caught through longline fishing methods were attracted to the Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) that we used as bait. Depending on the species of shark and its diet, shark teeth can come in dozens of different shapes and sizes. Instead of just two sets of teeth like we have, a shark has many rows of teeth. Each series is known as a tooth file. As its teeth fall out, the shark will continually grow and replace teeth throughout its lifetime—a “conveyor belt” of new teeth. Some sharks have 5 rows of teeth, while the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) may have as many as 50 rows of teeth!

The sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) usually has about 14 rows of teeth. They may lose teeth every ten days or so, and most sharks typically lose at least one tooth a week. Why? Their teeth may get stuck in their prey, which can be tough and bony. When you don’t have hands, and need to explore the world with your mouth, it’s easy to lose or break a tooth now and then. Throughout its lifetime, a shark may go through over 30,000 teeth. The shark tooth fairy must be very busy!

A sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) tooth with serrated edges.
Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) tooth. The sandbar shark is distinguishable by its tall, triangular first dorsal fin. Sharks’ teeth are equally as hard as human teeth, but they are not attached to the gums by a root, like human teeth. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA

Similar to our dining utensils, sharks’ teeth are designed for cutting, spearing, and/or crushing. The tooth shape depends upon the shark’s diet. Sharks’ teeth are not uniform (exactly the same), so the size and shape of the teeth vary, depending on their location in the upper and lower jaws. Some sharks have long, angled, and pointed teeth for piercing and spearing their food. Similar to a fork, this ensures that their slippery meals don’t escape. Other sharks and rays have strong, flattened teeth for crushing the hard shells of their prey. These teeth work like a nutcracker or shellfish-cracking tool. Still others, like the famously fierce-looking teeth of the great white, are triangular and serrated. Like a steak knife, these teeth are used for tearing, sawing, and cutting into their prey.

A shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) tooth is narrow and pointed.
A shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) tooth is narrow and pointed. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA
Smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) teeth are flattened for crushing prey.
Smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) teeth are flattened for crushing prey. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA
A silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) tooth has serrated edges.
A silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) tooth has serrated edges. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA
A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) tooth is jagged and serrated.
A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) tooth is jagged and serrated. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA

Link to more shark tooth images: https://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/rcb/photogallery/shark_teeth.html

Beyond their teeth, other body features contribute to a shark’s ability to bite, crush, pursue, or ambush their prey. The powerful muscles that control their jaws and swimming ability, the position of their mouth, and the shape of their caudal (tail) fin all influence how a shark gets its food. Unlike humans, sharks do not chew their food. They swallow their food whole, or use their teeth to rip, shred, crush, and tear their food into smaller chunks that the shark can swallow. No need to floss or brush after a meal: sharks’ teeth contain fluoride, which helps to prevent cavities and decay.

Some people may find it hard to swallow the idea that sharks aren’t mindless menaces, but shark encounters are quite rare. Sharks have many extraordinary adaptations that make them efficient swimmers and hunters of other marine life, not humans. Whenever sharks come up in conversation, I am careful to dispel myths about these captivating creatures, trying to replace fear with facts (and hopefully, curiosity and respect). Since sharks can’t talk, I’m happy to advocate for them. Despite the way sharks are negatively portrayed in the media, I assure my students that sharks far prefer to eat bony fish, smaller sharks, skates, rays, octopus, squid, bivalves, crustaceans, marine mammals, plankton, and other marine life over humans. Instead of fear, I try to instill awareness of the vital role sharks fulfill in the ecosystem. We are a far greater threat to them, and they require our respect and protection.

For more information on sharks: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sharkseat.html

 

Personal Log

As storms and hurricanes tear across the Gulf of Mexico, causing destruction and devastation, my thoughts are with the impacted areas. Before my Teacher at Sea placement, I never thought I’d spend time in the region, so it’s interesting to see now-familiar locations on the news and weather maps. One of my favorite aspects of being at sea was watching the sky: recognizing constellations while fishing at night, gazing at glorious, melting sunsets, and observing storm clouds gathering in the distance. The colors and clouds were ever-changing, a reminder of the dynamic power of nature.

A colorful sunset on the Gulf of Mexico.
The sky was vibrant.
Storm clouds gather over Tampa, Florida.
Storm clouds gathered over Tampa, Florida.
Darkening clouds over the water.
The clouds clustered around Tampa. The city looked very small on the horizon.
Darkening clouds over the water.
As the rain started, the clouds darkened.
Darkening clouds over the water.
The colors changed and darkened as lightning started in the distance.
Darkening clouds over the water.
Dramatic dark clouds and lightning.

Watching the recent storm coverage on TV reinforced the importance of strong and accurate communication skills. Similar to a sidebar on the page, much of the supplementary storm information was printed on the screen. For someone who needed to evacuate quickly or was worried about loved ones in the area, this printed information could be crucial. As I listened to the reporters’ updates on the storm damage, aware that they were most likely reading from scripted notes, I was reminded of the challenge of conveying complex science through everyday language.

Two maps show the Gulf of Mexico.
The top image from Google Maps shows one research station where we were longline fishing in August (marked in red). The bottom satellite image shows Hurricane Michael moving through the same area. Image credits: Map of the Gulf of Mexico. Google Maps, 17 August 2018, maps.google.com; satellite image: NOAA via Associated Press.

One might assume that a typical day at sea only focused on science, technology, and math. In fact, all school subjects surfaced at some point in my experience at sea. For example, an understanding of geography helped me to understand where we were sailing and how our location influenced the type of wildlife we were seeing. People who were more familiar with the Gulf of Mexico shared some facts about the cultural, economic, and historical significance of certain locations, shedding light on our relationship with water.

Fishing is an old practice steeped in tradition, but throughout the ship, modern navigation equipment made it possible to fish more efficiently by plotting our locations while avoiding hazards such as natural formations and other vessels. Feats of engineering provided speed, power, drinkable water, and technological conveniences such as GPS, air conditioning, and Wi-Fi. In contrast to the natural evolution of sharks, these artificial adaptations provided many advantages at sea. To utilize the modern technology, however, literacy was required to input data and interpret the information on the dozens of monitors on board. Literacy and strong communication skills were required to understand and convey data to others. Reading and critical thinking allowed us to interpret maps and data, understand charts and graphs, and access news articles about the red tide we encountered.

I witnessed almost every person on board applying literacy skills throughout their day. Whether they were reading and understanding crucial written communication, reading instructions, selecting a dinner option from the menu, or referencing a field guide, they were applying reading strategies. In the offices and work spaces on board, there was no shortage of instructional manuals, safe operating procedures, informational binders, or wildlife field guides.

Writing helped to organize important tasks and schedules. To manage and organize daily tasks and responsibilities, many people utilized sticky notes and checklists. Computer and typing skills were also important. Some people were inputting data, writing research papers and projects, sharing their work through social media, or simply responding to work-related emails. The dive operation that I observed started as a thoroughly written dive plan. All of these tasks required clear and accurate written communication.

Junior Unlicensed Engineer (JUE) Jack Standfast holds a small notebook used for recording daily tasks and responsibilities.
Junior Unlicensed Engineer (JUE) Jack Standfast carried a small notebook in his pocket, recording the various engineering tasks he’d completed throughout the day.

Each day, I saw real-life examples of the strong ties between science and language arts. Recording accurate scientific data required measurement, weight, and observational skills, but literacy was required to read and interpret the data recording sheets. Neat handwriting and careful letter spacing were important for recording accurate data, reinforcing why we practice these skills in school. To ensure that a species was correctly identified and recorded, spelling could be an important factor. Throughout the experience, writing was essential for taking interview notes and brainstorming blog ideas, as well as following the writing process for my blog posts. If I had any energy left at the end of my day (usually around 2:00 AM), I consulted one of my shark field guides to read more about the intriguing species we saw.

 

Did You Know?

No need for a teething ring: Sharks begin shedding their teeth before they are even born. Shark pups (baby sharks) are born with complete sets of teeth. Sharks aren’t mammals, so they don’t rely upon their mothers for food after they’re born. They swim away and must fend for themselves, so those born-to-bite teeth come in handy.

Recommended Reading

Smart About Sharks written and illustrated by Owen Davey

Appropriate for older readers, the clever, comprehensive text offers interesting facts, tidbits, and trivia. The book dives a bit deeper to go beyond basic shark facts and knowledge. I’ve read hundreds of shark books, and I appreciated learning something new. The text doesn’t shy away from scientific terminology and concepts, such as phylogeny (eight orders of sharks and representative species). The facts reflect recent research findings on shark behavior. Lesser-known species are included, highlighting the diversity in body shapes, sizes, and specialized features. From a design standpoint, the aesthetically appealing illustrations are stylized, colorful, and engaging. Simple infographics provide explanations of complex ideas. Fact meets fiction in a section about shark mythology from around the world. The book concludes with a discussion of threats to sharks, as well as ocean conservation tips.

The cover of Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey.
Smart About Sharks written and illustrated by Owen Davey; published by Flying Eye Books, New York, 2016

 

Anne Krauss: The Reel Whirl’d, September 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 26, 2018

Weather Data from the Air

Conditions at 0634

Altitude: 9585 meters

Outside Temperature: -38 ℃

Distance to Destination: 362 km

Tail Wind: 0 km/h

Ground Speed: 837 km/h

(While NOAA Ship Oregon II has many capabilities, flight isn’t one of them. These were the conditions on my flight home.)

Science and Technology Log

The idea of placing an elementary school teacher on a Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey seems like a reality show premise, and I couldn’t believe that it was my surreal reality. Several times a day, I took a moment to appreciate my surroundings and the amazing opportunity to get so close to my favorite creatures: sharks!

Anyone who knows me is aware of my obsession with sharks. Seeing several sharks up close was a hallowed, reverential experience. Reading about sharks, studying them through coursework, and seeing them on TV or in an aquarium is one thing. Being only a few feet away from a large tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) or a great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) is quite another. Seeing the sharks briefly out of the water provided a quick glimpse of their sinewy, efficient design…truly a natural work of art. Regardless of size, shape, or species, the sharks were powerful, feisty, and awe-inspiring. The diversity in design is what makes sharks so fascinating!

A tiger shark at the surface.
Even just a quick peek of this tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) reveals her strong muscles and powerful, flexible design.
A large tiger shark lies on a support framework made from reinforced netting. The shark and the structure are being lifted out of the water.
This female tiger shark was large enough to require the shark cradle. The reinforced netting on the cradle provided support for the 10.5 foot shark.
The snout and eye of a sandbar shark being secured on a netted shark cradle.
The shape of this sandbar shark’s (Carcharhinus plumbeus) head and eye is quite different from the tiger shark’s distinct design.
A great hammerhead's cephalofoil.
Even in the dark, the shape of the great hammerhead’s (Sphyrna mokarran) cephalofoil is unmistakable.

I envied the remora, or sharksucker, that was attached to one of the sharks we caught. Imagine being able to observe what the shark had been doing, prior to encountering the bait on our longline fishing gear. What did the shark and its passenger think of their strange encounter with us? Where would the shark swim off to once it was released back into the water? If only sharks could talk. I had many questions about how the tagging process impacts sharks. As we started catching and tagging sharks, I couldn’t help but think of a twist on the opening of MTV’s The Real World: “…To find out what happens…when sharks stop being polite…and start getting reeled.

Sadly for my curiosity, sharks have yet to acquire the ability to communicate verbally, despite their many advantageous adaptations over millions of years. To catch a glimpse of their actions in their watery world, scientists sometimes attach cameras to their fins or enlist the help of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to learn more. The secret lives of sharks… reality TV at its finest.

Underwater camera footage is beginning to reveal the answers to many of the questions my Kindergarten-5th grade students have about sharks:

How deep can sharks swim?

How big can sharks get? How old can sharks get?

Do sharks sleep? Do sharks stop swimming when they sleep? Can sharks ever stop swimming? 

Do sharks have friends? Do sharks hunt cooperatively or alone?

Is the megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon) still swimming around down there? (This is a very common question among kids!)

The answers vary by species, but an individual shark can reveal quite a bit of information about shark biology and behavior. Tagging sharks can provide insight about migratory patterns and population distribution. This information can help us to better understand, manage, and protect shark populations.

Various tools are spread out and used to weigh (scale), collect samples (scissors and vials), remove hooks (pliers, plus other instruments not pictured), apply tags (leather punch, piercing implement, and tags), and record data (clipboard and data sheet).
These tools are used to weigh (scales on bottom right), collect samples (scissors and vials), remove hooks (pliers, plus other instruments not pictured), apply tags (leather punch, piercing implement, and tags), and record data (clipboard and data sheet).

Using several low-tech methods, a great deal of information could be gleaned from our very brief encounters with the sharks we caught and released. In a very short amount of time, the following information was collected and recorded:

• hook number (which of the 100 longline circle hooks the shark was caught on)
• genus and species name (we recorded scientific and common names)
• four measurements on various points of the shark’s body (sometimes lasers were used on the larger sharks)
• weight (if it was possible to weigh the shark: this was harder to do with the larger, heavier sharks)
• whether the shark was male or female, noting observations about its maturity (if male)
• fin clip samples (for genetic information)
• photographs of the shark (we also filmed the process with a GoPro camera that was mounted to a scientist’s hardhat)
• applying a tag on or near the shark’s first dorsal fin; the tag number was carefully recorded on the data sheet
• additional comments about the shark

Finally, the hook was removed from the shark’s mouth, and the shark was released back into the water (we watched carefully to make sure it swam off successfully)!

A metal tag is marked with the number eight. This is one of 100 used in longline fishing.
Longline fishing uses 100 numbered hooks. When a fish is caught, it’s important to record the hook number it was caught on.
Two kinds of shark tags: plastic swivel tags used for smaller sharks and dart tags used for larger sharks.
Depending on the shark’s size, we either attached a swivel tag (on left and middle, sometimes called a Rototag or fin tag; used for smaller sharks) or a dart tag (on right, sometimes called an “M” tag; used for larger sharks).

For more information on shark tagging: https://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/nefsc/Narragansett/sharks/tagging.html 

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Other fish were retained for scientific samples. Yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus), blueline tilefish (Caulolatilus microps), and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) were some of species we caught and sampled. Specific samples from specific species were requested from various organizations. Generally, we collected five different samples:

• fin clips: provide genetic information
• liver: provides information about the health of the fish, such as the presence of toxins
• muscle tissue: can also provide information about the health of the fish
• gonads: provide information about reproduction
• otoliths: These bony structures are found in the inner ear. Similar to tree rings, counting the annual growth rings on the otoliths can help scientists estimate the age of the fish.

A yellowedge grouper on a table surrounded by sampling equipment.
Samples were taken from this yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus).

Samples were preserved and stored in vials, jars, and plastic sample bags, including a Whirl-Pak. These bags and containers were carefully numbered and labeled, corresponding with the information on the data sheets. Other information was noted about the fish, including maturity and stomach contents. Sometimes, photos were taken to further document the fish.

 

Personal Log

Thinking of the Oregon II as my floating classroom, I looked for analogous activities that mirrored my elementary students’ school day. Many key parts of the elementary school day could be found on board.

A 24-hour analog clock.
Sometimes, my students struggle to tell the time with analog clocks. The ship uses military time, so this 24-hour clock would probably cause some perplexed looks at first! We usually ate dinner between 1700-1800.
Weights, an exercise bike, resistance bands, and yoga mats.
Physical Education: Fitness equipment could be found in three locations on the ship.
A dinner plate filled with cooked vegetables.
Health: To stay energized for the twelve-hour shifts, it was important to get enough sleep, make healthy food choices, and stay hydrated. With lots of exercise, fresh air, and plenty of water, protein, and vegetables, I felt amazing. To sample some local flavors, I tried a different hot sauce or Southern-style seasoning at every meal.
A metal first aid cabinet.
There wasn’t a nurse’s office, but first aid and trained medical personnel were available if needed.

With my young readers and writers in mind, I applied my literacy lens to many of the ship’s activities. Literacy was the thread that ran through many of our daily tasks, and literacy was the cornerstone of every career on board. Several ship personnel described the written exams they’d taken to advance in their chosen careers. Reading and writing were used in everything from the recipes and daily menu prepared by Second Cook Arlene Beahm and Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill in the galley to the navigation logs maintained by Ensign Chelsea Parrish on the ship’s bridge.

A clipboard shows the daily menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The menu changed every day. You could also make your own salad, sandwiches, and snacks. If you had to work through mealtime, you could ‘save-a-meal,’ and write down your food choices to eat later. This was kind of like indicating your lunch choice at school. Instead of a cafeteria, food was prepared and cooked in the ship’s galley.
Shelves of books in the ship's library.
Library: The ship had a small library on board. To pass the time, many people enjoyed reading. (And for my students who live vicariously through YouTube: that sign at the bottom does say, ‘No YouTube’! Computers were available in the lab, but streaming wasn’t allowed.)

I often start the school year off with some lessons on reading and following directions. In the school setting, this is done to establish routines and expectations, as well as independence. On the ship, reading and following directions was essential for safety! Throughout the Oregon II, I encountered lots of printed information and many safety signs. Some of the signs included pictures, but many of them did not. This made me think of my readers who rely on pictures for comprehension. Some important safety information was shared verbally during our training and safety drills, but some of it could only be accessed through reading.

A collage of safety-related signs on the ship. Some have pictures, while others do not.
Without a visual aid, the reader must rely on the printed words. In this environment, skipping words, misreading words, or misunderstanding the meaning of the text could result in unsafe conditions.
A watertight door with a handle pointing to 'open'.
On a watertight door, for example, overlooking the opposite meanings of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ could have very serious consequences.
A watertight door with a handle pointing to 'closed'.
Not being able to read the sign or the words ‘open’ and ‘closed’ could result in a scary situation.

 

Did You Know?

Thomas Jefferson collected fossils and owned a megalodon tooth. The Carcharocles megalodon tooth was found in South Carolina. One of the reasons why Jefferson supported expeditions to lands west of the Mississippi? He believed that a herd of mammoths might still be roaming there. Jefferson didn’t believe that animal species could go extinct, so he probably liked the idea that the megalodon was still swimming around somewhere! (There’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that either Thomas Jefferson or the megalodon are still around.)

Recommended Reading

If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams

This picture book acknowledges the scariness of sharks, but explains that a world without sharks would be even scarier. Shown through the eyes of a curious young girl and her family, the book highlights the important role that sharks play in the ocean food web. As apex predators, sharks help to keep the ocean healthy and balanced.

The book includes some mind-blowing facts, such as the concept that sharks existed on Earth before trees. Through easy-to-follow examples of cause and effect, the author and illustrator explores complex, sophisticated concepts such as overfishing, extinction, and trophic cascade. The glossary includes well-selected words that are important to know and understand about the environment. Additional information is provided about shark finning and ways to help save sharks. An author’s note, bibliography, and additional sources are also included.

The cover of a children's book about the important role that sharks fill in the ocean food web.
If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams; Published by Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2017

 

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: Apex Predators, September 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-September 30, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 20, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 2759.75N

Longitude: 09118.52W

Sea Wave Height: 0m

Wind Speed: 3.72 knots

Wind Direction: 166.48֯

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 31.1

Sky: 5% cloud cover

 

Science and Technology Log

We’ve been out at sea for three full days now and have traveled along the Gulf coast from Alabama to Texas.  The Science Team has run mostly shallow longline sets during this time, meaning that we have fished in depths from 9 to 55 meters.  As we move forward, we will fish stations at these depths and stations at depths of 55 to 183 meters, and from 183 to 366 meters.  The locations of the stations are randomized based on depth and the area that is being fished.  Due to the weather that hit south Texas the week before we joined this leg of the survey, we have been fishing the area that was impassable on the last leg of the survey.

As a member of the science team, there are five jobs that need to be done on each side of the set.  When the line is being cast, someone needs to release the highflyer, clip numbers, sling the bait, work the computer, or cleanup.  When the line comes in, there is a data collector, 2 fish handlers, a hook collector, and the computer person.  The highflyer is the marker that is put on either end of the line, so that the line can be seen from the bridge.  The data that is collected on paper and on the computer on each fish includes the number of the hook that they are on, species, length, and gender.  Additionally, some sharks are tagged and a fin clip is taken.

After a line is set, we check the water using a CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) Probe.  It has a GoPro video recorder that takes a video of the water and the sea floor at the site of the line.

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Field Party Chief Kristin Hannan setting up the CTD

 

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CTD ready for deployment

A few of the highlights from the catches so far:  We had one catch that was coming up with mostly empty hooks, but then we caught a scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini).  The shark was large enough that we used a cradle to pull it up to deck level.  I got to insert the tag right below the dorsal fin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kristin Hennessy-McDonald tagging a scalloped hammerhead Photo Credit: Caroline Collatos

We had another survey that caught 49 sharks, including Atlantic Sharpnose Sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), Blacknose Sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus), Spinner Sharks (Carcharhinus brevipinna), and Blacktip Sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus).  Between these, we had a number of lines that brought up some sharks and a few Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).  I have been able to dissect some of the Red Snapper, and collect their otoliths, which are their ear bones.

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Kristin Hennessy-McDonald holding a Red Snapper

In the time between setting and retrieving lines, one of the ways we kept ourselves busy was by cleaning shark jaws that we had collected.  I look forward to using these in my classroom as an example of an apex predator species adaptation.

Personal Log

During much the 12 hours of off time, I spend my time in my bunk.  Working for 12 hours in the hot sun is exhausting, and it’s nice to have the room to myself while I try to get some rest.  Though I share a bunk with another member of the Science Team, we work opposite shifts.  So, while I’m on deck, she’s sleeping, and visa versa.  As you can see, my daughter sent me with her shark doll, which I thought was appropriate, given that I was taking part in shark research on this ship.

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Kristin’s bunk on the Oregon II

While we were going slow one day, we had a pod of dolphins who swam along with us for a while.  They were right beside the ship, and I was able to get a video of a few of them surfacing next to us.

Did You Know?

Many shark species, including the Atlantic Sharpnose shark, are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young.  These sharks form a placenta from the yolk sac while the embryo develops.

Quote of the Day

Without sharks, you take away the apex predator of the ocean, and you destroy the entire food chain

~Peter Benchley

Question of the Day

While it is a common misconception that sharks do not get cancer, sharks have been found to get cancer, including chondromas.  What type of cancer is that?

Ashley Cosme: Haulback – September 7th, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ashley Cosme

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 31 – September 14, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 7th, 2018

Current Path.jpg
Primary longline stations are indicated in purple. The red line represents the path the Oregon II.

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 28 30.4N
  • Longitude: 95 07.0W
  • Wind speed:  9 Knots
  • Wind direction:  130 (from Southeast)
  • Sky cover: Scattered
  • Visibility:  10 miles
  • Barometric pressure:  1016.0 atm
  • Sea wave height: 1-2 feet
  • Sea Water Temp:  30.4°C
  • Dry Bulb: 27.8°C
  • Wet Bulb: 25.7°C

 

Science and Technology Log:

Each piece of equipment is pulled back aboard the boat in the same order that it was deployed into the water.  The numbered gangions are pulled up one by one and if there is a shark attached to the hook it is brought aboard for data collection.  Larger sharks are brought up to the side of the vessel using a cradle.

Tiger Shark.jpg
Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) on the cradle

 

Hammerhead on Cradle
Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) on the cradle

 

Data that is collected for the sharks caught include the following:

#1 Length:

  • Precaudal Length: The length of the shark from the nose to the beginning of the caudal fin.
  • Fork Length: The length of the shark from the nose to the fork of the caudal fin.
  • Natural Length: The length of the shark from the nose to the end of the caudal fin as it naturally lies.
  • Total Length: The length of the shark from the nose to the end of the caudal fin when stretched to its greatest length.

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    Measurements taken for an Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae)

 

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Great Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna mokarran) being weighed

 

 

 

#2 Weight: The weight of the shark is measured in kilograms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

M Tag.jpg
M-tag being inserted on a Great Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna mokarran)

 

 

 

#3 M-Tag Number:  An M-tag is inserted at the base of the dorsal fin, and it contains a specific number to identify the shark.

 

 

 

 

 

Roto Tag.jpg
Roto tag being attached to a Gulf Smooth-hound Shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus)

 

 

 

#4 Roto Tag Number: Roto tags are used on smaller shark individuals, and are clipped to the center of the dorsal fin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once all measurements are taken, and the shark has been tagged, it is released back into the water.

Ashley holding shark
Gulf Smooth-hound Shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus) ready for release.

 

Personal Log:

I couldn’t have been placed on a better Teacher at Sea assignment.  The entire NOAA team has been patient with me and willing to go out of their way to make sure I am enjoying my experience.  It is evident that the NOAA scientists are passionate about their work, as they are so eager to share every interesting detail no matter how small.

Thumbs Up
Having the time of my life!

 

Animals Seen:

Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)

Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini)

Gulf Smooth-hound Shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus)

Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae)

Blacknose Shark (Carcharhinus acronotus)

Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)

Golden Tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps)

Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin (Stenella attenuate)

Stephen Kade: Shark On! August 29, 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: Southeastern U.S. coast

Date: August 29, 2018

 

Scientific Journal

Shark On!” was the shout from the first person that sees a shark hooked to the long line that was being hauled up from the floor of the ocean. I heard this phrase often during the first leg of the long line Red Snapper/ shark survey on the NOAA ship Oregon II. We began fishing in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of West Palm Beach, Florida. We traveled north to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and back south to Port Canaveral over 12 days this summer.

hauling in the long line
Oregon II scientific crew, Chief Boatswain, and skilled fishermen hauling in the long line.

During our long line deployments each day, we were able to catch, measure, tag and photograph many sharks, before returning them to the ocean quickly and safely. During these surveys, we caught the species of sharks listed below, in addition to other interesting fish from the ocean.  This blog has scientific information about each shark, and photographs taken by myself and other scientists on board the Oregon II. The following information on sharks, in addition to scientific data about hundreds of other marine wildlife can be found online at the NOAA Fisheries site: http://fisheries.noaa.gov.

Great Hammerhead Shark-  Sphyrna mokarran  Hammerhead sharks are recognized by their long, strange hammer-like heads which are called cephalofoils. Great hammerheads are the largest species of hammerheads, and can grow to a length of 20 feet. The great hammerhead can be distinguished from other hammerheads as they have a much taller dorsal fin than other hammerheads.

Great hammerhead
Great Hammerhead in cradle for data collection and return to sea.

When moving through the ocean, they swing their broad heads from side to side and this motion provides them a much wider field of vision than other sharks. It provides them an all around view of their environment as their eyes are far apart at either end of the long hammers. They have only two small blind spots, in front of the snout, and behind the cephalofoil. Their wide heads also have many tiny pores, called ampullae of Lorenzini. They can sense tiny electric currents generated by fish or other prey in distress from far distances.

 

The great hammerhead are found in tropical and temperate waters worldwide, and inhabiting coastal areas in and around the continental shelf. They usually are solitary swimmers, and they eat prey ranging from crustaceans and squid, to a variety of bony fish, smaller sharks and stingrays. The great hammerhead can bear litters of up to 55 pups every two years.

Nurse Shark- Ginglymostoma cirratum Nurse sharks are bottom dwellers. They spend their life in shallow water, near the sandy bottom, and their orangish- pinkish color and rough skin helps them camouflage them. At night they come out to hunt. Nurse sharks have short, serrated teeth that can eat through crustaceans such as crabs, urchins, shrimp, and lobsters. They also eat fish, squid, and stingrays. They have two feelers, or barbels, which hang from either side of their mouth. They use their barbels to search for prey in the sand. Their average adult size is 7.5- 9 feet in length and they weigh between 160-230 lbs. Adult females reach a larger size than the males at 7- 8.5 feet long and can weigh from 200-267 lbs.

Nurse Shark
Nurse Shark- Ginglymostoma cirratum

Nurse sharks are common in the coastal tropical waters of the Atlantic and also in the eastern Pacific Ocean. This species is locally very common in shallow waters throughout the Caribbean, south Florida to the Florida Keys. Large juveniles and adults are usually found around deeper reefs and rocky areas at depths of 10-250 feet during the daytime and migrate into shallower waters of less than 70 feet deep after dark.

 

Juveniles up to 6 feet are generally found around shallow coral reefs, grass flats or mangrove islands in shallow water. They often lie in groups of forty on the ocean floor or under rock ledges. Nurse sharks show a preference for a certain resting site, and will repeatedly go back to to the same caves for shelter or rest after leaving the area to feed.

Tiger Shark- Galeocerdo cuvier  Adult Tiger sharks average between 10 -14 feet in length and weigh up to 1,400 lbs. The largest sharks can grow to 20 feet and weigh nearly 2,000 lbs. They mature between 5 and 10 years, and their life span is 30 years or more. Tiger sharks are named for the brown stripes and patches they have on their sides when they are young. As they get older, they stripes eventually fade away.

 

They will eat almost anything they come across, and have been referred to as the “garbage cans of the sea”. Their habitat ranges from shallow coastal waters when they are young, to deep waters over 1,500 feet deep. They swim in shallow waters to hunt lobster, squid, fish, sea turtles, birds, and smaller sharks.

tiger shark
10.5 foot Tiger shark caught and returned by NOAA ship Oregon II. photo by Will Tilley

They migrate with the seasons to follow prey and to give birth to young. They swim in cool waters in the summer, and in fall and winter they migrate to warm tropical waters. Their young grow in eggs inside the mother’s body and after 13 months the sharks hatch. The mother gives birth to a litter of 10 – 80 pups. Their current status is currently Near Threatened.

 

Stephen Kade
TAS 2018 Stephen Kade returning sharpnose shark to ocean.

Sharpnose Shark- Rhizoprionodon terraenovae Atlantic sharpnose sharks are small for sharks and have a streamlined body, and get their name from their long, pointy snout. They are several different shades of gray and have a white underside.  Atlantic sharpnose sharks can grow to up to 32 inches in length. Atlantic sharpnose sharks have been observed to live up to 18 years. Females mature at around 2 years old in the Atlantic when they reach approximately 24 inches in length. Atlantic sharpnose sharks are commonly found in the western Atlantic from New Brunswick, Canada, right through the Gulf of Mexico. They are commonly caught in U.S. coastal waters from Virginia around to Texas.

Sharpnose shark
Sharpnose shark

Atlantic sharpnose sharks eat small fish, including menhaden, eels, silversides, wrasses, jacks, toadfish, and filefish. The lower and upper jaws of an Atlantic sharpnose shark have 24 or 25 rows of triangular teeth. Atlantic sharpnose sharks mate annually between mid-May and mid-July in inshore waters, and after mating, they migrate offshore to deeper waters.  They also eat worms, shrimp, crabs, and mollusks.

 

Sandbar Shark- Carcharhinus plumbeus.  The most distinctive feature of this stocky, grey shark is its huge pectoral fins, and long dorsal fin that increases its stability while swimming. Females can grow between 6 – 8.5 feet, and males grow up to 6ft. Its body color can vary from a blue to a light brown grey with a pale white underside. The sandbar shark lives in coastal waters, living in water that is 20 to 200 feet deep. Rarely is its large dorsal fin seen above the water’s surface, as the sandbars prefer to remain near the bottom. It commonly lives in harbors, lagoons, muddy and sandy bays, and river mouths, but never moves into freshwater. The sandbar shark lives in warm and tropical waters in various parts of the world including in the Western Atlantic, from Massachusetts down to southern Brazil.

Sandbar shark
Sandbar shark tagged, measured, weighed and ready to go back after photo.

The sandbar shark spends the majority of its time near the ocean floor, where it looks continuously for prey, such as small fish, mollusks, and various crustaceans. Their main diet consists largely of fish. Sandbar sharks give birth to between 1 and 14 pups in each litter. The size of the litter depends on the size of the mother, with large females giving birth to larger litters. Pregnancy is estimated to last between 8- 12 months. Females move near shore to shallow nursery areas to give birth. The females leave coastal areas after giving birth, while the young remain in the nursery grounds until winter, when they move into warmer and deeper water.

 

 

Fun Fact- Remoras, or shark suckers, live in tropical oceans around the world. They have a rigid oval- shaped sucker pad on top of their head that it uses to attach itself to sharks and rays. It is symbiotic relationship where both animals gain something from their temporary union. Remoras mouths are at the top front of the body so while attached to a shark’s body, they do their host a favor by nibbling off skin parasites. They can also eat scraps of leftover food the shark leaves behind while they also enjoy a free ride. The shark gains a day at the spa for a body scrub, and can rid itself of parasites in a way it couldn’t have before!

Personal Journal

It was certainly an unforgettable experience being able to work with the scientific and fishing team for this shark survey. The opportunity to see and handle these sharks up close for two weeks has informed me of so many interesting things about these wonderful and vital members of the ocean.  I can now take this information and share it first hand with students in my classroom, and members of my community. I also want to work to bring a positive awareness to these vital members of the ocean food web so they can thrive well into the future. As an artist, this trip has been invaluable for me, as now I’ve seen the how colorful and varied sharks are and other various anatomy details you just can’t see in books or television. This new awareness will help to make my future paintings more accurate than before.

Anne Krauss: The Oregon II Trail, August 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 16, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 1106

Latitude: 25° 17.10’ N

Longitude: 82° 53.58’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1020.17 mbar

Air Temperature: 29.5° C

Sea Temperature: 30.8° C

Wind Speed: 12.98 knots

Relative Humidity: 76%

 

Science and Technology Log

Before getting into the technology that allows the scientific work to be completed, it’s important to mention the science and technology that make daily life on the ship safer, easier, and more convenient. Electricity powers everything from the powerful deck lights used for working at night to the vital navigation equipment on the bridge (main control and navigation center). Whether it makes things safer or more efficient, the work we’re doing would not be possible without power. Just in case, several digital devices have an analog (non-electronic) counterpart as a back-up, particularly those used for navigation, such as the magnetic compass.

 

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To keep things cool, large freezers are used for storing bait, preserving scientific samples, and even storing ice cream (no chumsicles for dessert—they’re not all stored in the same freezer!). After one particularly sweltering shift, I was able to cool off with some frozen coffee milk (I improvised with cold coffee, ice cream, and milk). More importantly, without the freezers, the scientific samples we’re collecting wouldn’t last long enough to be studied further back at the lab on land.

Electricity also makes life at sea more convenient, comfortable, and even entertaining. We have access to many of the same devices, conveniences, and appliances we have at home: laundry machines, warm showers, air conditioning, home cooked meals, a coffee maker, TVs, computers with Wi-Fi, and special phones that allow calls to and from sea. A large collection of current movies is available in the lounge. During my downtime, I’ve been writing, exploring, enjoying the water, and learning more about the various NOAA careers on board.

To use my computer, I first needed to meet with Roy Toliver, Chief Electronics Technician, and connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. While meeting with him, I asked about some of the devices I’d seen up on the flying bridge, the top deck of the ship. The modern conveniences on board are connected to several antennae, and Roy explained that I was looking at important navigation and communication equipment such as the ship’s GPS (Global Positioning System), radar, satellite, and weather instrumentation.

I was also intrigued by the net-like item (called a Day Shape) that communicates to other ships that we are deploying fishing equipment. This lets nearby ships know that the Oregon II has restricted maneuverability when the gear is in the water. At night, lights are used to communicate to other ships. Communication is crucial for safety at sea.

When I stopped by, Roy had just finished replacing some oxygen sensors for the CTD (that stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth). For more information about CTDs click here: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html

Without accurate sensors, it’s very difficult for the scientists to get the data they need. If the sensors are not working or calibrated correctly, the information collected could be inaccurate or not register at all. The combination of salt water and electronics poses many interesting problems and solutions. I noticed that several electronic devices, such as computers and cameras, are built for outdoor use or housed in durable plastic cases.

On this particular day, the ship sailed closer to an algal bloom (a large collection of tiny organisms in the water) responsible for red tide. Red tide can produce harmful toxins, and the most visible effect was the presence of dead fish drifting by. As I moved throughout the ship, the red tide was a red hot topic of conversation among both the scientists and the deck department. Everyone seemed to be discussing it. One scientist explained that dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico can vary based on temperature and depth, with average readings being higher than about 5 milligrams per milliliter. The algal bloom seemed to impact the readings by depleting the oxygen level, and I was able to see how that algal bloom registered and affected the dissolved oxygen readings on the electronics Roy was working on. It was fascinating to witness a real life example of cause and effect. For more information about red tide in Florida, click here: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/redtide-florida/

Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II.
Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II. The office is like the ship’s computer lab. When he’s not working on the ship’s electronics, Roy enjoys reading out on the stern. It’s a great place for fresh air, beautiful views, and a good book!

Personal Log

Preparing and packing for my time on the Oregon II reminded me of The Oregon Trail video game. How to pack for a lengthy journey to the unfamiliar and unknown?

A video game screenshot
I had a hard time finding bib overalls and deck boots at the general store.

I didn’t want to run out of toiletries or over pack, so before leaving home, I tracked how many uses I could get out of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, shampoo bottle, and bar of soap, and that helped me to ration out how much to bring for fifteen days (with a few extras, just in case). The scientists and crew of the Oregon II also have to plan, prepare, and pack all of their food, clothing, supplies, tools, and equipment carefully. Unlike The Oregon Trail game, I didn’t need oxen for my journey, but I needed some special gear: deck boots, foul weather gear (rain jacket with a hood and bib overalls), polarized sunglasses (to protect my eyes by reducing the sun’s glare on the water), lots of potent sunscreen, and other items to make my time at sea safe and comfortable.

I was able to anticipate what I might need to make this a more efficient, comfortable experience, and my maritime instincts were accurate. Mesh packing cubes and small plastic baskets help to organize my drawers and shower items, making it easier to find things quickly in an unfamiliar setting.

berths on ship show blue privacy curtains
This is where we sleep in the stateroom. The blue curtains can be closed to darken the room when sleeping during the day. On the left is a sink.
My own shark cradle
Reading and dreaming about sharks!

Dirt, guts, slime, and grime are part of the job. A bar of scrubby lemon soap takes off any leftover sunscreen, grime, or oceanic odors that leaked through my gloves. Little things like that make ship life pleasant. Not worrying about how I look is freeing, and I enjoy moving about the ship, being physically active. It reminds me of the summers I spent as a camp counselor working in the woods. The grubbier and more worn out I was, the more fun we were having.

The NOAA Corps is a uniformed service, so the officers wear their uniforms while on duty. For everyone else, old clothes are the uniform around here because the work is often messy, dirty, and sweaty. With tiny holes, frayed seams, mystery stains, cutoff sleeves, and nautical imagery, I am intrigued by the faded t-shirts from long-ago surveys and previous sailing adventures. Some of the shirts date back several years. The well-worn, faded fabric reveals the owner’s experience at sea and history with the ship. The shirts almost seem to have sea stories to tell of their own.

Sunset over water showing orange, pink, and blue hues.
As we sail, the view is always changing and always interesting!

Being at sea is a very natural feeling for me, and I haven’t experienced any seasickness. One thing I didn’t fully expect: being cold at night. The inside of the ship is air-conditioned, which provides refreshing relief from the scorching sun outside. I expected cooler temperatures at night, so I brought some lightweight sweatshirts and an extra wool blanket from home. On my first night, I didn’t realize that I could control the temperature in my stateroom, so I shivered all night long.

A folded grey hooded sweatshirt
It’s heavy, tough, and grey, but it’s not a shark!

My preparing and packing didn’t end once I embarked (got on) on the ship. Every day, I have to think ahead, plan, and make sure I have everything I need before I start my day. This may seem like the least interesting aspect of my day, but it was the biggest adjustment at first.

To put yourself in my shoes (well, my deck boots), imagine this:

Get a backpack. Transport yourself to completely new and unfamiliar surroundings. Try to adapt to strange new routines and procedures. Prepare to spend the next 12+ hours working, learning, exploring, and conducting daily routines, such as eating meals. Fill your backpack with anything you might possibly need or want for those twelve hours. Plan for the outdoor heat and the indoor chill, as well as rain. If you forgot something, you can’t just go back to your room or run to the store to get it because

  1. Your roommate is sleeping while you’re working (and vice versa), so you need to be quiet and respectful of their sleep schedule. That means you need to gather anything you may need for the day (or night, if you’re assigned to the night watch), and bring it with you. No going back into the room while your roommate is getting some much-needed rest.
  2. Land is not in sight, so everything you need must be on the ship. Going to the store is not an option.

Just some of the items in my backpack: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, sweatshirt, a water bottle, my camera, my phone, my computer, chargers for my electronics, an extra shirt, extra socks, snacks, etc.

I am assigned to the day watch, so my work shift is from noon-midnight. During those hours, I am a member of the science team. While on the day watch, the five of us rotate roles and responsibilities, and we work closely with the deck crew to complete our tasks. The deck department is responsible for rigging and handling the heavier equipment needed for fishing and sampling the water: the monofilament (thick, strong fishing line made from plastic), cranes and winches for lifting the CTD, and the cradle used for safely bringing up larger, heavier sharks. In addition to keeping the ship running smoothly and safely, they also deploy and retrieve the longline gear.

A pulley in front of water
Pulleys, winches, and cranes are found throughout the boat.

Another adjustment has been learning the routines, procedures, and equipment. For the first week, it’s been a daily game of What-Am-I-Looking-At? as I try to decipher and comprehend the various monitors displayed throughout the ship. I follow this with a regular round of Now-What-Did-I-Forget? as I attempt to finesse my daily hygiene routine. The showers and bathroom (on a ship, it’s called the head) are down the hall from my shared stateroom, and so far, I’ve managed to forget my socks (day one), towel (day two), and an entire change of clothes (day four). With the unfamiliar setting and routine, it’s easy to forget something, and I’m often showering very late at night after a long day of work.

Showers and changing stalls on ship
I’m more than ready to cool off and clean up after my shift.

One thing I never forget? Water. I am surrounded by glittering, glistening water or pitch-black water; water that churns and swells and soothingly rocks the ship. Swirling water that sometimes looks like ink or teal or indigo or navy, depending on the conditions and time of day.

Another thing I’ll never forget? This experience.

A water bottle in the sun
In case I forget, the heat of the sun reminds me to drink water all day long.

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is home to five species, or types, or sea turtles: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley.

Recommended Reading

Many of my students have never seen or experienced the ocean. To make the ocean more relevant and relatable to their environment, I recommend the picture book Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene. A young girl’s grandfather moves to the city and notices there’s nowhere to fish. She and her grandfather imagine fishing from their high-rise apartment fire escape. The “fish” they catch are inspired by the vibrant ecosystem around them: the citizens and bustling activity in an urban environment. The catch of the day: “Flying Litterfish,” “Laundry Eels,” a “Constructionfish,” and many others, all inspired by the sights and sounds of the busy city around them.

The book could be used to make abstract, geographically far away concepts, such as coral ecosystems, more relatable for students in urban, suburban, and rural settings, or as a way for students in rural settings to learn more about urban communities. The young girl’s observations and imagination could spark a discussion about how prominent traits influence species’ common names, identification, and scientific naming conventions.

The cover of the book Skyfishing
Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017)

 

Stephen Kade: What is Long Line Fishing? August 19, 2018

Longline Fishing infographic

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: 30 35’ 34’’ N, 80 56’ 48’’ W, 20 miles off the coast of Jessup, Georgia

Date: August 2, 2018

Weather Data from Bridge: Wind speed 14 knots, Air Temp: 27c, Visibility 10 nautical miles, Wave height 2 ft.

Science and Technology Log

Longline fishing is a technique that consists of one main fishing line with many baited hooks that come of that line on shorter lines, (like branches off a tree) attached at various distances. Long lines are used in both coastal areas and the open ocean and are often placed to target specific species. If the long line is suspended in the top or mid depth water, it is called pelagic longline fishing. If it is on or near the ocean floor by weighting it down to the sea floor, it is called bottom longline fishing. A high-flyer buoy is placed at either end to mark the position of the line in the water so boats can see it while submerged, and so it can be found when it needs to be retrieved. Weights are placed on each end and the middle of the line to hold the line down to a specified depth.

Longline_KadeTAS2018
Computer created infographic of long line fishing process by NOAA TAS 2018 Stephen Kade

On board NOAA Ship Oregon II, the mission is a red snapper/shark longline fishing survey in the Gulf of Mexico and the Western North Atlantic coast. I was on the first of four legs of the survey that left Pascagoula, Mississippi, rounded the bottom of Florida and stopped for 44 stations between West Palm Beach FL, up to Cape Hatteras, NC, and back down to Port Canaveral, FL. NOAA’s mission is to research current shark and snapper populations in specific areas as determined by NOAA shark scientists and related state Fishery Departments.

The Oregon II has a large spool of 3mm monofilament fishing line on deck. For our survey, we used a line that was one mile long, and had 100 baited hooks approximately 50 feet apart. The hooks are attached to the line by gangions. Gangions are 12 foot long monofilament lines with a hook on one end and a manual fastener at the other end that can be taken on and off each time the line is deployed. All 100 hooks on the gangions are baited with Atlantic mackerel.

numbering gangions
The team attaches the gangion numbers and hands over for deployment

To deploy the line into the water, it takes a team of 6 people. The first person strings the line from the spool and through various pulleys along the length of the ship moving toward the back of the boat before tying it to the high flyer buoy and returning to the spool control to deploy the mile long line into the water. A team of two works to attach a specific number tag onto each gangion, and then to retrieve the 12 foot long gangion from a barrel. The numbered, baited, gangions are handed one by one to the next team member who attaches the gangion of the main long line every 60 feet as the line descends into the water. This crewman also places three weights on the line to hold it onto the ocean floor, one at each end, and one in the middle. When all hooks are deployed, the line is cut from the spool and the high-flyer buoy is attached to mark the end of the line in the water.

deploying high-flyer
Deploying the high-flyer buoy after all 100 gangions and weights are attached.

The last member of the science team is at a computer station on deck and they are in charge of inputting data into the computer. Each time a buoy, weight, or gangion goes into the water, a specific button is pushed to mark the items place in the water. This is done so when a shark comes up on a numbered hook, NOAA scientists know exactly the latitude, longitude and depth of where that specific shark was caught. Scientists upload this important data immediately to NOAA servers for later use so they can assess average populations in specific areas, among many other data points.

Input
Each time a gangion, weight, or high-flyer buoy is deployed, its location is input in the computer.

The bait stays down on the ocean floor for about an hour before the boat returns to retrieve it. The retrieval process is similar to deploying the line except that it takes longer to bring it in, as there are now some fish and sharks attached to the hooks. If the hooks are empty, the number is taken off the line, and the gangion is placed back in the barrel until the next station. If there is a shark or fish on the line, it is pulled onto the deck and data is collected before the shark is safely placed back into the water. The first step is unhooking the fish, before it is measured. The shark is measured from the tip of the nose to various parts of the body to determine the size in those areas. The gender of the shark is also determined, as well as the maturity. Finally, the shark is weighed on a scale and most are tagged before being photographed and released. The process only takes about two minutes to safely ensure the shark survives. The data is recorded on a data log, and after the retrieval, the data is input into a database.

Removing Gangions
Gangions are taken off the long line, de-baited, de-numbered and put back in barrel.

 

Personal Log

Before coming on the Oregon II, I knew only about the fishing process on a larger scale from what I’d read about, or seen on television. I was slightly intimidated that without experience, I’d likely be slowing down the experienced team of professionals from their difficult job. As we headed out to sea, I found out it would take a few days before we reached our first station and that gave me time to get to know the crew, which was very valuable. There are two crews, each work 12 hours a day, so fishing was happening around the clock. I was able to listen to their advice and explanation of the techniques used in the long line process, and also some fantastic stories about their lives and families. Their patience with me and the other volunteers during those first few stations gave us time to get up to their speed, and from then out it was like clockwork. It was certainly hard to work outside all day, but the passion, skill, and humor of the crew made it quite fun work each day and night. It was impressive and amazing to see how this efficient process is used to help NOAA scientists and fishermen collect data from vast areas of the ocean for two weeks. I am proud to say I helped a great team to get information that can help us understand how to help populations of sharks and fish for long into the future.

Stephen removes shark
TAS 2018 Stephen Kade taking shark off gangion, ready to measure, weigh, and put back in ocean

Anne Krauss: All at Sea (But Learning Quickly), August 14, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 14, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 0030

Latitude: 25° 22.6’ N

Longitude: 84° 03.6’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1017.4 mb

Air Temperature: 28.8° C

Wind Speed: 9.1 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

For the first few days, we steamed, or traveled, to our first station. Each station is a research location where several activities will take place:

  1. Preparing and setting out the longline gear.
  2. Letting the line soak (fish on the bottom) for one hour while other tasks are performed.
  3. Deploying a CTD (Conductivity Temperature Salinity) to collect samples and information about the water.
  4. Hauling back the longline gear.
  5. Recording data from the longline set and haulback.
  6. Collecting measurements and samples from anything caught on the longline.
  7. Depending on what is caught: attaching tags and releasing the animal back into the water (sharks) or collecting requested samples for further study (bony fish).

This is a very simplified summary of the various activities, and I’ll explore some of the steps in further detail in other posts.

During these operations and in between tasks, scientists and crew are very busy. As I watched and participated, the highly organized, well-coordinated flurry of activity on deck was an incredible demonstration of verbs (action words): clean, rinse, prepare, gather, tie, hook, set, haul, calibrate, operate, hoist, deploy, retrieve, cut, measure, weigh, tag, count, record, release, communicate

Last night, I witnessed and participated in my first longline station. I baited 100 hooks with mackerel. I recorded set and haulback data on the computer as the gear was deployed (set) and hauled back in (haulback). I attached 100 numbered tags to the longline gangions (attached to the hooks). I recorded measurements and other data about SHARKS!

We caught, measured, sampled, tagged, and released four sharks last night: a silky, smooth-hound, sandbar, and tiger shark! I’ve never seen any of these species, or types, in person. Seeing the first shark burst onto the deck was a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life!

A sandbar shark being measured with a measuring tape in a rope sling.
A sandbar shark being measured on the cradle or sling used for measuring larger, heavier sharks.

Sometimes, we didn’t catch any fish, but we did bring up a small piece of coral, brittle sea stars, and a crinoid. All three are marine animals, so I was excited to see them in person.

In between stations, there was some downtime to prepare for the next one. One of my favorite moments was watching the GoPro camera footage from the CTD. A camera is attached to the device as it sinks down through the depths to the bottom and back up to the surface again. The camera allowed me to visually ‘dive along’ as it collected water samples and data about the water temperature, salinity, pressure, and other information. Even though I watch ocean documentaries frequently and am used to seeing underwater footage on a screen, this was extremely exciting because the intriguing ecosystem on the screen was just below my feet!

Personal Log

Perhaps it is sea lore and superstition, but so far, the journey has been peppered with fortuitous omens. One of my ocean-loving former students and her Disney-bound family just happened to be on my flight to Orlando. Yes, it’s a small world after all. Her work samples were featured in our published case study, reminding me of the importance and impact of ocean literacy education. Very early the next morning, NASA’s promising Parker Solar Probe thunderously left the Sunshine State, hurtling toward the sun. New York’s state motto: Excelsior. Later that morning, a rainbow appeared shortly before the Oregon II left Port Canaveral. Although an old weather proverb states: “rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning,” we’ve had very pleasant weather, and I chose to interpret it as a reassuring sign. Sailing on the Oregon II as a Teacher at Sea is certainly my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

 

According to seafaring superstition, women on board, whistling, and bananas are supposed to be bad luck on a boat. On the Oregon II, folks do not seem to put much stock into these old beliefs since I’ve encountered all three aboard the ship and still feel very lucky to be here.

A fruit basket and a bunch of bananas
The rest of the fruit seems to think that bananas are bad luck…the crew doesn’t!

In another small-world coincidence, two of the volunteers on the Second Leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey recently graduated from SUNY Potsdam, my undergrad alma mater. What drew us from the North Country of New York to Southern waters? A collective love of sharks.

These small-world coincidences seemed indicate that I was on the right path. Out on the ocean, however, the watery world seems anything but small. The blue vastness and unseen depths fill me with excitement and curiosity, and I cannot wait to learn more. For the next two weeks, the Oregon II will be my floating classroom. Instead of teaching, I am here to learn.

As a fourth generation teacher, education is in my blood. One great-grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in 1894. My other great-grandmother was also a teacher and a Potsdam alumna (Class of 1892). As we traverse the Atlantic Ocean, I wonder what my academic ancestors would think of their great-granddaughter following in their footsteps…whilst studying sharks and snapper at sea. Salt water equally runs through my veins.

 

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As we steamed, or traveled, to our first station (research location), I wondered about the unfamiliar waters and equipment around me. Before I could indulge my questions about marine life, however, I first needed to focus on the mundane: daily life at sea. In many ways, I was reminded of the first day at a new school. It was junior high all over again, minus the braces and bad bangs. At first, those long-forgotten new school worries resurfaced: What if I get lost? Where is my locker (or, in this case, my stateroom)? What if I forget my schedule? What if I have to sit by myself at lunch? To combat these thoughts, I draw upon a variety of previous travel and life experiences: studying abroad, backpacking, camping, meeting new friends, volunteering, working with a marine science colleague, and sailing on other vessels. Combined, those experiences provided me with the skills to successfully navigate this one.

The Atlantic Ocean and a high flyer buoy
The Atlantic Ocean and a high flyer buoy

I’ve spent the first few days getting acquainted with the layout, personnel, safety rules, and routines of the Oregon II. My students wondered about some of the same aspects of life at sea.

Where do I sleep on the ship?

The staterooms remind me of a floating college dorm, only much quieter. I’m sharing a small stateroom with Kristin Hannan, a scientist. We are on opposite work shifts, so one of us is sleeping while the other is working. I am assigned to the day shift (noon to midnight) while she is assigned to the night shift (midnight to noon). Inside the stateroom, we have berths (similar to bunk beds), a sink, and large metal storage cabinets that are used like a closet or dresser. Space is limited on the ship, so it must be used efficiently and sometimes creatively.

A view of water, a pier, and a pulley
The view as we leave Port Canaveral.

Do you know anyone else on the ship?

No, but I’m meeting lots of new people. They have been welcoming, offering interesting information and helpful reminders and pointers. Those first-day-of-school jitters are fading quickly. I didn’t get lost, but I got a bit turned around at first, trying to figure out which deck I needed for the galley (like the ship’s cafeteria), where we eat our meals. And I only had to eat lunch by myself once. On the first day at sea, I made a PB & J sandwich. Eating that, I felt like a kid again (only without my lunchbox), but it was nice to be at a point in my life where I’m confident enough to be all by myself and feel a bit out of place. That’s how you learn and grow. Everything is new to me right now, but with time, it’ll start to make sense. Pretty soon, the equipment and unfamiliar routines will start to feel more familiar. Hopefully, the sharks will like me.

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is home to approximately 200 orcas (scientific name: Orcinus orca, also known as killer whales).

Recommended Reading 

As an introduction to biographies in grades 4 and up, I recommend Women and the Sea and Ruth! written and illustrated by Richard J. King, with additional text by Elysa R. Engelman. Ruth and her stuffed shark explore a maritime history museum, learning about the important roles women have held at sea. Inspired by female sea captains, explorers, and naturalists, Ruth imagines herself in the photographs and paintings, part of an actual exhibit in the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. For more information about the intrepid women featured in the book, brief biographical information is provided at the end. Ruth would no doubt be impressed with the seafaring women (and men) aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.

A children's book about women at sea
Women and the Sea and Ruth! written and illustrated by Richard J. King, with additional text by Elysa R. Engelman; published by Mystic Seaport (2004)

Stephen Kade: How Sharks Sense their Food & Environment, August 9, 2018

Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils

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: 30 19’ 54’’ N, 81 39’ 20’’ W, 10 nautical miles NE of Jacksonville, Florida

Date: August 9, 2018

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

Science and Technology Log

Sharks have senses similar to humans that help them interact with their environment. They use them in a specific order and rely on each one to get them closer for navigational reasons, and to find any food sources in the area around them. The largest part of the shark’s brain is devoted to their strong sense of smell, so we’ll start there.

Smell– Sharks first rely on their strong sense of smell to detect potential food sources and other movement around them from a great distance. Odor travels into the nostrils on either side of the underside of the snout. As the water passes through the olfactory tissue inside the nostrils, the shark can sense or taste what the odor is, and depending which nostril it goes into, which direction it’s coming from. It is said that sharks can smell one drop of blood in a billion parts of water from up to several hundred meters away.

Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils
Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils of a sharpnose shark

Sharks can also sense electrical currents in animals from long distances in several ways. Sharks have many electro sensitive holes along the snout and jaw called the Ampullae of Lorenzini. These holes detect weak electrical fields generated by the muscles in all living things. They work to help sharks feel the slightest movement in the water and sand and direct them to it from hundreds of meters away. This system can also help them detect the magnetic field of the earth and sharks use it to navigate as well.

Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils
Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils of a sharpnose shark

Hearing– Sharks also heavily use their sense of smell to initially locate objects in the water. There are small interior holes behind their eyes that can sense vibrations up to 200 yards away. Sound waves travel much further in water than in the air allowing them to hear a great distance away in all directions. They also use their lateral lines, which are a fluid filled canal that runs down both sides of the body. It contains tiny pores with microscopic hairs inside that can detect changes in water pressure and the movement and direction of objects around them.

Sight– Once sharks get close enough to see an object, their eyes take over. Their eyes are placed on either side of their head to provide an excellent range of vision. They are adapted to low light environments, and are roughly ten times more sensitive to light than human eyes. Most sharks see in color and can dilate their pupils to adapt to hunting at different times of day. Some sharks have upper and lower eyelids that do not move. Some sharks have a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane, which is an eyelid that comes up from the bottom of the eye to protect it when the shark is feeding or in other dangerous situations. Other sharks without the membrane can roll their eyes back into their head to protect them from injury.

dilated pupil of sharpnose shark
dilated pupil of sharpnose shark

Touch– After using the previous senses, sometimes a shark will swim up and bump into an object to obtain some tactile information. They will then decide whether it is food to eat and attack, or possibly another shark of the opposite gender, so they can mate.

Taste– Sharks are most famous for their impressive teeth. Most people are not aware that sharks do not have bones, only cartilage (like our nose and ears) that make up their skeletal system, including their jaw that holds the teeth. The jaw is only connected to the skull by muscles and ligaments and it can project forward when opening to create a stronger bite force. Surface feeding sharks have sharp teeth to seize and hold prey, while bottom feeding sharks teeth are flatter to crush shellfish and other crustaceans. The teeth are embedded in the gums, not the jaw, and there are many rows of teeth behind the front teeth. It a tooth is damaged or lost, a new one comes from behind to replace it soon after. Some sharks can produce up to 30,000 teeth in their lifetime.

Personal Log

While I had a general knowledge of shark biology before coming on this trip, I’ve learned a great deal about sharks during my Teacher at Sea experience aboard the Oregon II. Seeing, observing, and holding sharks every day has given me first hand knowledge that has aided my understanding of these great creatures. The pictures you see of the sharks in this post were taken by me during our research at sea. I could now see evidence of all their features up close and I could ask questions to the fishermen and scientists onboard to add to the things I read from books. As an artist, I can now draw and paint these beautiful creatures more accurately based on my reference photos and first hand observations for the deck. It was amazing to see that sharks are many different colors and not just different shades of grey and white you see in most print photographs. I highly encourage everyone that has an interest in animals or specific areas of nature to get out there and observe the animals and places firsthand. I guarantee the experience will inspire you, and everyone you tell of the many great things to be found in the outdoors.

Animals Seen Today: Sandbar shark, Great Hammerhead shark, Sharp nose shark

Susan Brown: Who Needs Sharks Anyway? September 13, 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 13, 2017

IMG_6406
sunset through jaws of a blacktip shark

 

Science and Technology Log

We have been sampling along the coast of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas at varying depths – “A” stations ( 5- 30 fathoms), “B” stations (30 -100 fathoms) and “C” stations (100 – 200 fathoms). A fathom is six feet or approximately 2 meters. The longlines are baited the same – mackerel on 100 hooks spread out across one nautical mile and then set on the bottom of the ocean. As we reel in the long line, the click and whine of the line as it’s being spooled, we wait in anticipation of what it may bring. Each station yields something different and you never know what you are going to get. Below is a list of some of the animals we have encountered.

 

IMG_6286
baby hammerhead

Shark species: blacktip, sharpnose, blacknose, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, bull, tiger, spinner and bonnet head (to learn more about each of these species, select it for a NOAA fact sheet).

IMG_6273.jpg
Scallop Hammerhead in cradle

Other animals: southern ray, cownose ray, roughtail stingray, red snapper, black drum, sharksuckers, catfish, red drum, yellowedge grouper, king snake eels and even some blue crabs.

So why survey sharks? Did you know that people are one of only a few species that prey on sharks — killer whales and other sharks are the others– killing over a hundred million per year?* Sharks are apex or top predators in an ocean food web and play a vital role in keeping this food web in balance. With the hunting of sharks as well as over fishing the prey that sharks eat we are disturbing the natural balance. This survey is used determine the number of sharks and other species that are present in the Atlantic Ocean including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. With these numbers, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) regulate how many sharks, swordfish and tuna can be harvested without impacting the total population. In the Pacific Ocean, NOAA fisheries work with fisheries in developing how to best manage sharks.

IMG_6731
red snapper

Apex predators in any ecosystem are vital to the health of that ecosystem. These top predators keep numbers down on the more abundant prey species and keep their numbers in check. Here is a simplified illustration of what happens when we lose apex (top) predators in an ocean ecosystem.

If the number of sharks goes down then the food the sharks eat goes up (forage fish) because they are not being eaten by the sharks. With more of those forage fish around their need for food – the zooplankton – increase. With more forage fish eating the zooplankton there are less zooplankton and their numbers begin to decrease. If there are less zooplankton then the phytoplankton numbers increase because the zooplankton aren’t around the eat them. Removing top predators from any ecosystem can have an impact on the entire food web and this phenomena is called a trophic cascade.

IMG_6489
Removing Hook

Personal Log

When people think of sharks, they think of the movie Jaws. Unfortunately this has given sharks a bad reputation and has vilified these animals that are essential to the ocean food webs. Sure, there have been shark attacks, but did you know that more people are killed each year by electrocution by Christmas tree lights than by shark attacks? When people imagine sharks, they think of enormous sharks that eat everything in sight. The reality is that sharks come in all sizes and shapes. A mature Atlantic sharpnose shark will only get to be 3.5 feet long with the world’s smallest shark being the dwarf lantern shark that can fit in the palm of your hand. The largest shark is the harmless-to-human whale sharks that feeds primarily on plankton and can grow up to 60 feet!

IMG_6084
Smooth-hound (Mustelus Sinusmexicalis)

Did You Know?

Scientists can tell the age of a shark by counting the rings on its vertebrae (similar to how they can tell how old a tree is by counting its rings!)

Question of the day:

What is an example of a terrestrial (land) apex predator that has been over hunted impacting the entire ecosystem?

hint: watch this video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q

 

 

 

Denise Harrington: A Shark A Day, September 29, 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: Thursday, September 29, 2016

Science Log

The cruise is coming to a close. Looking back at my three experiences with NOAA, hydrography (mapping the ocean), fisheries lab work, or shark and snapper surveys,  I couldn’t decide which was my favorite.  Like the facets of a diamond, each experience gave me another perspective on our one world ocean.

Just like different geographic locations and work, each shark species give me a lens through which I can appreciate the mysteries of the ocean.  Every day, I held, measured, kissed, or released a different species of shark. In the Gulf of Mexico, there are 44 shark species frequently caught.  Fortunately, I saw quite a few, and will share some, in the order in which I met them.

Our first night fishing, we caught many Atlantic sharpnose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae).  They are named for their long flat snout and sharp nose. It seemed whenever we caught one, a bunch more followed. They were abundant and kept us busy.

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Paul Felts, Fisheries Biologist, records measurements while Kevin Rademacher, Fisheries Biologist, wrestles and measures the shark. Matt Ellis, NOAA Science Writer, took amazing pictures throughout the cruise.

Day two, we caught a deep water Cuban dogfish (Squalus cubensis).  

 

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The Cuban dogfish’s huge iridescent eyes were entrancing.

On September 2o, we almost caught a bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas).  We brought the cradle down, but the shark thrashed its way off, refusing to be studied. The bull shark, along with the tiger shark, are “one of the top three sharks implicated in unprovoked fatal attacks around the world.”

Within a couple days of catching the Cuban dogfish, we caught another shark with iridescent eyes. It turns out this similar looking shark was not a Cuban dogfish, but a rare roughskin spiny dogfish (Cirrhigaleus asper).  

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Dr. Trey Driggers, Field Party Chief, and prolific shark researcher, surprised us all when he reported this was the first roughskin spiny dogfish he had ever caught!

The beautifully mottled, sleek, immature tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) caught on September 23 had remarkable skin patterns that apparently fade as the shark ages. Adult sharks can get as large as 18 feet and 2,000 pounds.  Along with the bull shark, it is one of the top three species implicated in unprovoked, fatal attacks worldwide.

September 24 we caught a fascinating scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini).  The flat extended head of this hammerhead is wavy, giving it the “scalloped” part of its name.  Its populations in the Gulf have drastically decreased since 1981, making it a species of concern.

 

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Here, Kevin measures one of several scalloped hammerhead sharks we caught on Leg IV of the survey.

We also caught a silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis). Like other Carcharhinus sharks, the silky shark has a sharp “Carchar,” nose “hinus” (Greek derivation), but also has a silky appearance due to its closely spaced dermal denticles.

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I instantly felt the silky was the most beautiful shark I’d seen. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

 

We  saw two of the three smoothhound species present in the Gulf.  On September 25, we caught a Gulf smoothhound, (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), a species named less than 20 years ago. Much is left to learn about the ecology and biology of this recently discovered shark.

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Getting ready to weigh the gulf smoothhound, Kevin Rademacher, Fisheries Biologist, stops for a photo.                                                      Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

Then, I watched the night crew catch, measure and tag a dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus).

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Photo: NOAA Fisheries

On September 26, we caught a sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus).  Despite its size,  the sandbar shark poses little threat to man.

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The sandbar shark’s large fin to body ratio and size make them a prime target for commercial fisheries. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

Due to over-fishing, sandbar shark populations are said to have dropped by as much as 2/3 between the 1970’s and the 1990’s. They are now making a comeback, whether it be from fishing regulations, or the decreased populations of larger sharks feeding on juvenile sandbar sharks.

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This sandbar shark attacked a blacknose shark that had taken our bait. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

We tagged many sharks during my two weeks on the Oregon II.  If you never catch one of those sharks again, the tag doesn’t mean anything.  But this week, we also caught a previously tagged sandbar shark!  Recapturing a wild marine animal is phenomenal.  You can learn about its migration patterns, statistically estimate population sizes, and learn much more. The many years of NOAA’s work with this species in particular demonstrates that thoughtful, long term management of a species works.

 

On September 27, we almost caught a nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum). The barbels coming from its mouth reminded me of a catfish or exotic man with a mustache.

Today, September 29, was our last day of fishing, a bittersweet day for me.  That nurse shark that got away, or more likely, another one like it, came up in our cradle.

Every day we caught sharks, including a few other species not mentioned here.  Only once our line came back without a fish.  The diverse characteristics and adaptations that allow each of these species to survive in a challenging marine environment inspire biologists as they try to categorize and understand the species they research.   While catching so many different species of sharks gives me hope, many members of the crew reminisce about times gone by when fish were more abundant than they are now.

Personal Log

I am the kind of person who always struggles to return from an adventure.  I have learned so much, I don’t want to leave.  Yet I know my class at South Prairie is waiting patiently for my return. I hope to share these many marine species  with my class so that we all may view every moment with curiosity and amazement.

 

 

 

 

Kathleen Gibson, Preparing to Leave for the Mississippi Coast, July 10, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Gibson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 8, 2015

Mission: Fisheries – Conduct longline surveys to monitor interannual variability of shark populations of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast.
Date: July 10, 2015

Introduction

Town of Trumbull, Fairfield County , CT
Town of Trumbull, CT

My name is Kathleen Gibson and I bring you greetings from Trumbull, CT where live and teach. In two weeks I will travel to Pascagoula, MS, located on the Gulf of Mexico, to join NOAA Corps members, research scientists, and the crew aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, as a  2015 NOAA Teacher at Sea.

I work at Trumbull High School and currently teach Biology to sophomores and two elective courses for seniors–Marine Science and AP Environmental Science.  I’m passionate about environmental education and am always looking for opportunities to engage students in the world outside of the classroom.  Trumbull has a large amount of protected green space, wetlands, streams and a river, and while we aren’t on the coast, we are only a few miles from Long Island Sound.  The woods and the shoreline have become our laboratory.

Pequonnock River, Trumbull, CT
Pequonnock River, Trumbull, CT

I’m open to adventures and new experiences that help me grow both personally and professionally.  I’m fortunate to have an awesome family, terrific colleagues and open-minded students who are willing to go along with my ideas; whether it be be hiking around volcanoes and rift zones, looking for puffins, or wading in nearby streams looking for life below.

About NOAA and Teacher at Sea

NOAA Ship Oregon II Photo Credit: NOAA.gov
NOAA Ship Oregon II
Photo Credit: NOAA.gov

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency within the United States Department of Commerce that seeks to enrich life through science.  While NOAA is somewhat familiar to many of us– thanks to the abundance of weather data that is collected and disseminated to the public–that’s not all that is happening  there. NOAA is working to increase our understanding of climate, weather and marine ecosystems, and to use this knowledge to better manage and protect these crucial ecosystems.  In addition to the abundant educational resources available to all teachers, NOAA provides unique opportunities for teachers and students.  The Teacher at Sea Program  brings classroom teachers into the field to work with world-renowned NOAA scientists.

The Mission

The Mission of the cruise I will be a part of is to monitor Shark and Red Snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. Data collected will be compared to findings from previous years, as a part of the ongoing research studying inter-annual variability of these populations. We are scheduled to embark on July 25, 2015 and plan to sail from Pascagoula, MS, down the west coast of Florida and up the Atlantic Coast as far as Mayport, FL.

I am honored to have been selected to be a Teacher at Sea for the 2015 Season  and look forward to a number of “firsts”. I’ve never been to Mississippi nor have I been at sea for more than 24 hours. Also, I’ve only experienced sharks as preserved specimens or through aquarium glass.  I’m also looking forward to meeting my shipmates and learning about career opportunities and the paths that led them to be a part of this Oregon II cruise. I’ll share as much as I can through future posts. I’m excited to bring my students and others along with me on this journey.

Trumbull to Pascagoula.  Longline survey area is marked in blue.
Trumbull to Pascagoula. Longline survey area is marked in blue.

Next Up?

My next post to you should be coming later this month from off the Mississippi coast.  However, the first rule of being on board is FLEXIBILITY, so things may change.  Either way, I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, please check out some of the TAS 2015 blogs written by my fellow NOAA Teachers at Sea, and spread the word. There is so much to learn.

Did You Know?

  • While some sharks release eggs into the water where they will later hatch, as many as 75% of shark species give birth to live young.
  • Shark babies are called pups.

Liz Harrington: Good to the End, August 25, 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 25 , 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly Sunny
Lat. 30.15 °N  Lon. 88.46 °W
Temp. 80 °F (26.9 °C)
Humidity 82 %
Wind speed   8.26 knots
Barometer  30.08 in (1018.75 mb)
Visibility  10  mi

Science and Career Log

It has been just over two weeks since I boarded the Oregon II. In that time I have had the chance to speak with many people who work aboard the ship. These people are either members of the NOAA Corps, members of the scientific team or civilian mariners employed by NOAA.  The NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps is one of the seven uniform services of the United States. Corps graduates operate NOAA’s ships and aircraft and work in positions to support NOAA’s environmental and scientific missions. Their job assignments alternate between sea duty (or air duty if associated with the aviation program) and land duty. It is an interesting career that offers the opportunity to travel as well as to be a participant in NOAA missions.

Of the five ship officers, four are members of the NOAA Corps: the Executive Officer (second in command of the ship) LCDR Eric Johnson, Operations Officer LTJG Matthew Griffin, Navigation Officer Brian Adornato and Junior Officer Rachel Pryor. The Commanding Officer, Master Dave Nelson, is a civilian captain who has spent his life on the water and has worked his way up from a deck hand. All of the ship’s officers are friendly, knowledgeable and professional. I’m in great hands with them in charge.

During some free time away from her NOAA Corps duties, ENS Rachel Pryor would sometimes help the day shift. Here she teaches Micayla how to remove otoliths.
During some free time away from her NOAA Corps duties, ENS Rachel Pryor would sometimes help the day shift. Here she teaches Micayla how to remove otoliths.
choosing the best course
Officers and Chief Scientists often discuss the best possible course when sites are clustered together.
possible course
One possible route for the day. This may change depending on weather, tide and currents.

The deck crew who worked the day shift with me consisted of the Chief Boatswain Tim Martin and the Skilled Fishermen Chuck Godwin and Mike Conway. They work well together and they were very helpful to me while I was learning the deck routines. The Chief Boatswain (pronounce bō´ sun) supervises members of the deck crew and oversees all deck operations, including safety, training and maintenance.

There are four NOAA scientists onboard, two for each shift. Scientists Lisa Jones and Eric Hoffmayer are both on the night shift with the three volunteers Dave, Al and Muri. The day shift is covered with research biologists Kristin Hannan and Amy Schmitt, along with volunteers Mikayla, Cliff and Daniel. Kristin is the Chief Scientist for this leg of the cruise, so she is in charge of making the decisions dealing with the scientific portion of the cruise. This involves coordination between herself, officers on the bridge (where the ship is being driven) and the deck shift leader. This role is rotated among the some of the scientists. Lisa will be the Chief Scientist for the next leg of the cruise.

Ready to set the line
Kristin and Tim are ready to set the line. They will receive word from the bridge when the ship has reached the correct coordinates.

One important job on this ship that I have to mention is the Chief Steward, which is held by Walter Coghlan.  Walter is in charge of feeding everyone on board and he is great at what he does. As a Chief de Cuisine, he is very well trained and it shows in his meals. When living aboard a ship I think the food takes on more importance. It is not easy to keep everyone happy but Walter is doing it. The menu always has a number of choices and the meals are prepared fresh daily. I’m eating like a queen.

Chief Steward Walter Coghlan keeps everyone well fed.
Chief Steward Walter Coghlan keeps everyone well fed.

Personal Log

My days aboard the Oregon II are coming to an end. We had been working our way north along the western coast of Florida. Now the fishing has stopped and we are traveling along the panhandle towards the home port of Pascagoula, Mississippi. This morning, far on the horizon, I could just barely make out the rectangular shapes of beachside hotels and condominiums. But the fishing remained good to the end with two different shark species being caught. One was an Angel Shark (genus Squatina), which I’m told is not normally caught on a longline. The other was a Cuban Dogfish(Squalus cubensis), which was the first one caught this season. So, we are ending on a good note.  We will now travel to the harbor entrance off the coast of Pascagoula. We will wait until morning and arrive at the dock bright and early.

I have mixed feelings about the going to shore. I’m happy to be going home to see my family and begin school, but I am sorry this experience is coming to an end. I have enjoyed every minute of this trip. Of course it is the people that have made it so rewarding. They have been so friendly and welcoming to me. The science has been very interesting to me as well.  I have lots of stories to share and a new interest in sharks. Back at school we’ll be following the sharks with the satellite tags. One part of this experience that I hadn’t put much thought into before coming is the life at sea. Living aboard a ship is a unique experience with the limited amount of space, the 24/7 schedules, the weather and the constant motion of the waves. It bonds the people into a big family, one that I’m going to miss but will be talking about for a long time.

New Term- Dock rock = The sensation the ground is moving after spending time at sea.

David holds an Angel Shark caught on the last haul back. (photo courtesy of David Seay)
David holds an Angel Shark caught on the last haul back. (photo courtesy of David Seay)
Liz with Tile Fish (photo courtesy of Micayla Keipert)
Liz with Tile Fish (photo courtesy of Micayla Keipert)
Pale Spotted Eel can be difficult to measure.
Pale Spotted Eel can be difficult to measure.
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There is lots of life on this piece of coral that was brought up on the line.
Cliff weighs a Barracuda.
Cliff weighs a Barracuda.
Tagging a Nurse Shark
Tagging a Nurse Shark
door latch
Everything aboard a ship needs to be secured due to the motion of the waves. The doors are secured with a hook like this one.
getting ready for haul back
Getting ready for the haul back – rain or shine. (photo courtesy of Micayla Keipert)
Removing hook
Chuck and Kristin remove a hook from a Sandbar Shark.
"The Day Shift". In back from left: Cliff, Daniel, Kristin and Micayla. Front from left: Liz and Amy. (Photo courtesy of Tim Martin)
“The Day Shift”. In back from left: Cliff, Daniel, Kristin and Micayla. Front from left: Liz and Amy. (Photo courtesy of Tim Martin)
Weighing a shark
Scientists Kristin Hannan and Amy Schmitt prepare to weigh a shark that has been brought up on deck.
Oregon II in Pascagoula.
One last picture before leaving the Oregon II. (photo courtesy of Lisa Jones)

Liz Harrington: Back into Action, August 23, 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. 23, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly cloudy
Lat. 29.31 °N  Lon. 84.18 °W
Temp.  83 °F (28.8 °C)
Humidity 79%
Wind speed   10-15 kts
Barometer  30.03 in ( 1017.15mb)
Visibility  10 mi

Science and Technology Log:

The weather hasn’t been cooperating with us too well as we have run in to an occasional squall. It is amazing just how quickly that wind can pick up. Yesterday in the course of hauling in the line the wind increased from 18 to 34 knots (A knot is similar to mph, but it uses a nautical mile as a distance. One knot = 1.15 mph).

Red Grouper await processing. Occasionally the catch becomes the bait and we pull in half of a fish.
Red Grouper await processing. Occasionally the catch becomes the bait and we pull in half of a fish.

But the fish have been cooperating. The lull is over and the catch has increased. For the most part we are catching Red Grouper, an occasional Red Snapper and a variety of sharks. Click here to see the shark species found in the Gulf of Mexico. The majority of the sharks have been large enough to cradle. When we hear “hard hats that means it’s a big one” and our team jumps into action. Some of the sharks come up in the cradle quietly, but others come up thrashing about.  They are quickly held down by the fishermen of the deck crew which keeps the sharks quiet and safe. Then the science team steps in to collect the data and insert a tag.  As the cradle is lowered back down it is paused to obtain the shark’s weight. There is an electronic scale located at the top of the cradle. It is then lowered into the water and the shark swims away. I’m still amazed at how efficient the process is. The sharks are measured, tagged and weighed in a matter of just a few minutes.

There is a level of excitement when catching any of these fish and sharks, but the exceptional catch raises that level.  This occurred a couple of days ago. We had something on the line and it was big – really big. Even the crew was yelling about its size.  I knew it was something special. As it got closer to the boat it was identified as a huge Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). The crane operator was bringing the cradle and the science team was getting ready when ……it was gone. It had bitten through the line. I guess there always has to be that big one that got away.

The huge Tiger Shark that got away.
The huge Tiger Shark that got away.

The level of excitement rose again when the next day we caught a Great Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran). Any of the larger Hammerheads or Tiger Sharks are being fitted with a satellite tag. This is attached to their dorsal fin (the large fin on their back).  Whenever the shark comes to the surface, the tag will transmit its location via radio waves to a satellite. The satellite will then send the signal back down to a receiving antennae and on to various labs. This is a type of remote sensing that is commonly used to track animals.  It gives scientists  information about animal’s behavior and migration patterns. These particular satellite tags are from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  It is a collaborative effort to get the tags on as many sharks as possible so they can study where they go after being caught.

Satellite tag on Great Hammerhead
Attaching a satellite tag to the dorsal fin of a Great Hammerhead Shark.

While working with the scientists I noticed that they use a combination of metric units, maritime units and imperial units. The fish are measured in millimeters, the electronic scale measured in pounds (normally it measures in  kilograms, but there was a technical issue that required changing to pounds), the handheld scale measure in kilograms, the water current is measured in knots, the depth for the CTD is measured in meters, the distance is measured in nautical miles and the survey areas are divided by fathoms ( 1 fathom = 6 feet), just to name a few.  It is helpful to be familiar with all of them and be able to convert from one type of unit to another.  It has made me think that we should be practicing our metric conversions even more than we currently do in class.  So, my incoming freshmen, get ready.

Personal Log :

The time is passing so quickly here on the ship. I think that is because there is always something happening here.  My daily routine consists of rising around 7:30 am, grabbing a light breakfast and then going to see what the night shift is doing. Often times they are preparing to haul in the line and I can’t resist watching that.  I have an early lunch since my shift will begin at noon, but we are usually prepared to go before that time. For the next twelve hours we will set the line, run the CTD, haul in the line and move on to the next site. Dinner is at 17:00 ( 5:00 pm) but if we are busy we can request a plate be set aside for us.  The distance between sites can be anywhere from less than a nautical mile (nm) to over 60 nm.  The ship can travel about 10 knots depending upon the wind and the current. So, there are times when we have a number of hours between sites. On these occasions I check my email, work on my blog, edit my pictures or just stand on the deck and look out over the water.  I always have my eyes open for animals, but it isn’t often that I see any.  Just water as far as the eye can see.  It gives me a sense of the vastness of the ocean. And I am seeing lots of beautiful cloud features and sunsets.

A beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
A beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

I had the special privilege of getting a tour by the Chief Marine Engineer, Sean Pfarrer, of the engine room. It is very  loud down there so we had to wear ear plugs.  Sean pointed to different things and I took  pictures. Then upstairs, in the relative quiet of the galley, he took the time to explain to me the role of each component. We had a really interesting discussion. Any mechanical questions that arose after that, Sean was the one I’d go to.  When I return, anyone interested in mechanics can listen to my presentation of the engine room – it’s more interesting than you may think.

The two main engines of the Oregon II
The two main engines of the Oregon II
wind picks up
As the wind picks up the day team scurries to clean up and put gear away because it is too rough to fish. Amy and Cliff clean and rinse the deck.
Sharpnose Shark
Weighing a Sharpnose Shark. photo courtesy of David Seay.
satellite tag
A closer view of the satellite tag attached to the dorsal fin.
measuring shark
Kristin calls out measurements to Amy as Daniel and Eric help hold the shark still.
otoliths
A pair of otoliths from a Red Grouper (Epinephelus morio).
yellowedge grouper
The day team only caught one Yellowedge Grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus). Photo courtesy of David Seay.
sharpnose shark
Teamwork is the key to the quick processing of this Sharpnose Shark. Amy, Daniel and I were done in no time. Photo courtesy of David Seay.

Julie Karre: Back to My Reality, August 12, 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 12, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sadly, I don’t know because I’m not there anymore.

The sunset on the last night. Exquisite. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman
The sunset on the last night. Exquisite. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Post-Cruise Log

I have been back on land for three days now and all I want to talk about are my adventures aboard the Oregon II. I miss everyone I met and hope that we all remain friends. But now that I am not in the moment and experiencing the adrenaline rush of handling sharks, I have time to think about all that I have learned and how I will make this experience valuable to my students. Because, while it was a true honor and privilege to have been aboard the Oregon II for two weeks, the real honor and privilege of my life is spending 10 months with students of Baltimore City Public Schools. And they matter the most right now.

I begin school in two weeks. Two weeks from now I will be standing in my classroom setting up what I hope to be a remarkable year of learning with 40 or so 7th graders and 40 or so 8th graders. Just picturing their faces coming through the door and the hugs and the squeals of delight as we get excited about seeing each other makes me the happiest version of myself.

My Armistead Gardens 7th graders received homemade cookies as a New Years Gift. I look forward to seeing them for a new year beginning August 26th.
My Armistead Gardens 7th graders received homemade cookies as a New Years Gift. I look forward to seeing them for a new year beginning August 26th.

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So what am I going to do with this experience? How will I make two of the most meaningful weeks of my life meaningful for kids who were not involved? How will I make what was mine, theirs?

Those are the questions that bounce around in my head all of the time now. No amount of blog writing and sharing pictures on Facebook matters if I don’t do this justice to those kids. And in the meantime, I would really like to make the people who made this possible proud. From the NOAA employees who run Teacher at Sea to the crew and scientists on the Oregon II to the volunteers who cheered me on and supported me to my parents who watched my dog, I want to make them proud.

So the brainstorming begins and this is where it starts. Over the course of the cruise, I kept track of our latitude and longitude at 11am each day and at each of our stations. During a 1-2 week unit during my Ecosystems In and Out of Balance semester of study, we will be using the research from my cruise to celebrate Shark Week – Armistead Gardens Style. We will begin by plotting the course of the Oregon II from July 26 to August 8. We will study the written descriptions of the shark species I encountered and see if we can match them with pictures. We will hypothesize how the flow of energy works in the marine ecosystems where these sharks are found – will the students guess that some of the big sharks eat some of the little sharks? I didn’t know that. Then we will begin to study what struggles these species encounter in an out-of-balance ecosystem – things like fishing and hypoxia and oil spills.

Beyond the marine science, we will look at who makes marine science possible. I cannot wait to share with these students the opportunities that abound in marine careers, from becoming a scientist like Kristin to driving a ship like Rachel.

This is just a beginning and I look forward to sharing the final product as I continue to develop it.

Thank you so much to everyone who followed my adventure. Thank you so much to everyone who made this possible. I will not let you down.

The volunteers from the first leg take their leave of the Oregon II and head back to their other lives. Photo Credit: Amy Schmitt
The volunteers from the first leg take their leave of the Oregon II and head back to their other lives. Photo Credit: Amy Schmitt
And now I am home with my lovely dog, Maddox.
And now I am home with my lovely dog, Maddox.


Animals Seen Over Two Weeks

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

I handle an Atlantic Sharpnose in one of my last hauls aboard the ship. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
I handle an Atlantic Sharpnose in one of my last hauls aboard the ship. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

Blacknose Shark

Nurse Shark

Scalloped Hammerhead

Bull Shark

Sandbar Shark

Night Shark

Silky Shark

Ribbonfish

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A ribbonfish makes an appearance. Quite the face it has.
A ribbonfish makes an appearance. Quite the face it has.

Grouper

Red Snapper

Black Sea Bass

A black sea bass makes a guest appearance in one of the final hauls on the Oregon II's first leg.
A black sea bass makes a guest appearance in one of the final hauls on the Oregon II’s first leg. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

Sea Turtles

Dolphins

Pilot Whales

Mahi Mahi

Mahi Mahi swim along as the night shift brings in the line. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman
Mahi Mahi swim along as the night shift brings in the line. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Sea stars

Jelly fish

Sea Pansy

Liz Harrington: The Adventure Begins – Setting Sail! August 13, 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: August 13, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly Cloudy
Lat. 24.24 ° N  Lon. 81.17 ° W
Temp.  86.9° F ( 30.5 °C)
Wind speed 12.1 knots
Barometer 1017 mb
Visibility 10 mi

Science and Technology Log

I’m very excited to finally be aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  Everyone I have met has made me feel very welcome.  I know I’m going to have a fantastic time.

Oregon II
Oregon II docked in Mayport, FL

The Oregon II set off from Mayport, Florida (near Jacksonville) Saturday at 1:30 pm (which is 13:30 our time since the crew uses the 24 hour time system).

24-hour Clock
24-hour Clock

We will travel along the entire eastern coast of Florida, around the Florida Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico where the fishing will begin.  I am on the second leg of a four leg Shark/Red Snapper survey.  This is a yearly survey with the purpose of gathering data on a number of shark species and Red Snapper, a popular commercial and recreational fish.  The majority of the sharks caught are weighed, measured, tagged and released.  A few are dissected, with tissue samples being taken for further studies.  The focus on the Red Snapper is to assess the health of the population.  With this information the fishing regulations are revised to ensure a sustainable Red Snapper stock.

The general public is beginning to understand that sharks don’t deserve their reputation as vicious killers but are actually an important link in the marine food web.  The data collected from the surveys will be used to better understand the various shark species and to inform those responsible for updating the fishing regulations.

The Oregon II is a beautiful ship with a friendly and welcoming crew.  One thing that stands out to me is the focus on safety.  Upon arriving at the ship I immediately noticed the bright red message stenciled upon her.  The commitment to that message is evident throughout the ship with safety equipment readily available, briefings for the new people arriving, life raft assignments and safety drills carried out.

Safety is an important practice on the Oregon II.
Safety is an important practice on the Oregon II.

Yesterday we participated in two safety drills.  The first was a Spill Drill.  When the alarm sounded people went to their assigned stations.  Members of the Science Team went to the dry lab and were all accounted for. Other members of the crew reported to the spill area with the appropriate gear to contain and clean up the mock spill.  A second drill we performed was an Abandon Ship drill.  In this drill we all needed to report to the foredeck with our survival suit, our PFD (personal flotation device or life jacket) and a set of clothing to protect against sun exposure (hat, long pants and long-sleeved shirt). We all had to demonstrate putting on our PFD as well as our survival suit. It may not surprise you to hear that I had plenty of room inside my survival suit and it was very easy to get into.

Fire fighting gear ready to go.
Fire fighting gear ready to go.

However, I did have to concentrate to zip the suit with my big, mitted hand. You may have thought, as I had, that survival suits were for the chilly northern waters.  But the ocean temperature here is close to 80° F while our body temperature is 98.6°.  It wouldn’t take long to chill and become hypothermic.  It is very comforting to know that safety plays such an important role on this ship and the captain and crew follow the saying “plan for the worst, hope for the best”.

survival suit
Abandon ship drill requires putting on a survival suit.

This morning we are located just south of the Florida Keys.  Our latitude is 24.24° N.  We are close to the Tropic of Cancer, but we won’t be crossing it.

sunrise off Florida Keys
Sunrise off the Florida Keys

Once around the Keys we’ll begin to head north again.  We may begin fishing this evening or early tomorrow morning, as soon as we reach our first survey point.  I’m looking forward to learning how the fishing is done and especially seeing what we catch.

storing suit
Survival suit is properly stored so it is always ready for use.
PFD
Easy access to PFDs stored in our rooms.
life raft
Self-inflating life raft. I am assigned to Life Raft #1.

Julie Karre: A Weekend with the Wind and Wild Sharks, August 2-4, 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 Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Coast of Florida
Date: Friday, August 2 – Sunday, August 4, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Friday – SW WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS
SEAS 3 TO 5 FEET
SCATTERED SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS

Saturday – SW WINDS AROUND 15 KNOTS
ISOLATED SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS MAINLY AFTER MIDNIGHT
SEAS AROUND 4 FEET

Sunday – W WIND 5 TO 7 KNOTS BECOMING VARIABLE AND LESS THAN 5 KNOTS
A CHANCE OF SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS MAINLY AFTER 10PM
SEAS AROUND 3 FEET

Science and Technology Log
In this log we’ll take a closer look at the sharks we’ve brought on board:

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark:

Volunteer Arjen Krigsman works on a Sharpnose on his birthday!
Volunteer Arjen Krijgsman works on a Sharpnose on his birthday!

The Atlantic Sharpnose has been the most abundant shark on our survey and will continue to be abundant for the rest of the cruise, even in the Gulf of Mexico. It is in fact one of the species that is on the Least Concern list in terms of its vulnerability. It is often a victim of by-catch and makes up 1/3 of the commercial landings of sharks in the United States. But being capable of producing offspring in abundance, the Sharpnose remains a steady species with moderate population growths. As indicated by its name the Atlantic Sharpnose is found all along the U.S. Atlantic coast and even as far as New Brunswick, Canada. When the Oregon II makes its way back into the Gulf of Mexico, it will likely continue to make an appearance on deck.

Blacknose Shark

Blacknose Shark Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Longline cruise on the Oregon II. Unfortunately, when we caught the Blacknose it was too dark to get a good picture.
Blacknose Shark
Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Longline cruise on the Oregon II.  When we caught a Blacknose on this cruise it was too dark to get a good picture.

The Blacknose Shark shares a similar body with the Sharpnose, but is marked by a (drumroll please) black mark on its nose. Unfortunately, the Blacknose doesn’t share its abundance with the Sharpnose. The Blacknose is listed as Near Threatened due to its high mortality rates in shrimp trawl nets. The Blacknose is suffering a decline in its population. The Oregon II has only seen 5-6 Blacknose during this leg of the survey.

Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Oregon II cruise. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get quality photos from our Nurse Shark.
Nurse Shark
Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Oregon II cruise. Again, it was too dark to get quality photos of our Nurse Shark.

The Nurse Shark, the first big shark we cradled, is characterized by sedentary and relatively docile behavior. They are still relatively mysterious in their migratory behavior and the gene flow between populations. Recently, it has been shown in population decline in certain areas perhaps due to its vulnerability to catch, but also perhaps because of habitat alteration.

Scalloped Hammerhead

Measuring a Scalloped Hammerhead.
Measuring a Scalloped Hammerhead.

The Scalloped Hammerhead has been my favorite so far. A friend of mine characterized it as the hipster of the shark world. There is something truly magnificent about those wide-set eyes. Unfortunately, the Scalloped Hammerhead is Endangered. The Scalloped Hammerhead can be found in coastal temperate waters all around the world. In each of these regions, it is threatened by capture, mostly as by-catch in fishing gear, gillnets, and longlines. Hammerhead shark fins are also more valuable than other species because of their high fin count. The species is in decline.

Bull Shark

Bull Shark! 232 pounds!
Bull Shark! 232 pounds!

The Bull Shark is a unique shark species because it can survive in freshwater for extended periods of time. This ability has caused it to be categorized as Near Threatened because it often gets caught in fisheries, but it is not a target species the way others are. Here’s what Kristin Hannan had to say: “Bull sharks’ ability to tolerate greater salinity extremes means that it is likely to be in more productive areas like at the input of rivers.  The rivers which dump high levels of nutrients into the system spur on production, high nutrients means more phytoplankton, more phytoplankton means more small critters eating and so on up.  These areas also mean hot spots for fishing activities as productivity means more fish, more fish means more predators, more interaction with gear, more possibilities for shark mortality.”

Sandbar Shark

A Sandbar Shark coming up on the cradle.
A Sandbar Shark coming up on the cradle.

The Sandbar Shark, which we caught in abundance one night, is a widespread species in warm temperate waters. Studies have found that it is a long-lived species, but it does not reproduce quickly so it has become Vulnerable due to overfishing. The species is currently in decline. The Sandbar is considered valuable because of their fins, which are large.

Tiger Shark 

A medium sized Tiger Shark was brought on deck to be measured and tagged. Kristin Hannan stands waiting for it to stop moving.
A medium sized Tiger Shark was brought on deck to be measured and tagged. Kristin Hannan stands waiting for it to stop moving.

The Tiger Shark is commonly found world wide in tropical and warm coastal waters. Aside from the Sandbar, it is the largest shark we have caught the most of. Fortunately, it is considered a fast-growing species with the ability to reproduce abundantly. It is not considered at a high risk for extinction, but the desire for fins makes the risk of further population decline a distinct possibility.

Night Shark

This Night Shark was the only of its kind we brought up so far.
This Night Shark was the only one of its kind we’ve brought up so far.

We have only caught 1 Night Shark during our survey. It is a Vulnerable species. It is prized mostly for its fins and meats and is caught in abundance off the coast of Brazil. Studies have shown that most of the Night Sharks landed were below 50% maturity, which is 8 years for males and 10 years for females. In the United States, the Night Shark is listed as a prohibited species.

When talking to Kristin about these sharks, she shared this about their reproduction, “All sharks are considered K-selected species like humans; we are late to mature, grow slowly and reproduce relatively few young comparatively to say a bony fish that might produce thousands of babies in its lifetime (s-selected).  So when we talk about a tiger [shark] vs. a sandbar [shark] being more or less productive, it is definitely in relation to each other and not all fish. A tiger [shark] does produce more young than some other species but way less than the red grouper he goes after for dinner.  This is why all sharks are so sensitive to fishing pressures; they have a considerably longer bounce back time.”

Personal Log
It’s hard to believe that over a week has passed, but given how much we have seen and done, it makes sense.

As I get more and more comfortable handling sharks and working on the boat, I have noticed a few things. My sister-in-law Elizabeth noticed a few years ago that my family has a love for responding to each other (and often friends and acquaintances) with movie quotes. The most commonly quoted movies in our family include The Big Lebowski, The Princess Bride, Blues Brothers, To Kill A Mockingbird, and many more. I am no exception to this family trend.

So while we’re all eagerly awaiting the call that a shark is on the hook, it occurred to me that this movie-quoting affliction had not escaped this trip. When a fish or shark is caught on one of our hooks, the fishermen call out “Fish on” to notify those of us handling to come over and retrieve the animal. I realized that this was no common call in my head, though. Each time I hear the “Fish on” I hear it more in the call of “Game Ooon” from Wayne’s World. I suppose that’s a hazard of anyone growing up in the 90s. What proves I am truly a Karre though is that when I’m talking to the shark I’m handling, asking and sometimes begging it to be still so I can remove the hook quickly and reduce its harm and pain, in my head the shark is responding “Oh I’m cooperating with you” in the voice of William H. Macy from the movie Fargo.

"Fish ooonnn" - A Sharpnose comes up to join us.
“Fish ooonnn” – A Sharpnose comes up to join us.
"Oh I'm cooperating with you" says the Sharpnose that has just come aboard the Oregon II.
“Oh I’m cooperating with you” says the Sharpnose that has just come aboard the Oregon II.

Did You Know?
There are over 6000 known coral species around the world. We have brought up several pieces of coral on our clips. Kevin found a bright red piece of coral, which prompted a lesson for us about how many red corals release an irritant that will make our skin burn and sting. Fortunately, that’s not what Kevin brought up!

The sun is setting on my trip and all I can say is that it has been extraordinary.
The sun is setting on my trip and all I can say is that it has been extraordinary.

Sarah Boehm: Home Again, July 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 10, 2013

Personal Log

The Oregon II pulled into port Sunday morning after a successful 2 week leg of the summer groundfish survey. The first thing I wanted to do when we got to land was to go for a walk. It did feel great to stretch my legs and move more than 170 feet at a time. Being on land again felt funny, as if the ground was moving under me. I thought this “dock rock” would pass quickly, but even two days later I had moments of feeling unsteady. On Monday I made my way back home to Massachusetts, arriving after 12 hours of planes and cars to a delightfully cool evening (although I hear it had been very hot while I was gone.)

I still have some photos and videos I wanted to share, so I thought I’d put together one more blog post with some amazing and fun creatures we saw.

We saw sharks swimming near the boat a few times, but this video shows the most dramatic time. This group of at least 8 sharks attacked the net as it brought up a bunch of fish, ripping holes in the net and spilling the fish. They then feasted on all that easy food floating in the water.

puffers
Adult puffer fish on the left from a groundfish trawl and a baby puffer from a plankton tow on the right
jelly nets
Icicles? Nope. Those are jellies that got caught in the net.
small flying fish
A very small flying fish with its “wings” extended.

One of my favorite fish is the flying fish. These fish have very long pectoral fins on the side of their bodies that act like wings. They can’t really fly, but they can soar an impressive distance through the air. We sometimes caught them in the Neuston net as it skimmed the top of the water. They are great fun to watch as groups of them will take to the air to get out of the way of the boat. Even more fun was watching dolphins hunting the flying fish! I was unsuccessful at getting a video, but you can watch them in this BBC clip.

flying fish
It must be the end of watch. Me with a flying fish.

Another cool animal we found were hermit crabs. The ones we caught were bigger than any I had found at a beach. The shell they live in was made by a gastropod (snail). As the hermit crab grows it has to find a bigger shell to move into.

hermit crab
A large hermit crab in its shell.
hermit crab without its shell
We had to take the hermit crab out of its shell to weigh it. The head and claws have a hard shell, but the back part is soft and squishy.
hermit and anemones
This hermit crab has sea anemones living on its shell.

Look closely at the spots of color on this video of a squid. You can see how the color and patterns are changing.

A few more cool critters we found:

stargazer
This stargazer looks like a dragon, but fits in the palm of your hand. It buries itself in the mud and then springs out to grab prey.
mantis shrimp
We found many mantis shrimp. It gets its name because those front legs are similar to those of the praying mantis. Those legs are incredibly fast and strong to kill its prey.

I knew there were many oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico, but I was surprised by just how many we passed. There are almost 4,000 active rigs in the waters from Texas to Alabama. While we went through this area there were always a few visible. They reminded me of walkers, the long legged vehicles from the Star Wars movies, with their boxy shapes perched above the water. By comparison, the waters near Florida were deserted because offshore oil drilling is not allowed and there were few other ships.

oil rig
Oil rigs
evening rig
Work on an oil rig also goes on 24 hours a day.

It was fabulous spending this time out on the groundfish survey with the scientists and crew of the Oregon II. Now I have a greater understanding of the Gulf ecosystem and science in action.  I truly appreciate the time people on board spent to teach me new things and answer all my questions. I also have enjoyed all my students’ comments and questions. Keep them coming!

storm approaching
A storm approaches as we pull in to Pascagoula.

Steven Wilkie: June 29, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
STEVEN WILKIE
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II
JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 29, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 28.06
Longitude -96.43
Speed 8.40 kts
Course 89.00
Wind Speed 13.90 kts
Wind Dir. 71.56 º
Surf. Water Temp. 27.80 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 29.30 ºC
Relative Humidity 76.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1013.73 mb
Water Depth 26.00 m

Science and Technology Log

A preserved plankton sample from one of the Oregon II's bongo nets.

So now that we have an understanding of abiotic factors, let’s talk biotic factors, and for the most part, those biotic factors are going to be fish and plankton.  The majority of our plankton (plankton are organisms–plants or animals–that are too small to fight against the current and thus drift along with it) samples come from the neuston and bongo nets.  After we have our bongo or neuston nets back on board, the science crew goes to work preserving the specimens.

Something common in the neuston net, is Sargassum a type of brown algae belonging to the Kingdom Protista and the Phlyum phaeophyta (kingdoms and phylums are associated with the science of taxonomy or classification).    If you are familiar with kelp, then you are familiar with brown algae.  Kelp is a long algae that fastens itself to the bottom of the seafloor with a root of sorts called a holdfast.  Sargassum, however, does not hold fast, but rather drifts out in the open ocean.  It can stay afloat because Sargassum has little tiny gas-filled floats called pneumatocysts.  These clumps of algae can provide much needed hiding places for small marine organisms out in the open ocean.  Because so many organism might live in, on or around the mats of Sargassum whenever we capture Sargassumin our nets we have to be sure to wash them down thoroughly in order to ensure that we get as many of the creatures off of the blades as possible.

Sargassum, a brown algae, provides important habitat for many marine organisms including juvenile fish. Clearly visible are the pneumatocysts, gas-filled floats, that help keep the algae at the surface of the ocean.

The currents of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic actually concentrate the Sargassum into a giant mass in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean, commonly referred to as the Sargasso Sea.  So significant is the Sargassum, that Christopher Columbus feared for the safe passage of his ships because of the thick mass of algae.

The adventures of Captain Nemo as penned by Jules Verne in the late 19th century even commented on the nature of this floating mass of algae:  “This second arm–it is rather a collar than an arm–surrounds with its circles of warm water that portion of the cold, quiet, immovable ocean called the Sargasso Sea, a perfect lake in the open Atlantic: it takes no less than three years for the great current to pass round it. Such was the region the Nautilus was now visiting, a perfect meadow, a close carpet of seaweed, fucus, and tropical berries, so thick and so compact that the stem of a vessel could hardly tear its way through it. And Captain Nemo, not wishing to entangle his screw in this herbaceous mass, kept some yards beneath the surface of the waves.  The name Sargasso comes from the Spanish word “sargazzo” which signifies kelp.”

As interesting and important as Sargassum is to the ocean environment, it is not our targeted organism, which is, for the most part fish!  Although not a fish, crustaceans are still an important fishery, and few are more significant than Panaeus aztecus (brown shrimp), Panaeus setiferus (white shrimp)  and Panaeus duorarum (pink shrimp).  Chances are if you are dining on shrimp cocktail you are eating one of these three species.

One of many (so many) brown shrimp to be measured. We measure from the length of the rostrum (the point part by their eyes) to the tip of their (tail).
Lutjanus campiechanus (or the red snapper) is another commercially important species that scientists are particularly interested in.  Species like the red snapper are of particular concern because, according to NOAA’s Fish Watch website, the population is currently at low levels prompting NOAA to establish temporary restrictions on fishing this species in past years.
It is the work of the crew aboard the Oregon II to collect the data that helps scientists predict population trends in species such as these which allows government regulations to be based on sound science.  Although sometimes unpopular with the local fishing industry the temporary ban on fishing for some species is aimed at providing a long-term sustainable population for future generations.
Prized by the fishing industry and restauranteurs, red snapper are a species of particular concern because of the pressures local fisheries have placed on the species.
 Although not a primary target of this fish survey,  cartilaginous fish (Class Chondricthyes…there’s that taxonomy again) like sharks, rays and skates are also organisms of particular concern.  Unlike the majority of the fish we bring on board, which are bony fish belonging to the Class Osteicthyes, the majority of cartilaginous fish reproduce internally.  This means that a female shark, ray or skate, might have much fewer offspring in a given year, but those offspring might be more mature once they are born.  Bony fish on the other hand often lay eggs externally by the thousands, but only a small percentage survive.
The watch leader of my watch, Brittany Palm, realizes the significance of the reproductive habits of these organisms (follow this link to review Brittany and her fellow authors extensive work)  and has used much of her expertise gained through NOAA cruises like this one to publish scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals.
If you recall, one of the steps of the “scientific method” is to share your results, and there is no better way than to publish your findings in journals for other scientists to read.  Although writing a paper may sound simple, this is not your average high school term paper–there is considerably more effort required.  Brittany and her fellow authors labored for close to four years to finally draft and submit the paper for publishing.
An example of a cartilaginous fish, the Atlantic angelshark (Squatina dumeril) was brought on board as part of one of our trawls.
Although we may not write anything as extensive at the high school level, good sound scientific investigations will always end up with you sharing your results, and as a result, well-researched background information is always essential.  To all my past and future students out there, feel free to take note of the reference section of the paper and remember how important references and good research is in backing up your work!
 
Personal Log
It has not taken long to get into the rhythm of things aboard ship.  Although I thought that the waves might lead to a little sea sickness, I now find them quite soothing, and am curious as to how I might feel once back on shore as I struggle to get my land legs back.  Sleeping with the waves is a slightly different story. At times they can lull you off to sleep (or it might simply be the twelve hours of sorting, measuring and weighing the catch that does that); other times they can roll you right into your bunk wall and snap you awake.  My bunk is on the top, so the wall is better than the floor I suppose!
Although the waves have been soothing up to this point, we are possibly facing some inclement weather as the first tropical storm of the season, Arlene, is to our southwest heading towards the Mexican coast.  If the weather picks up too much we  may have to head in shore to work up some of the shallower stations while the Gulf settles back down.  Either way we will be kept busy, measuring fish or measuring the waves!
Tropical Storm Arlene, the first tropical storm of the Atlantic season is headed for the Mexico coast in the next few days.

Peggy Deichstetter, September 9, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date:  September 9, 2010

Sunrise
Sunrise

Fishing as been suspended until first light. The day dawns and the water is no longerintimidating. The sun is back and it looks like a good day for fishing. We are on our way to the next fishing station.

Mike, an observer for Alaska, and I are sitting on the back deck talking when a rogue wave hits the side of the ship knocking Mike off his chair into the Ballards. (Ballards are used to tie the ship to the dock.) Mike is definitely hurt. I run for help. The crew clears everyone off the deck so they can assess Mike’s condition. Jason, one of the officers, interviews me for the accident report. It appears that Mike crack his ribs in the fall. We are now headed into port to take Mike to the hospital.It takes five hours to get into port. I check on Mike. He says he hurts but he’s okay. Word comes down that we’ll spend the night into port since there is no way to get back to a shark station today. Since we know Mike is going to be okay, we are getting excited about going into town.We think the boat will be docked at the cruise terminal which would be very easy to walk into town. However, we disembark at a pier that is at least 2 miles from town and it is HOT! Aaron, one of the officers, is taking Mike to the hospital. I ask if he could drop me off in town. After clearing it with the lead scientist and gathering a few others, we share Mike’s van and get into town.Cassidy, Ashley, Claudia and I spend the afternoon walking the Strand. We stopped for a drink and then and some Ice Cream. Cassidy and I want to get back to the ship, since we are on the night shift. Aaron told us that he would run a shuttle for anyone who wants to come back at 5:00pm. Cassidy and I meet Tim and Larry a little before five at the appointed spot. No Aaron, no van. Tim finally calls the ship to find out the van is in use. So we walk.We missed dinner but the cook warmed it up for us. Off to bed.

Peggy Deichstetter, September 7, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date:  September 7, 2010

First, I must make a correction in yesterday’s blog. Hermine never made it to hurricane status. It was only a tropical storm when it hit Texas last night. We are waiting for the storm to clear because working outside is too dangerous. Finding something to do is very challenging. The internet wasn’t working last night. I guess I could have done some work on the computer but I forgot the discs in my room. As you may recall I can’t return to because my room mate who is on the day shift, is sleeping. Not good form to try to find something in the dark when someone else is sleeping.

We are currently sailing back and forth near our next shark station so when the weather clears we’ll be ready to go. So there really isn’t much to report for day ten.

Peggy Deichstetter, September 6, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date:  September 6, 2010

What an exciting beginning of my shift. First of all , the seas were rough, well rough for me anyway The line the other shift had set was ready to be brought in. You could feel the energy in the air. The day shift was still on deck with cameras ready. It took awhile for the ship to find the small blinking light in the rough seas. But they did eventually find it and the work began. First hook had a Sharp Nose, and it continued hit after hit. There was a total of 26 fish, most of them Sharp Nose but also a few Black Tip and Spinner sharks.
I must say I admire the scientists. Here we are in the middle of the night on rough seas and these guys are hanging over the side of the boat pulling in some large fish. The other scientists pulled the hooks out , measured, weighed, and tagged them, all on a rocking deck.
Removing the hook
Removing the hook

I’d like to thank the day shift for sticking around, they were invaluable in getting all of the fish processed in a timely manner.

Our next station is a plankton tow. Its two hours away. I started my blog and then started to proof read my published one because the internet was working. Sleepiness and/ or sickness came over me. The dry lab, where the computers are, is small and in the rear of the ship, which is really a great place to get seasick.
I went out and sat on deck and immediately fell asleep. I woke up as the rest of my team gathered on deck for the plankton tow. The seas are so rough that the decision was made only to do the bongos. Once again I have to admire these guys hanging over the edge to put in and take out the netting. Our next shark station is two hours away.
This free time gave me the opportunity to see that a hurricane, Hermine, is forming in the lower Gulf and predicted to move towards……………..us. Everyone needs a little excitement in their life. I think I will take out my panic attack and dust it off just in case I need it later.
The weather has gotten really bad. The rest of the stations for today were called off. The team leaders brought in or tied down everything on deck. I now understand the meaning of the phrase batten down the hatches.

Peggy Deichstetter, September 5, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date:  September 5, 2010

Well, I think this coffee has done away with my caffeine habit. I’m down to a half cup diluted with water and that is only because I needed to wake up. I’ve noticed that most of the people on this ship are tea drinkers. Now, I know why.
our shark

Our watch began with sailing to the next plankton station. A squall began, so it was time to get my raingear on. During the squall birds seemed to be attracted to the ship. Toward the end of the storm a little warbler landed on deck. He kept trying to find a place to land away from people. Finally, he was so tired, he landed at my feet. After a few seconds he flew to the edge of the stern. He contently waited out the storm there.

I asked Laurie, one of the marine biologists if she had any ideas on why the birds were following us. Apparently, there was a birder on the last trip that explained because we are close to shore (one of my favorite spots, Corpus Christi) the insect were attracted to our lights and the birds are attracted to the insects.
Again we had problems with the plankton tow. After they got the equipment fixed another squall started and the deployment of the equipment was delayed, once again, until the end of the storm.
Taking Samples
Taking Samples

We finally got to the Shark Station. Not too exciting tonight. We only caught two dogfish sharks. I didn’t even take pictures because it paled to what we have all ready done.

We are at the last Shark Station for our watch. I guess we saved the best for last. Hook number 82 gave an 16 foot Sand Shark,. Too big to be brought on deck, she was measured and weighed in her basket. Tissue samples were taken and she was tagged before we let her go. Exciting!!!!
Shark in basket
Shark in basket

Peggy Deichstetter, September 3, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date:  September 3, 2010

Groupers
Groupers

My biorhythm clock has been reset; I didn’t wake up until my alarm rang at 11:00pmWhat an exciting start to the shift. The day shift caught nothing all day. Within a few minutes of our arrival the fish just kept coming. There were so many that the day shift stayed on to help us measure, weigh, and tag the sharks before we returned them to the sea.. Besides the sharks we also caught a large red snapper.

measuring a shark
measuring a shark

Next Cassidy and I helped out with the bongos. These are twin plankton tows that stay at a certain angle based on controlling the angle of the line. The depth is determined by the amount of line that is let out. The first time we got the baskets a little too deep in the water. So we brought up two containers of mud. We rinsed out all the mud and tried again. This time we were successful. Cassidy and I rinsed the baskets into sieves and washed down the plankton before putting it in specimen jarsWe then proceeded to bait one hundred more hooks and once again began out quest for sharks. After dropping the line and waiting an hour we were ready to pull in more sharks. I .worked the computer for this catch The computer logs in the exact location of each fish caught We caught NO sharks this time. We did catch three huge Groupers.I intended to watch the sun rise but it was behind a cloud bank. We had an hour before our next station, so we had breakfast. I’d like to give a big thanks to our cooks. You can have pretty much what you want for breakfast made to order

We arrive at the next station at 8:00am. It is another plankton tow, but this time we caught a moon jelly. It takes up about an hour then on to our next station, sharks! Unfortunately, its going to take us two hours to get there. I don’t think our shift will have the opportunity to land the sharks.

Peggy Deichstetter, September 1, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 1, 2010

 

Teacher at Sea Peggy Deichstetter in her hard hat
Teacher at Sea Peggy Deichstetter in her hard hat
On the bridge
On the bridge

Day 4 Sept . 1

We are about an hour away from out first data collection area. This morning just before dawn I got a tour of the bridge. The CO showed my all the computers that keep track of where we are. I learned a lot, not only about the bridge but also about careers in NOAA.(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).. NOAA is made up of several parts, the CO and I talked about the oceanic parts; the officers and crew who run the ship and the scientists. The officers follow the same rules as the military. If you are in the Navy you can transfer directly into this division.

The scientists do the actual research designed by NOAA to answer questions about the ocean. In this cruise we are counting, tagging and releasing shark. This will tell us about how many sharks are in this area at this time of year. NOAA has collected data for twenty year so they will be able to tell the health of the shark population.

To help collect information of the effect of the oil spill we are also doing water analysis and plankton tows.

After lunch we were taught how to do a plankton tow. I have done numerous plankton tows in my life but never on this scale. I used all the skills that I learned when I did research in the Arctic except on a much larger scale.

Peggy Deichstetter: Day 4 September 1

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Peggy Deichstetter
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Me on the deck
Me on the deck

Day 4 Sept . 1

We are about an hour away from out first data collection area. This morning just before dawn I got a tour of the bridge. The CO showed my all the computers that keep track of where we are. I learned a lot, not only about the bridge but also about careers in NOAA.(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) . NOAA is made up of several parts, the CO and I talked about the oceanic parts; the officers and crew who run the ship and the scientists. The officers follow the same rules as the military. If you are in the Navy you can transfer directly into this division.

Navigational Computers
Navigational Computers

The scientists do the actual research designed by NOAA to answer questions about the ocean. In this cruise we are counting, tagging and releasing shark. This will tell us about how many sharks are in this area at this time of year. NOAA has collected data for twenty year so they will be able to tell the health of the shark population.

To help collect information of the effect of the oil spill we are also doing water analysis and plankton tows.

After lunch we were taught how to do a plankton tow. I have done numerous plankton tows in my life but never on this scale. I used all the skills that I learned when I did research in the Arctic except on a much larger scale.

Peggy Deichstetter, August 31, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Day 1 August 30


Peggy Deichstetter in her Safety Suit
Peggy Deichstetter in her Safety Suit
Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit
Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit
Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit
Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit

I woke up at 2:30am. Why didn’t my alarm go off? Now, I have to get dressed with all the stuff I will need for the rest of the day without waking my roommate. I make my way to the galley for some coffee. I pour a cup and take a gulp. This is soooooo bad. This is ever stronger than Mr. D’Agostino’s coffee. I make a new pot and sit down to work on my blog.

We have not had internet access since we departed yesterday and it looks like we won’t have it until noon tomorrow. Oh, life at sea. I also found out that we have another day at sea before we get to our fishing spot.

With a controlled experiment you need to have everything the same. So the spots we will be fishing in will be the same spots that they have done for the last 20 years. Our assignment is the coast of Mexico to Galveston Texas.

In my quest to stay awake for shift I went to bed at noon. At 12:30 the abandon ship drill was sounded, a difficult challenge, wake up, get down from the upper bunk, grab my survival suit and get to muster station. Once checked for roll call I got opportunity to don my survival suit. I have included some great pictures so everyone can have a good laugh.

Annmarie Babicki, August 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 27, 2010

Before I left for this cruise, I believed this would be a once in a lifetime experience.  This trip exceeded all of my expectations and was due to everyone on board the Oregon II.  I am forever grateful for all that I learned from all of you.  I left the Gulf not just with knowledge about species of sharks, but also about what and how scientists collect data.  There’s a great deal of responsibility in knowing that the data you collect, will be used to determine policy, which will impact the lives of so many people who live in the Gulf.
Your admiration, respect and compassion for sharks was evident in so many ways. You introduced me to some of the most beautiful and powerful creatures on this earth and I thank you for that. I am so very grateful to Trey for being open to having me as part of his team. He listened to and answered my many questions and was indeed very patient with me.  I will bring back to my young students not only what I have been taught, but also the passion, I too, now feel for these animals.  My hope is that it will inspire some of them to think about becoming scientists.
Rainbow
Rainbow from the Oregon II
To NOAA’s Captain Dave and his very capable and wonderful crew, I would like you to know how much I appreciate you sharing your lives and expertise with me.  I know that for much of the year, the Oregon II is your home and I am grateful that you were willing to share it with me.  You are all so knowledgeable in what you do and I felt very safe on board your ship.  The teamwork that I witnessed was impressive and you made running and driving the ship seem so easy.  I will certainly convey to my students the role that your teamwork played in making our trip a successful and productive one.   One of my goals upon returning to school will be to share your stories and the work you do.  I want my students to know about the many career opportunities that are available to them if they have a love for the ocean. It could be that your story will be their inspiration.
I am very grateful to all of you for this incredible journey.  I feel blessed to have so many memories that will last a lifetime.  Safe Travel.
Sunset
Sunset from the Oregon II

Annmarie Babicki, August 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date  August 20, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:  28.52 degrees North
Longitude:  85.52 degrees West
Clouds: partly cloudy
Winds:  10.37 kts.
Waves:  2-3 Feet
Air Temperature: 31.3 degrees C or 88 degrees F
Water Temperature:  29.7 degrees C or 85 degrees F
Barometric Pressure:  1014.28
Bull shark in the cradle

Science and Technology:

  There have been a couple of times when we have worked through a station and have not caught a fish.  That has been very discouraging and rather boring.  However, we had several stations that made up on it and we could barely keep up with bringing in the catch.  One catch, we caught seven sharks that needed to be put in the cradle because they were so large.
Underside of a bull shark
Bull sharks can be dangerous in the Gulf area because they swim in shallow waters where recreational activities take place.  They are one of the most abundant species of sharks, so you do have to be watchful of them.  It is fairly easy to recognize them because of the width of their midsection is and by their rounded nose.  The bull shark was a big male weighing 130 lb.  The black lines you can see just behind his head are the gills slits.  It’s amazing to think that he was enticed with a three inch piece of mackerel. This was only  second bull shark we have caught on our trip thus far.  The night shift also caught one and they were as excited as we were.
We also caught three sandbar sharks, which is the most common large shark we are catching out here.  They ranged in weight from 82 lb. to 136 lb.  Their colors vary from being a light sandy color to a grayish brown.  We had one fighter that thrashed around in the cradle.  The scientists was able  to calm it down, so that it did not hurt itself.  I made a video of one of the catches and it took the scientist and his assistants three min. to weigh, measure, tag and get the hook out of that shark.  I did tag a sandbar shark, but generally do not handle the really big ones.  This expert shark scientist is so skilled at handling sharks and the collecting of data he needs without stressing the sharks. I am in awe of his work and I very much admire the work he is doing to protect the shark populations in the Gulf.
We have caught several little sharks from the dogfish family that are not easily identifiable just by observing them. In order to identify them, the scientist takes a biopsy punch, which takes a small piece     (approx. .8 cm.) of skin just below the dorsal fin. It doesn’t hurt the shark and does not go deep into the muscle tissue. When the DNA testing is completed, the scientist will have the correct genus and species of the shark, which they can then enter into their data base.  Having accurate data is a must.  Without valid data, the shark populations will not be managed properly, which impacts sharks and fisheries.
Two embryos from a sharpnose shark
Another small shark that we caught was the sharpnose shark, which we dissected a few days ago.  Once again it was dissected and the data was collected on the female and her embryos.  They were measured and were old enough that the sex could be determined.  That was amazing to me as they were so small and translucent.  I will be bringing two of the embryos home with me.  I am sure my students will be excited them because you really can see their shark features.
In addition to the scientists on board, we have two contracted bird watchers, who have come to observe birds in the Gulf.  What has brought them here is in part the impact of the oil spill on the birds in open waters.  The other reason is that there have been few studies of Gulf birds, so at the very least they have begun to set a baseline for the species and populations.  Early on in our trip, we saw a very small bird called a cliff swallow that was migrating south to Argentina, which is its home.  It was fun to watch how they glided as they circled the ship.  It was aerodynamics at its best.  I was told that in February or earlier, it flies to North America where is mates and bears its young.  These birds travel this distance every year, which may account for why they live only 2 or 3 years.
A cliff swallow

 Personal Log

I have interviewed many of the officers and members of the science team since I arrived.  They come from diverse backgrounds and their journeys coming on the Oregon II are also very different.  Everyone has been very helpful and kind, even though I have so many questions that are both personal and professional in nature.  I look forward to sharing their stories with my students.
Sleeping has been a little more difficult for the past couple days.  I think it is the constant running of the engines.  I have not experience any soundless time, which I often have at home.  It will be nice to get home where it is quiet.  The crew has informed me that the lack of noise may bother me because it does them whenever they return from a trip.  They also stated that I will need a couple of days to adjust to land life.  I hope not since I start school on Thursday!
I will complete one more blog
“Animals Seen Today”  blacktip shark tiger shark, sharpnose.  yellow wedge grouper, golden tile fish, king snake eel.
Did You Know” that if a  hook is left in a shark’s mouth, it will rust out and the shark will expel what is left.

Annmarie Babicki, August 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date  August 17, 2010

Weather Data from the bridge

Latitude:  26.96 defgrees North
Longitude: 83.95 degrees West
Clouds: partly cloudy
Winds:  5.0 kts.
Temperature: 31.70 C or 89 degrees F
Barometric Pressure: 1014.55
A blacknose shark

Science and Technology:

shark embryo
Measuring the shark embryo
It was afternoon when we caught a sharpnose shark, a silky shark and 6 blacknose sharks. This was very exciting because the blacknose shark is the chief scientist’s project out here in the Gulf. In order for him to make observations of age, maturity and reproduction, he has to dissect the shark. Three of the blacknose were put back in the ocean after they were weighed, measured and tagged. The other three waited for dissection. I watched as the three sharks were dissected and the only part that cause me to look away was cutting off the head.  Some of my team members were so excited because they could keep the head and later remove the jaw.  That is a lot of work, which I do not have the patience for, so I will not be bringing home a shark’s jaw and teeth.  If there is time, one of the observers said she would prepare a jaw for me. Even if I do not get the jaw, I will be bringing back a shark fin, shark blood and several shark embryos.  The shark fin is currently drying out and the embryo is being stored in ethanol, which is used for all specimens. I won’t go into all the gory details, but the scientist removed the entire reproductive system.  He was looking to see if the shark had given birth and he can tell this by the color of the uterine tissue.  The sharks collected, had produced 4-5 embryos each. The yellow yolk is a soup like fluid that the embryo feeds on the nutrients from its mother.  There is a thin mucus that covers both the embryo and the yolk. It reminds me of a chicken’s egg. Each shark embryo was measured and cataloged.  The data will be used when the scientist writes his paper on the reproduction of sharks, which will then be published.
This evening there was a good deal of excitement on board.  We were hauling back our catch when the line broke.  The thought was that it could be caught on something on the ocean floor or a small reef.  It also could be that the line snapped because there was a large shark on it. This is not a common occurrence, but it has happened before.  When this happens the ship sails to the last hi-flyer and we work our way backwards.  In the end, everything was accounted for.
This really was no ordinary night. We were about 40 miles off shore from Cedar Keys, FL, at about 11 P.M., when we saw a small boat drifting about 3/4 mile from us with no lights on.  The officers on the bridge saw a red flare shoot into the air, so they knew the boat could be in distress. Our ship got close enough so that they could shine a light onto it and kept track of them as it drifted.  The NOAA officers talked to the boaters via radio and discovered that they had left port at 7 A.M. and that the motor on the boat kicked out about 2 P.M. They had been floating for nine hours and in a boat they could not repair. We were so far off shore, it was certainly understandable that they were very relieved to see us and get the help they needed.
Along the coast there is a company called “Sea Tow”. Their job is to haul in boats that are unable to get to land by themselves.  You do have to pay for this service and it is like having car insurance, but costs a whole lot more money.  Luckily this boat had that insurance, so Sea Tow immediately started out to get them.  In the meantime our ship monitored them.  They said they were OK and didn’t need any supplies, they just wanted to get on land.  Sea Tow reached them about 4 A.M. and the Captain thinks they probably docked about 10 A.M.  Thank goodness the Oregon II was out there, because they would have floated out there for many more hours before being seen by another ship.  I asked the Captain what would happen if the boaters did not have Sea Tow and he said they would have called the Coast Guard, who in turn would come out to rescue them.  This is like a story you hear on the news.  This officers and crew feel they were just doing their job.  They are very humble indeed.

Personal Log

Speaking of dress,  I thought you would like to know what I am wearing while I am here.  It is so warm here that shorts are in order.  Sometimes I wear sleeveless shirts, but most time I wear short sleeve shirts. I am wearing sneakers, but wish I had rubber boots.  My sneakers are soaked just about everyday.  Luckily the engine room is hot so I can put my sneakers there to dry. Rubber gloves that are heavy and have a very thick layer of weaved cotton one one side are always worn when we are catching sharks and fish.  They really don’t protect you so much from bites, but rather from the scales of these animals, which are like little knives.  Whenever you are catching fish, you have to wear either sunglasses or safety glasses.  Hard hats are required anytime machinery is being used, which is when we put sharks in the cradle.  Finally and most important is a PFD.  They are not too heavy and come equipped with flashlights in case of an emergency.  My challenge is to make sure I have everything when I need it.  We put out lines on the stern of the boat, but catch them on the bow, so we are not always working in the same place.  It sounds simple, you just have to get into the routine, which I almost have down.
We are starting to move more quickly up the coast of Florida and continuing to complete stations as we go.  We will be back in port on Sunday. The ship can sail at about nine or ten miles per hour, so it will take us awhile to get back to Pascagoula at that rate.  The time on this ship is going by so fast, it’s hard to believe I have been on this ship for over a week!Answer to question of the day:  There are many, many ways that the officers and captain can communicate with ships.  One way is GMDSS,which stands for Global Maritime Distress Safety System.  This system has many components, some of which are overlapping and the expectation is that boaters will have some of them on their boats, whether they are commercial or recreational.  There are computer systems, whistles, flags, and a lighting system that uses the Morse Code.  As you can see this is very complicated.  There are courses that captains and officers have to take in order to understand how the communicate and keep a boat or ship safe.
Kristen and 2 red snapper
“Animals Seen Today”  sharpnose shark, blacktip shark, red groupers, red snappers, nurse shark, blacknose shark. A sandbar shark that was much darker that the one we saw a few days ago.  A few days ago we caught a great hammerhead, which is a light gray color and different from the scalloped hammerhead.
A great hammerhead shark

Beth Spear, August 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Beth Spear
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date of Post: August 17, 2010

I sadly said farewell to the Delaware II after 10 days and six night watch shifts hauling back sharks. It was a wonderful experience, but it was nice to get off the ship. 🙂 I think my favorite moment was watching the sun rise one morning while a small pod of spotted dolphins surfed in the ship’s wake. I even saw two sets of mothers and babies playing together and thought I heard some faint clicks and chirps from them.

Something my fellow shipmates warned me about when we returned to land was dock rock, or sea legs. I did find myself swaying on the dock after disembarking from the ship. I thought that was the extent of it. However my first night on dry land my internal clock woke me up promptly at 11:45 PM for my night watch . I stumbled out of bed to visit the bathroom. I nearly fell flat on my face trying to compensate for the ship’s rocking even though the floor was steady. I think it took about 5 days for the bed to stop rocking like the ship. It was really strange I’d go to bed and it was fine, but when I woke up it felt just like the bed was pitching around as if I was back at sea.

While I was on board the ship I was unable to upload videos. I have attached a couple videos below showing the crew and scientists setting and hauling back the catch.

This video shows the night watch setting of the first 1/10 of the botton longline. The video begins just after Khris, a NOAA deckhand, had released the high flyer and bouy. Arjen, a volunteer, clips a numbered sample tag to the gangion held by Ryan, a grad student volunteer. Ryan feeds the gangion over the side of the ship and passes it off to Richie, a NOAA deck hand. Richie clips the gangions to the longline approximately every 60 feet. Adrian, the chief bos’n, is running the winch feeding out the longline. If you watch carefully Richie almost loses one of the gangions. We teased him about stagefright after I stopped taping.

The winch
NOAA deck hands

This video shows the night watch hauling back a catch. The vast majority of sharks were Atlantic Sharpnose, shown in this video. Richie and Khris are hauling in the line while Adrian is overseeing operations from the upper deack. Ian is collecting the numbered tags from the gangions. Lisa is collecting the gangions and reloading them into the barrels used to store them between sample locations. Ryan and Arjen are handling the sharks. Christian is recording data. There are 100 hooks and things can get pretty lively hauling back a catch with a lot of sharks. As you may notice removing the hook can be difficult. Ryan is good at it, but Arjen, much like myself find it more difficult. In fact I usually asked Christian to help me with the hook. I was very proud of the single, solitary hook I removed all by myself. 🙂

On the deck of the Delaware II
On the deck of the Delaware II

Annmarie Babicki, August 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Sharks and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 13, 2010
Calm seas in the Gulf off the coast of Florida

Weather Data from the Bridge                                

Latitude: 26.18 degrees North
Longitude: -84.07 degrees West
Winds: 5.25 knts.
Air Temperature: 30.5 C or 87 F
Barometric Pressure: 1013.84

Science and Technology:

Today we entered a fishing area that had once been closed to fishing due to the oil spill.  Since the spill, NOAA scientists have the added responsibility of collecting data on the fish they catch and preparing them for return to a lab. Scientists will to keep up to ten fish of each species for each station they fish.  There is a protocol that is followed in the handling of these fish. Basically, they are wrapped in a industrial strength aluminum foil, labeled, bagged, and placed in a freezer.  Upon returning to port, the Chief Scientist with sign over each individual fish to the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) at Pascagoula.  Toxicology testing will be performed on each fish to determine if chemicals from the oil have entered their body. The data will be analyzed and determinations will be made.  Many marine biologists have been out to sea for long periods of time since the spill.  They have been away from their family and friends, but feel that what they are doing is very important for marine life and the people along the Gulf.  Their passion and dedication is much like the passion and dedication I see in teachers.
Ready for Testing

On a lighter note, yesterday I was able to tag my first shark.  The sandbar shark was large enough to be  brought up in the cradle.  The Chief Scientist made the slit just below the dorsal fin, while two other assistants held the shark in place.  I did not get the tag in on the first try, but finally did get it into position.  The shark’s skin was so tough and full of razor-like scales.  If a shark’s tail slaps and hits you, it can leave a burn-like mark that is very painful.  Hopefully I will not have that experience while I’m here. Tagging the shark was amazing and frightening all at the same time.  I was very aware that I needed to get it done quickly before the shark became restless.  A shark’s movements are swift and powerful and you don’t want to be in their way.  Everyone out here has a great respect for these animals and appreciates the beautiful creatures that they are.  I, too, am learning what they already know.

Sandbar Shark in Cradle
Tagging the Sandbar Shark

Personal Log

I almost never know where to begin as I write a blog.  There is always so much going on, so much to see, learn, and write about,  it is sometimes overwhelming.  I always have questions for everyone here and they are willing to take the time to answer them with great detail.  Today the Chief Scientist was explaining to me about the swim bladder on a particular fish that we pulled out at one of the stations.  One of the lessons in the ocean unit is about swim bladders, so I was very curious to hear more about them.  After listening to him, I came away with a better understanding, which I will be able to share with my students.
Well, we all like to eat and if you like really good food and lots of variety, the Oregon II is the place to be.  Our chef served in the Navy as a Culinary Specialist and upon retiring joined NOAA.   You can tell he loves his job and that he’s not just cooking.  He creates meals that tickle all of your taste buds and some you never knew you had.  No one misses mealtime around here.  And if you think you may, he will put a plate aside for you so that you don’t miss his luscious meal. If you’re sitting in the mess hall you hear lots of “thank you’s” and if you look at the chef, you will see a wide, proud smile on his face.
When I can, I try to head up to the bridge to learn about all the complicated and sophisticated electronics that this ship is furnished with.  The equipment provides a staggering amount of information that the officers must analyze prior to making decisions about how to manuever their way from station to station.  I was told that it is very unlikely a NOAA ship can get lost at sea.  There are multiple systems in place, so that if one fails, there is at least one other to take its place.  Even though the ship has navigational and radar systems, the officers continue to use paper nautical charts as a backup.  The Captain and all of the officers who sail this ship love what they do and put safety for everyone above all else.

The Bridge on the Oregon II

“Answer to the Question of the Day”
The wet lab of the ship is where the scientists process marine life and store supplies they will need to work with while they are out to sea.  In the dry lab you will find computers that are used entering data and for general communications.
“Question of the Day”  Is there a fish that really flies?

Annmarie Babicki, August 10, 2010

Time:NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki

NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 10, 2010

Weather Data

Latitude:  25.36 degrees North
Longitude:  82.56 degrees West
Clouds: Overcast and occasional showers
Winds:  11.5 kts
Temperature: 28.6 Celcius or about 84 degrees Fahrenheit
Barometric Pressure; 1010.04

Science and Technology:

  I am working here in the Gulf of Mexico with a scientist who is completing shark stock assessments.  It is a long term study, which monitors population trends of all shark species in the Gulf.  The data collected from this survey is used in conjunction with data from many other studies to determine fisheries policy. One example of this could be the determinations of how large a catch can be and how long the catch season can be.  Policies are not only different by species, but also by whether the catch is for recreational or commercial use.
Today we began the shark survey and completed locations off the coast of Florida.  The locations are chosen at random, so that the data is objective and the findings are not skewed.  During each sampling the following information is recorded: shark species, its length, weight, sex, and the stage of its maturity.  The coordinates for each survey are also recorded, which enables scientists to know where particular shark populations exist. The number of stations completed per day varies depending on how far the stations are from one another.  Generally, the amount of time it takes to complete it is approximately two hours.
Bait bucket
Hi-flyer being dropped in the water

The methodology used to collect data on sharks is called bottom longlining.  This is when each hook are baited with mackerel and put on a gangion. We cut our own bait and attach it to the hooks.  Each hook is assigned a number, one to one hundred, so that it can be tracked. That line is then systematically hooked onto another line that runs one nautical mile.  Both ends of the line have what are called hi-flyers that float vertically in the water.  They are bright orange and have a blinking light on the top, so that they can be seen from a distance. There is a weight placed on both ends of the line and one in the middle. The weights help to keep the baited lines well below the surface.  After the last gangion is put on, we wait one hour and then begin to pull in all hundred lines. During this entire process the ship is moving, which can be sometimes challenging, especially in bad weather.

Measuring the length of a barracuda
weighing a barracuda
A tagged tiger shark

Although the focus of this survey is sharks, data is collected on all fishes that are captured. After the fish are pulled up on deck, data is collected and recorded by the hook number. The handling of sharks is different from the handling of fish.  Only sharks are fitted with a tag, which does not hurt them.  There are two types of tags, but to date we have only used one type.  In order to attach the yellow tag, a small slit is made underneath the dorsal fin. The tag has a sharp point on one end, which is inserted into the slit.  Also a small sample (5-10 cm) of the shark’s pelvic fin is taken.  This is then taken to the lab where DNA testing is done.  The DNA can be used to verify known species and unknown or new species. Also, scientists can compare the population of sharks in other oceans around the globe by their DNA. What I have observed on every catch is that the scientist carefully monitors the shark to ensure it is not being stressed or could be hurt in any way.
Today we caught this beautiful and powerful scalloped hammerhead shark.  When very large sharks like the hammerhead are caught, they are not pulled up by the line because it can damage them and they are too heavy to handle.  Instead they are guided onto a cradle which sits in the water. Once on securely they are hoisted to the side of the ship where scientists can collect the needed data. The hammerhead weighed in at 341lb. and was 8 feet long. What a catch this was, everyone was very excited.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
The cradle used to raise sharks in and out of the water.

Personal Log

The day started out cloudy but eventually turned over to showers and then to a hard rain.  We are feeling the effects of the tropical depression, which explains why it is difficult for me to stay standing for any length of time.  I am hitting and seeing more walls than I care to!  Also, it is a very bizarre feeling when the chair you are sitting in moves from one side of the room to the other.  Luckily I have fended of sea sickness, but I did have a mild case of nausea, however, nothing that stopped me from continuing to work on deck.  Thank goodness for Bonine.
Sleeping has not been much of a problem for me except when the ship’s engine changes.  The engines make a deep loud growling sound that wakes me for just a few minutes. Being out in the fresh air does make me tired, so I have to set my alarm clock or I will sleep through my next shift. It’s hard to know what day it is because I am working a noon to midnight shift. You keep track of time by when the next sampling is due.

Being at sea and doing this type of research is definitely only for the hearty.  The weather changes often as does the pace of the work.  There are many jobs to do during sampling and I am trying to learn all of them.  Baiting a hook and taking off bait has been frustrating, particularly since it has to be done quickly.  The type of hook they use has a barb on it that goes in a different direction from the rest of the hook, so it doesn’t just slide out.  We wear special gloves to protect our hands from the hooks and skin of the sharks, which can feel like sand paper or razor blades depending on the shark.  They say that practice makes perfect. Well, I have a lot of practicing to do!
My next adventure is to learn how to hold sharks and not be afraid of them.  I’ll keep you posted.

“Answer to Question of the Day” The fin clip is an actual piece of a fin that has been cut off the shark to be used for DNA testing.”Question of the Day”  What is a wet and dry room on a research vessel?

“Animals Seen Today” red groupers, tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, scalloped hammerhead, sharpnose shark, and sea birds

Annmarie Babicki, August 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Eastern Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 8, 2010

A cargo ship off the starboard side.

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 16:17 Military time, 4:17 P.M.
Latitude: 2636.96 degrees North
Longitude: 8510.18 degrees West
Clouds:  Mostly cloudy
Winds:  7.68 knots (kts.)
Air Temperature:  30.4 Celsius (C)
Sea Temperature: 30.2 Celsius (C)
Dry Bulb Temperature: n/a
Wet Bulb Temperature: n/a
Barometric Pressure: 1012.97 mB

Science and Technology:

Today the sea is very calm, so it was a great opportunity to have a diver’s drill. This was a very special event because they occur only once a month, so it was great to be able to watch the drill in action. Safety is of the utmost importance in everything both ship personnel and scientists do on this ship.  Prior to the dive, the Captain, Dave Nelson, called a meeting for all who were involved. Their  discussions included their mission, current and potential weather changes, possibility of sharks in the water, the role of each pair of divers and what the plan is in case of an emergency.  There is an in depth checklist to follow along with the recommendations of the Captain, Executive Office, Navigator, Junior Officer, Diver Master, Chief Boson, divers and skilled fisherman. Everyone on board has multiple roles and the key to everything going to plan is teamwork and safety.

The rescue boat, called a RHIB, was put into the water prior to divers going in. There were two people in the boat who monitored the divers and were there in case of an emergency.  This boat costs about $125,000 and needs to be cared for carefully so that it does not incur any damage. The divers jumped in the water, which was about 80 degrees and gave the OK (a pat on the head) that they were ready to begin their mission.  When they were about 12 feet down in the water,  I could clearly see them (No oil in these parts).

RHIB, the rescue boat used in the diver’s drill

They checked out the bow and propeller blades to make sure there was not a barnacle build up that could impact them functioning properly. The dive went off without a hitch and their diving gear was hauled out of the water prior to the divers coming aboard.  The Captain explained that this was done because the equipment is over 40 pound and would make it difficult for the divers to climb the floating ladder which is over the side of the ship. After the dive was completed, they had a debriefing session, where they discussed the status of the barnacles and concluded that at this time they were not having any impact the propeller or hull.

Personal Log

What an unbelievable 24 hours.  The crew and scientists have been so supportive and patient with me, as I asked them a thousand questions.  They are all willing to share their time, knowledge and experiences with me. I keep a small notebook with me at all times as there is so much I am learning every minute of the day.
We have been traveling to our first survey site, which is over 400 or so miles from the port in Pascaguola, Mississippi.  At a speed of about 12 knots, it will take us about 34 hours to reach our destination.  This has given me time to get my “sea legs”, which I’m still working on.  No sea sickness yet, and besides there’s too much I want to see and do to have time to get sick.

One thing I have been struck by is the color of the ocean.  It has change color many times since we left port.  It has been a muddy brown because the fresh water coming down from the Mississippi River is carrying sediment, which is then mixing with the salt water of the ocean. As we got farther away from shore, the color changed from a muddy brown, to a green and then to a very dark blue. We are currently in very deep waters  (approx. 10,750 feet) and the color of the ocean is a beautiful blue like I have never seen before. It almost took my breath away.

Blue waters

We will reach the survey site about 2 A.M. and get to work right away.  It is a 24 hour working ship, which means that surveying never stops.  I am part of a group of 5, who will work noon to midnight, therefore my work will start tomorrow.  I have lots to do and learn in the meantime and can’t wait to see my first shark.

“Question of the Day”: What is a fin clip?  Find out tomorrow after we begin the survey.

Kimberly Lewis, July 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July  16 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 19, 2010

Home Sweet Home

One of the sharks we caught in our trawls.
One of the sharks we caught in our trawls.

I am still working on ‘decompressing’ from such an awesome experience aboard the NOAA ship, the Oregon II. When I hit the bed Saturday night I think I was out within 5 minutes. And to think, the crew and scientists aboard NOAA ships do this job over 200 days a year.Thursday night before we arrived in Mississippi I woke up at 2100 hrs (9:00 pm) and thought I would take a look outside. The waters were still and looked like black glass. A crescent moon was shining over the gulf, and the stars were so abundant and bright. It was the most beautiful night I had seen since my July 1 voyage began.

Oil rig
Oil rig

Friday night was my last night on ship and I tried to stay awake to see the glow from the fires of the Deep Water Horizon….. but my body gave out to sleep. However, each night and day I could see oil rigs all along the voyage, especially Friday when we were traveling through “oil rig alley”. I could not get over how many rigs were out there, which you can find many maps online that show where oil rigs are located.

Ship Colors
Ship Colors
Part of the science team.
Part of the science team.

Saturday at 0400 hrs (4:00 am) I woke up, I could feel the ship not moving. We were sitting outside of Pascagoula waiting until daybreak when we could start moving into shore. When a ship is going to dock all of her colors will fly. When out to sea the only flags on the masts are the MS flag, the NOAA flag, and the US flag.

Once we docked everyone was busy, I didn’t get a chance to get a photo with the entire scientific party. We had 17 days together but we working so much a photo op didn’t cross our minds. In this photo is Geoff and Sean from the NE labs, me, Bruce the other TAS, and Abbey – my roommate and a senior at the University of MN.

I hope to keep in touch with the entire bunch, you never know when another collaboration will surface.

Bruce Taterka, July 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sexing the Catch

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1630 (4:30 pm)
Position: Latitude = 28.20.93 N; Longitude = 095.58.98 W
Present Weather: Could cover 100%
Visibility: 4-6 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 18 knots
Wave Height: 6-8 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.9 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 27.2 C; Wet bulb = 25.3 C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.56 mb

Science and Technology Log

As you can tell from our previous blogs, we spend a lot of our time on the Oregon II counting, measuring and weighing our catch and loading the data into FSCS. These data are critical to NOAA and the states in managing fish stocks and the Gulf ecosystem. In addition to knowing population size, weights, and lengths of individuals it’s also important to know the sex of the organisms. Information on the male:female ratio helps NOAA and the states assess the ability of the population to reproduce, and to establish sustainable catch levels for commercial fishing.

But how do you determine the sex of marine organisms? For most fish and invertebrates you can only tell the sex by internal anatomy, which almost always requires cutting the animal open. This is time consuming and not always practical when we have a large catch to process and other tasks take priority, such as preparing samples to be analyzed for contamination from the oil spill which is our top priority right now.

For some organisms, however, sex can be determined externally. One of the things we’ve learned in the past week is how to determine the sex of shrimp, flatfish, crabs, sharks, skates and rays. Here’s how:

Shrimp: the males have a pair of claspers (called petasma) on their first set of legs.The petasma are absent in females. The males use the petasma during mating to grasp the female and transfer the sperm sac.

Male – arrows show the petasma
Female – petasma are absent

 

Crabs: On most crab species females have wide plates curving around the rear of the abdomen, while males have a long narrow plate or plates. On females, the eggs develop under the curved plate.

Male
Female
Female with eggs

 

Flatfish: When you hold a flatfish up to the light you can see through it, which enables you to do an internal examination without cutting it open. On female flatfish, the gonad extends in a dark red, curved wedge which is absent in the male.

Female showing long curved gonad
Male – long gonad is absent

Sharks, skates and rays. Males have external claspers that they use in mating, while in females the cloaca is smooth and claspers are absent.

Male Angel shark – arrows point to claspers
Female Angel shark – claspers are absent

Personal Log

A tropical depression moved through the Gulf yesterday evening, making it too rough and windy to fish. So instead of counting, measuring and loading data into FSCS, my watchmates and I cleaned the lab, secured our gear, and headed up to the lounge to watch Shutter Island on the large-screen TV. Last night my bunk was like a roller coaster, tossing me from side-to-side and head-to-toe as the ship rolled and pitched in the big swells. Today has been a slow day for the scientists on board, waiting for the storm to pass so we can start trawling again, while the crew and officers remain as busy as ever.

Nicole Macias, June 4, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicole Macias
Onboard NOAA Vessel Oscar Elton Sette 
May 31-June 28, 2009 

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 4, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Location: 23° 15.7’N, 164° 26.7’W
Wind Speed: 8kts.
Wave Height: 1 ft.
Swell Wave Height: 3-4 ft.
Water Temp: 26.3 ° C
Air Temp: 28° C

A fish that has its air bladder protruding from its gills.
A fish that has its air bladder protruding from its gills.

Science and Technology Log 

Today was our second full day of hauling and setting the traps. The science team is on a rotating schedule so that everyone gets a chance to work each position. Yesterday, I was a “runner”. My job was to stand in the pit next to the “crackers”. The crackers would take out the specimens and place them in a bucket and then take out the old bait and replace it with new bait. Once the pod was ready to go I would run the bucket to the lab and the pod (trap) down the pit tables to the stackers. It was a labor-intensive job, but at least I was able to see everything that came up in the trap. We did not catch many lobsters, but we did trap quite a few white tip reef sharks. Even though they are not very large they are extremely strong. I would know because I got to throw one over the side of the ship!

This is me in the pit when I was a "runner." So far we are catching more white tip reef sharks than we are lobsters. See the white tip on the shark’s tail fin?
This is me in the pit when I was a “runner.” So far we are catching more white tip reef sharks than we are lobsters. See the white tip on the shark’s tail fin?

Today I was a “stacker.” My job was to take the pods from the runner and stack them on the fantail, the back of the boat where the traps are released later in the day. The pods are stacked 4 high and end up covering the entire back of the boat. There are 160 pods all together. We release 10 strings of 8 pods each and 4 strings with 20 pods each. The main focus of the research being conducted is to collect data on the population of lobsters in the North West Hawaiian Islands. Even though we are targeting lobsters we record the data on everything we catch. Anything beside lobsters are considered by-catch. By-catch is considered anything that is caught accidentally. We are setting these traps for lobsters, but many times other animals will work there way into the pods. This is unfortunate for any fish that gets caught in the traps because they are pulled to the surface so fast that their air bladder expands causing a balloon-like structure to protrude from their mouth.

This is the feeding frenzy that follows the ship until the end of the day when we give them all our old bait. They are Galapagos Reef Sharks.
This is the feeding frenzy that follows the ship until the end of the day when we give them all our old bait. They are Galapagos Reef Sharks.

This “balloon” enables them to swim down and they end up being eaten by a predator or drowning. In a normal situation the swim bladder helps a fish regulate their buoyancy. The by-catch problem is seen in many commercial fishing industries. Usually they are dealing with a larger quantity of equipment and in certain instances, such as long lining, many sharks and turtles end up dying unnecessarily. The two main species of lobsters that are found in Hawaiian waters are the spiny lobster, Panulirus marginatus, and slipper lobsters, Scyllarides squammosus. Both species are also found in the waters off South Florida, but they do look a little different. The lobsters in Hawaii have more of a purple color to them. I have not come into much contact with them since my day in the lab isn’t for a while in the rotation. Once I am in the lab I will be able to report back with more information about them. Tomorrow I am a stacker again, so my biceps will be getting really big. I do know that on the first day we only caught 3 spiny lobsters and on the second day 21.

Oh! The most exciting part of the day is after we have finished hauling all the traps and replacing the old bait with new bait, we dump the old bait overboard and there is a feeding frenzy amongst the resident Galapagos sharks that follow our boat.

Personal Log 

Here I am on the fantail of the deck scrubbing the mackrel blood after setting 180 traps.
Here I am on the fantail of the deck scrubbing the mackrel blood after setting 180 traps.

Well my feet are very sore from being wet and in shoes all day. They are definitely not used to being in closed toed shoes everyday. I am ready to start working in the lab and learning more scientific information than just performing physical labor. With all the energy I am exerting I am definitely replacing all the lost energy with the delicious food that is different and amazing everyday. Today we had Hawaiian cornbread with pineapple. It was out of this world! We have also been eating a lot of fresh fish since one of the rotations included bottom fishing. I have yet to be in this rotation.

I am beginning to make friends with everyone on the ship. I am sure by the end of the month I will have forged some great friendships. It does seem like I have been on the ship for quite some time. I hope the days start going by a little faster. I am beginning to miss Florida!

I will be writing soon. Hopefully with some exciting adventures! 

Jacob Tanenbaum, October 8, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacob Tanenbaum
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
October 5 – 16, 2009

Mission: Survey
Geographic Region: Northeast U.S.
Date: October 8, 2008

Science Log

Today we started working. My shift is 12 midnight to 12 noon, so I slept for a few hours in the afternoon and then worked overnight and into the morning. It is hard to get used to staying up all night. It feels a little like I took an unexpected trip to Europe. Our first haul took the longest to sort out because many of us were learning how things were supposed to work, but after a full day, it started to feel routine. Here is a sampling of some of the amazing creatures that came up in our nets:

Big fish!
It’s a shark!
This is a dogfish. It is a relative of the shark, but without all those ferocious teeth. So many people have asked me if I have seen a shark, I had to put these photos up for you!
This is a dogfish. It is a relative of the shark, but without all those ferocious teeth. So many people have asked me if I have seen a shark, I had to put these photos up for you!
This lumpfish is a related to the anglefish, which has a light and lives in deeper water.
This lumpfish is a related to the anglefish, which has a light and lives in deeper water.
Here is a squid, a sea-robin a baby dogfish that had just hatched and a flounder or two.
Here is a squid, a sea-robin a baby dogfish that had just hatched and a flounder or two.
This is a skate.
This is a skate.
These are the skate egg cases. Have ever found one on a beach? Now you know what it grows into.
These are the skate egg cases. Have ever found one on a beach? Now you know what it grows into.
This is a long horned sculpin. These creatures buzz when you hold them and stick their fins up to scare you off. Amazing!
This is a long horned sculpin. These creatures buzz when you hold them and stick their fins up to scare you off. Amazing!
The largest lobster I have ever seen. Can you guess why I'm smiling in the picture? Here is a special shout out to my favorite lobster (and clam) fans, Simon and Nicky Tanenbaum!
The largest lobster I have ever seen. Can you guess why I’m smiling in the picture? Here is a special shout out to my favorite lobster (and clam) fans, Simon and Nicky Tanenbaum!

And finally, we saw whales!

~~~

NOAA Ship Albatross, also working on this survey
NOAA Ship Albatross, also working on this survey

On a personal note, this is a very comfortable ship. Zee and Snuggy will continue to show us around each day. Several of us watched the presidential debate on live satellite TV in the lounge tonight. Here are Snuggy and Zee having a quick meal.

Cottage Lane students, we are traveling about 8 knots per hour right now. Can you calculate how for we can travel in a day? Remember, the ship works all day and all night. How far can it go at that speed? Post your answers on the blog, then watch the video. Would you like to do this kind of work? Let me know.

I have enjoyed reading your comments very much. We are going to have a little delay in my responding to comments today as I get used to working the midnight shift. You are all correct when you say that the Bigelow has a LOT more technology than the Eagle. Consider this: I went on deck at about 4 in the morning to do some work and found that I could not see the stars because the electric lights on the ship were so bright! I guess we have to have a GPS when you reach that point! Celestial navigation just will not work on a ship with lights so bright!

Mascots in the galley
Mascots in the galley

A lot of you were focusing on what sailors then and now need to survive: Food and water, for example. Did you know old sailing ships had to bring their entire supply of fresh water with them in barrels. Today, our ship can take the salt out of seawater to make it safe to drink. Technology has changed the way we live on ships!

To my fellow TAS from the Delaware: Thanks for writing. We are doing bottom trawls and are looking to survey the entire benthic community here. Thanks for the sea-sickness tips. I may need all the help I can get if the weather decides to change.

Lynn: thanks for reading the blog. Zee is fine, and so far so am I. With luck, the weather will hold! If not, Zee may do better than I do. We could see Cape Cod earlier today. Beautiful!

Chris Harvey, June 8, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Harvey
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 5 – July 4, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 8, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

A splash of water on my face, a trip to the head, and a brief breakfast before work…that is all I wanted as I laid in bed at 7:15. I wasn’t looking for fame or fortune today.  I wasn’t even looking for a penny on heads. All I wanted was a nice day full of sunshine and subtle rocking, and maybe a little “scientific work” on the side.

But today I officially became a man!  At least, I’m going to put in my application now to become a man!  I was interrupted from my breakfast of a sausage patty and fresh fruit by Garrett, one of the more experienced scientists onboard, to tell me that I had a meeting to attend. I was previously told that work began at 8 AM sharp, so my intentions were to enjoy my breakfast and then begin work at 8 AM sharp.  Instead, I skipped the rest of breakfast, lubed up in suntan lotion, and hit the fantail of the ship for the first part of a very long day.

We set 160 traps around Necker Island yesterday afternoon.  And after leaving them overnight, our task was to haul them up in the morning, take our catch to the lab to be scanned, weighed, and measured, re-bait the traps, and then stack them on the fantail to be set in new locations later in the day. Each scientist had a different job on the SETTE assembly line.  There were 1) the “crackers,” who opened the traps, removed any catch, and then re-baited the trap; 2) the “runner,” who brought the empty trap down the line and dropped off the bucket with the catch at the intermediary wet lab; 3) the intermediary wet lab, who took the fresh catch into the wet lab for examination, and brought the measured catch back to a trash can filled with salt water to act as a holding pen until the catch could be re-inserted where they were taken from at the bottom of the ocean (our scientists took great care to ensure that each lobster was returned very close to where it was taken from by dropping them to the ocean floor in a cage with a quick release. Rather than just tossing them overboard, where predators could eat them on the way down, the lobster are securely released in their natural habitat.);  4) the wet lab scientists, who took the catch and performed the required measurements on them; and 5) the stackers, who took the empty, re-baited traps and stacked them on the fantail to await being reset.

I was a stacker today, and will be again tomorrow until my rotation is up.  Stackers have the most difficult job because they have to stack the traps four high and then maneuver them across the deck and arrange them in a way so as not to clutter the deck.  Then, when everyone else’s job is done for the day, stackers are responsible for maneuvering the same traps across the same deck in order to be set later in the afternoon.  In addition, stackers have the joy of “swabbing the deck,” as I say in a not-so-good attempt to speak Pirate (Cakawww! My sister!  Cakawww!). Yes, that means we get to scrub the fish blood and any other acquired nastiness from the deck with our toothbrushes!  (Just kidding about the toothbrushes. We still use them to brush our teeth.  We got to use regular, long-handled brushes for this task.  But that doesn’t mean it was any easier or any more fun!)

We set 10 lines of 8 traps and 4 lines of 20 traps for a total of 160 traps in the water yesterday.  So from 8 AM until about 1:30 PM we hauled in the traps.  The hardest part of this was actually waiting for the ship to reposition after each string of traps.  If we had one string of 160 traps, the job wouldn’t have taken so long.  But we had to reposition the ship 14 times!

About 15 minutes after I stacked the last of the traps, I was given the order to begin setting them again.  Talk about government work!  Dig one hole, then turn around and fill it with sand! We set traps from about 1:45 until 4:00, with 20 minutes or so to clean the deck. I think the hardest part of the job was actually watching the deck go from being entirely empty, to entirely full, and then right back to being empty again.  That makes you feel like you haven’t done a thing at all, and you are so darn tired at the end of it all.

But a rewarding thing, aside from the collection of great scientific data, was that we got to throw all of the old bait over the side of the ship.  What do you think would take joy at the sight (or rather, smell) of rotten, dead fish?  That’s right boys and girls, sharks!!!!  In a matter of minutes we had about a dozen Galapagos sharks, raging from about 6 to 10 feet in length, fighting each other for the old mackerel.  The entire ship, crew and scientists, gathered around the side to watch the sharks fight it out about 8 feet below.  That was pretty cool! I offered to throw Amee overboard, but she didn’t want to go.  She said only if I went first. So I took a diving knife in my teeth, in the style of a true Pirate, and jumped over board to wrestle with the sharks!  (Can you tell it’s been a long day? Of course, I didn’t wrestle with the sharks.  But I did offer to throw Amee overboard!)

After the long day of stacking and resetting the traps and swabbing the deck, I ate a brief dinner and watched the end of a movie.  At this point I was notified that people were bottom fishing again outside.  Those of you who know me know that I cannot turn down a chance to bottom fish, even if I am exhausted!  So I headed outside to participate in the action.

But rather than fishing myself, I watched everyone else fish for a while.  One thing that I have learned over the years is to enjoy enjoyment. When other people have an opportunity to enjoy themselves, sometimes it is best for me just to sit back and let them.  So rather than fight my way into the fishing rotation, I let my colleagues fish away.  Believe it or not, some of them have never gone fishing before!  We used hydraulic wenches to fish anyway. And that didn’t seem like true fishing to me.  But since our goal was to catch fish in about 100 fathoms (600 feet) of water, you can count me out of fighting a fish all the way to the surface.

About midway through our fishing expedition, the sharks started showing up again.  Kenji, one of the ship’s crewmembers, caught a very nice sized snapper, but only managed to bring in a very nice sized head.  A shark got the rest of the body! He later landed a good-sized grouper. It seemed strange at first to fish from the ship.  But with scientific permits, we are able to collect specimen for measurements and population density studies. And after the fish have been chilled, the scientists cut into them and look for certain parts that tell them certain things (I don’t have a great memory of what parts they look for, and although I am a fan of eating fish, cutting them up has never been my favorite thing so I stay away from it as much as possible.).

Around sunset, I was given a chance to fish and, despite my focus on seeing a green flash (we saw one the first night at sea), I took over on the fishing wench.  As soon as my line hit bottom I had a fish on.  Huntley, another crewmember and now good friend of mine, told me to wait a couple more minutes to see if any more fish would take any more of the 4 baited hooks (we fished with 5 hooks in total).  I waited and it seemed as though I had at least another fish on, so I began to haul in the line.  Anyone who has ever fished knows that most, if not all, of the excitement of fishing comes from the anticipation of the catch.  The fishing line bridges the world above water to the world under water and, without singing the Little Mermaid song “Under the Sea,” I think it is our fascination with the unknown that makes this bridge so exciting.  In all my patience, I expected to have the largest and best catch. I am known for that sort of thing.  And about 30 or 40 feet from the surface, I felt my line jerk up and down really hard several times.  Had this occurred while my bait was on the bottom, I would have become very excited.  However, I knew exactly what that meant.  I hauled the line up to the surface and to my disbelief, the shark that took my fish also took my five-pound lead weight!  Jeff, the ship’s doctor and my fishing buddy, commented on the fact that some shark was going to be regretting its decision to swallow the weight. I laughed, but then thought about the countless Shark Week episodes I watched as a kid where they split open freshly caught sharks to examine their stomachs.  Sharks will truly eat anything.  Including nosy British girls who won’t stop staring over my shoulder as I type (Amee is standing behind me reading every word I write, making sure that I do not write poorly of her anymore!)

No green flash at sunset tonight.  But a beautiful “Miami Dolphin Sunset,” as I call it, when the sky is full of the Miami Dolphin’s shades of aqua and orange.  We are watching Groundhog Day tonight, and I am already late!  They say we are watching it because setting and hauling traps becomes one continuous blur of a day.  I believe them after a day like today.  Eight full, and much needed, hours of sleep will be immediately followed by a splash of water on my face, a trip to the head, and a brief breakfast before work…