Sherie Gee: The Flying HabCam, June 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Sherie Gee
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 26 — July 7 

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:  June 27, 2013 

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude:  40  23:09 N
Longitude:  072:34.42 W
Relative Wind Speed:  11.4 Knots
Air Temperature:  23:50 degrees C
Humidity:  84%
Surface Seawater Temperature:  21.8354 degrees C
Surface-Sea water salinity:  31.1071 PSU

Science and Technology Log:

Two methods were used by these scientists to determine population numbers and trends.  They can use the HabCam which stands for Habitat Mapping Camera System  which takes pictures of the organisms on the bottom of the seafloor and they can use the dredge to collect specimens off the bottom of the seafloor to physically count.  We started out using the Habcam which is a towed vehicle that has to be carefully lowered into the ocean by the skilled crew members.  Since it is a towed vehicle, it must use a fiberoptic, winch-controlled wire to tow HabCam, and it is this wire that we pay in and out via the remote control winch box at the pilot station.  It is very similar to the video games that I have seen the students play.  The HabCam takes six pictures per second of the organisms on the ocean floor. The scientists can see these organisms being photographed on the computers.   One computer is used to monitor the organisms and tabulate the number of several species.  In the beginning, we counted scallops, fish, and convict worms.  Then later we counted fish, skates and convict worms.  On another computer, a scientist  controls the HabCam with a remote control joy stick.  The screen shows the bottom contours which is actually a side-scan sonar which pings out 50 meters to the left and right of the vehicle.    The joy stick controlled the wire cable that the HabCam was hooked to.  That is what raised and lowered the HabCam.  Both shifts monitored and controlled the HabCam for about twenty hours and a total of 126 miles.  I will describe and discuss the dredging process on the next blog.

The HabCam on Deck
The HabCam on Deck
Chad Flying the HabCam
Chad Flying the HabCam
Sara identifying and tabulating sea scallops, skates and convict worms
Sara identifying and tabulating sea scallops, skates and convict worms
Brittle stars and a blenny on the seafloor
Brittle stars and a blenny on the seafloor

Organisms Seen:
sea scallops
sand dollars
various fish

Did You Know:

  • One nautical mile (nm) is equal to 1.2 miles.
  • The amount of data that the HabCam collected was about one terra bite.

Personal Log:

I really enjoyed maneuvering the HabCam; I can’t believe they actually trusted me to drive it.  I am so impressed at all the technology that is involved in this type of research.   I also enjoyed tabulating and identifying the various organisms on the floor.  It goes by very quickly so you have to keep your eyes on the screen at all times or you will miss collecting the data.

Well, twelve hours has a new meaning for me.  The time working actually went by fairly quickly but the sleeping twelve hours went by double time.  There really is no down time because a person is either working the twelve hours or sleeping the twelve hours. The only time for some interaction amongst us is when we are in the dry lab waiting to rotate on the computers.  I have enjoyed working with these other scientists and our chief scientist Nicole.  They are all so knowledgeable, helpful and wonderful.  They answered all the questions that I had for them.

Nicole - Chief Scientist
Nicole – Chief Scientist

Janet Nelson: Sand Dollars and Sea Stars! June 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janet Nelson Huewe
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 13 – 25, 2012

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Area: North Atlantic
Wednesday, June 20, 2012 

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 41.03.21 North
Longitude: 071 32.79 West
Air temp: 21 C
Wind Speed: 15.6 kt
Depth: 135.2 feet

Science and Technology Log:

I came on shift yesterday at noon with three back to back dredge tows (we have done 30 dredges thus far on Leg II). We are off the coast of Long Island. Most of the dredges around here have been filled with sand dollars and sea stars. In total, we have processed and counted on this leg of the survey 5, 366 scallops, 453 skates, and 58 Goosefish, a very interesting fish that  buries itself in the sand and uses a filamentous lure to attract prey and engulf them. In addition, we have counted 132, 056 sea stars (wow!) and 590 crabs. The HabCam had some glitches yesterday but we began running the vehicle on our shift at approximately 1245 hrs. It made a run for approximately three hours and 57 minutes, with approximately 22.387 nautical miles of pictures before we dredged again.

While looking at the images of the HabCam, it astounds me at seeing prior dredge track marks from commercial scallopers and clamers. By looking at the side scan sonar, some of the dredges are very deep and very invasive. It reminds me of strip mining and clear cutting in terrestrial ecosystems. It is also evident, by observing the images, that little is left in those areas but shell hash. With that said, there are still some interesting species that get photographed, such as jelly fish and sea stars in patterns you would think they orchestrated.

We are working our way toward Georges Bank and will be there, from what I’m told, sometime late this afternoon or evening. All equipment is running well and what time we lost with the late departure has mostly been made up. It’s amazing what technology can do!

Personal Log:

As of yesterday, I have been away from home with little to no contact for six days, so when I was told yesterday morning prior to coming on shift that we had cell phone signal, I immediately went up on deck and called my husband! Although I only got an answering machine, it was good, and familiar, to hear his voice.

We then had a fire drill at noon and after that, set to work. It was nice to be outside working for the next 4 hours. I think I finally have my sea legs. However, the seas have also been cooperating with only 1-3 foot swells, at best. When they are higher, I sometimes feel like the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz”. It’s a good thing I can laugh at myself when I look completely ridiculous while tripping through a door or, with no warning whatsoever, bump into a wall!  From what I understand, this ship has a flatter bottom than most so every wave and swell catches it and tosses it in whatever direction that wave is going, despite having just gone in the opposite direction! I am hoping the sea remains calm when we get to Georges Bank.

I am learning a great deal about the critters that live in the ocean around here. It is so strange to have at times hundreds upon hundreds of sand dollars being pulled up in the dredge at one location and then to have mostly sea stars pulled up at another location. My favorite, however, are the hermit crabs! They are so cool! They will begin to crawl out of their shells, see you coming to pick them up and immediately crawl way back inside and stare at you. I actually think I saw one blink at me. Not really, but my imagination does run away at times.

Those are also the times someone, usually me or the watch chief (chief scientist is guilty of this too!), bursts into song or starts quoting a movie line, and then half the crew is joining in. I have gotten more proficient at using the technology equipment on board that does the recording of the measurements of the specimens, and also at cutting/shucking the scallops. Never thought I would know how to do that! I have a feeling there are a few things I never thought I would do before this cruise is over. I have five more days at sea. Anything is possible!

Side note: Today is beautiful for being at sea! Clear sky, moderate winds, and sea legs that are working!!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Steven Wilkie: June 29, 2011

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.

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.

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.

Anne Byford, June 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Byford
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 8 – 15, 2010

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Location:  off the coast of New England
June 8, 2010

Weather Data at 6pm EDT: Calm, Clear, 23˚C
Location at 6pm EDT:
Lat: 39 42.68 N
Long: 73 24.98 W
Water Depth: 86.4m

First day at sea

The first day was mostly spent steaming to the first dredge site, about 14 hours away from Lewes, Delaware. In the morning, all of the safety information was covered and those of us who had not tried an exposure suit before put one on. After the ship reached the ocean, we did a test dredge to ensure that all of the equipment was working and that we all knew what to expect.

The process is basically the same for all dredges on the Sea Scallop survey. Each tow is at a specific, pre-selected random site, using the same type of dredge, at the same angle to the bottom for the same amount of time and at the same speed as all other tows. This ensures that the data gathered is comparable from tow to tow and particularly from year to year. Once the dredge is pulled back up, it is dumped onto a sorting table on the rear deck of the ship. Everything is sorted into 4 categories: scallops, fish and squid, sea habitat (which is anything that is not scallops or finfish), human trash. Once the initial sorting is done, the sea habitat is counted by the bucket-load and dumped back into the ocean; the fish are sorted by species and weighed and counted. Some species (skates, flounder/flukes, and goosefish, also called monkfish) are also measured for length. Scallops are weighed, counted and measured. Some specific samples may be kept for researchers on shore and the rest is thrown back. Human trash is kept aboard for proper disposal later. After all of the sorting and measuring is finished, the buckets are rinsed and stacked for the next dredge, which isn’t usually that long in coming.


Fortunately, we are not measuring things with a tape measure or having to manually input lengths into the computer. The ship has 3 “fish boards” that are electronic magnetic measuring devices that automatically send the data to the shipboard computers. Operators choose the species of fish being measured and then each fish is put on the board and a magnetic wand is used to mark the end of the tail of the fish. Each length is sent to the computer and stored. Historically, the data was collected on paper and the lists sent to a prison to be hand entered into a database. The database then had to be proofread and corrected if necessary. While the data still must be audited, it is much faster and easier, and less prone to error, to take the hand written stage of data collection out of the process.

Fish Board

Species Seen:

At the dock in Lewes: Osprey pair and at least one chick in the nest, Sea gulls

At sea: Pod of dolphins playing in the ship’s wake, jellyfish, pelicans

In the dredge: Squid, gulfstream flounder, windowpane flounder, summer flounder, spotted hake, sea robins, small skates, clearnose skates, several kinds of crabs (spider and rock), moon snails, sea stars, sand dollars, whelks, sea urchins, scallops, sea mice (polycheate worms)

Personal log:

We couldn’t have asked for better weather, clear and calm. After the safety meeting and test dredge, there was a great deal of down time until we reached the first site at about 10pm. I am on the day watch from noon to midnight and so got to sort the first real dredge. We did find scallops, ranging from about 1 inch across to about 5 inches across, but we found more sand dollars. After spending countless hours walking beaches to find even a few sand dollars, it was amazing to see hundreds or thousands on the sorting table to be tossed back as sea trash. I also discovered that you can easily loose track of time simply sitting in the sun on the deck watching the world go by.

Julianne Mueller-Northcott, May 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julianne Mueller-Northcott
Onboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
May 11 – 22, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Julianne Mueller-Northcott
University of Delaware R/V Hugh R. Sharp
Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey: Leg III
Port of Departure: Lewes, Delaware
Location: Off the coast of Virginia
Date: May 12, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Air temp: 13.72⁰C, 85% humidity, overcast

Science and Technology Log
When the dredge gets pulled up the ramp of the ship, I always strain to try to see past the chain and netting to see what amazing creatures might have gotten caught in the dredge.  I can see the pale-as–a-ghost face on the underside of skates and flounders.  The sea stars fall to the table in a big mound and you can see the crabs trying to climb the net.  And of course the scallops!  They get dumped out onto the table in a wave.  The pile of creatures undulates as organisms try to right themselves and seek cover.  Each dredge so far has been different.  Some are chock full of sea stars such as Asterias forbesii and Asterias vulgaris which we have at home, but by far the most abundant sea star species is Astropectin sp.   There was one dredge that was all sand dollars and they tumbled out onto to the deck, like hundreds of poker chips, hockey pucks and small frisbees.  I noticed that all of the fish in the dredge were green and then everything else started turning green. Apparently, sand dollars turn everything green! No one was quite sure why—this will be something to investigate once I get home.

So you can imagine how exciting it is to see hundreds (in some cases maybe thousands) of your sea friends, dumped out in front of you to examine!  I think about all the hours toiling at Odiorne Point with my students searching under rocks and peeling back algae in the intertidal zone looking for a hidden gem.  Here on the sorting table at the back of the boat there are so many species, so many things waiting to be discovered.  I think about my marine biologists at home and how excited they would be to have some of these critters for our tank!  (And while the thought has crossed my mind to try to kidnap some, that might be a difficult situation to explain going through security at the airport—a cooler full of crabs, sand dollars, sea stars and scallops!) The object here is not to study all the cool creatures for hours under a microscope which is what I would love to do (there isn’t even a microscope on the ship!) but instead, to sort.  My job, with 5 other people, is put out all the scallops and fish.  Those get measured and counted and everything else goes back into the water.  It all happens very quickly.  Because the goal is to do so many dredges in a relatively short amount of time, the faster you process everything the faster we can move on to our next sampling location, which means the more data that can be collected.  Also time is money on this high tech ship we are on.  For the scientists to use the R/V Hugh R. Sharp it costs $12,000 a day.  So it is imperative to work quickly to get the job done. But I am learning some tricks so that I can spend a little more time with the creatures I really want to check out.  I usually sneak a couple of neat things to photograph off to the side and after we are finished with the work at hand take a few minutes to study them.  And the scientists have figured out that when they have an organism that we haven’t seen yet, they have to show it to me before it gets tossed back overboard!

We were just pulling up a dredge last night when Ben pointed to the starboard side of the ship.  There in the starlight were about eight dolphins riding in the wake of the boat.  They were porpoising in and out of the water.  They were gray, with speckled black dots—we don’t have a mammal field guide on board—so I am not sure which species it was.  It was the first night that we could see stars, other than the sea star variety. I thought of Kat S. who was the first person who got me excited about the prospect of seeing stars at night from the boat.  Between the starlight and the spotlights on the ship, the sea below sparkled.  Even in the dark water you could see the water shimmer and change to a light green color, letting you know where the dolphins were just before they surfaced.  I have a list of top wildlife encounters in my life (swimming with whale sharks and eagle rays, saving stranded pilot whales in the keys, viewing humpbacks breech in a storm in the Bay of Fundy, nesting sea turtles Mexico, watching baby orcas play in the San Juan Islands, etc) but even with this list, watching the dolphins at night beneath the stars was pretty magical!

Captain Bill nonchalantly mentioned that he had seen an ocean sunfish (Mola mola) yesterday morning.  “What?!” I guess I hadn’t made it clear that I wanted to witness any such animal encounters.  I had told my students that the ocean sunfish was the one species I was really looking forward to seeing on this trip.  I had seen them in various aquariums but never in the wild. The ocean sunfish has always seemed to me a freak of natural selection.  How could something so big, clumsy and awkward looking have survived evolution?  Something about the way it lazes around without a care in the world has always appealed to me.  This morning, I took my usual watch on the bow of the boat (as I do every morning before my watch begins at 12:00). There, about 50 ft from the boat, I saw two large fins, flopping this way and that without an apparent purpose.  It was Mola mola! We didn’t get very close and our boat was traveling fast but through my binos I at least got a glimpse of its round, disc body.  And a couple of hours later, I saw another—this one a little further away.  So I know there are lots out there—now the goal is to get an up-close view and hopefully a photo!

Personal Log
It is pretty awesome now that the weather is brightening and we are seeing some beautiful species!  I love being on the top decks watching the sunlight dance on the water.  I love that everywhere I look all I see is ocean.  Yesterday we saw many other ships on the water—but today it is really just us steaming along. At first it was a little hard to get used to seeing lots of dead fish in the dredge and lots of animals that don’t survive the sampling.  There is a lot more by catch than I would have expected. It is going to take a little more time for me to process my thoughts about it all, but I am starting to understand that for now this is the best way for the data to be collected.  While it might not be the best thing for individual organisms, these sampling techniques are important for protecting the fisheries and ultimately the ecosystem.

Jacob Tanenbaum, October 16, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacob Tanenbaum
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
October 5 – 16, 2008

Mission: Survey
Geographic Region: Northeast U.S.
Date: October 16, 2008


Science Log

This bird came by for a visit. I think is a type of hawk or a falcon. Can anyone identify it for me? We have been trying but can’t seem to figure out what kid of hawk this is. In any case, it stopped by and perched on the bow just out of the blue when we were about 80 miles from shore. I wonder how it got here? Was it blown out to sea by a storm? Did it follow a ship looking for food? Is it lost? I hope it finds its way back.

It was foggy during the early morning and the ship had to blow its fog horn. I found out that ships use a code when they sail. One long blast means we are steaming ahead. One long and two short blasts means we have equipment such as nets in the water and cannot manuver as quickly. Listen by clicking here.

We found more spoon armed octopi. Can you see that one of the arms has a little spoon like object at the end? The male has an arm shaped like a spoon. Can you see it in this picture?

This baby skate has a yolk sack still attached to it. The baby uses the yolk as food while it grows. Usually this happens in the skate case. I wonder what happened with this little guy.
This baby skate has a yolk sack still attached to it. The baby uses the yolk as food while it grows. Usually this happens in the skate case. I wonder what happened with this little guy.
This is a red gold-bordered sea star. Isn't it amazing how many different kinds of sea stars there are in the ocean!
This is a red gold-bordered sea star. Isn’t it amazing how many different kinds of sea stars there are in the ocean!
This is a red gold-bordered sea star. Isn't it amazing how many different kinds of sea stars there are in the ocean!
This is a red gold-bordered sea star. Isn’t it amazing how many different kinds of sea stars there are in the ocean!
This is a shrimp close up. Can you guess what the blue mass is under her back end? Post your answers to the blog.
This is a shrimp close up. Can you guess what the blue mass is under her back end? Post your answers to the blog.

A sea anemone. This opens up and tenticles appear. They wave their tenticles in the water to collect food. When fish like Nemo, the clown fish, go into a sea anomone, it will sting the fish, so the clown fish backs in which helps it tolerate the sting.

Sea anemone
Sea anemone

Here is an interesting story: We were approaching a station where we were expecting to take a sample from the water with our nets. Do you see the note in the chart that says “Unexploded Ordinance?” (you can click on the chart to make it bigger). that means there are bombs from an old ship that may still be active! We decided to move our trawl to a nearby area. When we did, look what came up in the nets! Part of an old ship! The coordinates are Latitude: 42°27’23.65″N and Longitude: 68°51’59.12″E. Here is that location on Google Earth. What could have happened way out here? CLE students, tell me the story of that wreck. Be creative. Please print them out and leave them for me on Monday. Make them fun to read. I am bringing back what came up in the net for you to see. When I get back, we will see if we can do some research and find out what really happened!

Now lets meet Phil Politis, our Chief Scientist on board the Bigelow. I asked him to tell us about his job. Here is what he said:

chart2-740911The main job of a chief scientists is to meet the goals and objectives of the the scientific mission. In our case, that is, to pair up with the ship Albatross in as many stations as possible, following their route. My day to day job is to coordinate with the officers, and crew, setting the nets properly, make sure that the samples are processed properly and solving problems as they arise. Say we have an issue with the nets. It is the chief scientists job to decide what to do next. I can accept the tow, code it as a problem, or re-do the tow. I have to look at each issue individually. If we tear on the bottom, will it happen again? Is there time to re-tow? I also coordinate with the other vessel.

My title is fisheries biologist, but I am a specialist in the nets. My background is in trawl standardization. We have to ensure that our nets are constructed, maintained and that we fish same way each time. Small changes in nets can effect how the nets fish and that effects the study. That way we can compare this years catch to next years catch. Remember, this study is called a time series. Over time, you can see changes to fish population. The only way you can trust those numbers is if the nets are the same each time we put them in the water year after year, tow after tow. We have to document what we are doing now so that in the future, people know how and what we were doing. This way the time series remains standard. We have to standardize materials the nets are made of, way they are repaired. We inspect the nets each time we come on here. We train the deck crews in the maintenance and repair of our nets.


IMG_6818-772778In answer to many of your questions, I will be back to SOCSD on Monday. I’ll be in WOS on Monday and CLE on Tuesday. See you then.

Mrs. Christie-Blick’s Class:

You asked some AMAZING questions. I’m so proud of you guys. Drl Kunkel was impressed as well. Here is what He told me:

You asked: What is your proof that these lobster shells are softer than other lobster shells? How do you measure hardness:

We have an engineering department at U Mass and one of the projects they have to do to become materials engineers is to test for hardness and they do an indentation test. Another way is to shoot x rays at shell and we can tell how hard it is by how the x rays scatter.

You asked: What is causing the harmful bacteria in the water?

We don’t know if they are harmful bacteria. My theory is that it could be the same normal bacteria that are on the backs of healthy lobsters. We think it is the weakness in the new lobster shells because of environmental influences south of Cape Cod that causes the trouble.

You asked: Can you get rid of the harmful bacteria?

It is possible to reverse the environmental conditions that have been created by us or by mother nature.

You are right about these sources of pollution. Good thinking. And yes, Dr. Kunkel believes that one or more of these factors may be hurting the lobsters. The problem area is south of Cape Cod. Look on a map today and count the number of cities between New York and Boston. Is this an area with a lot of people and pollution or is this an area that is sparsely populated?How would you expect this area to compare to areas where the lobster population is healthier off of Maine and Nova Scotia? Do the problem areas for the lobster and the pollution occur in the same area? If they match, scientists say there is a correlation between the two and they wonder if one is causing the other. What do you think?

Hag fish did gross me out a little. Interestingly, there is no way to determine the age of this fish as there are with others, so I’m not sure we can even tell you how long they live.

Several of you asked about the red dots on the lobster. They are a disease. It is called shell disease.

The lobster on the right is healthy. I just love this picture so I thought I would share it.

SR, the water temperature is about 16 degrees C last time I checked.

MF, nice to meet you. It is really cool to be a Teacher At Sea.

DTR, my favorite thing about this trip is working with you guys from the middle of the ocean.

MR, Snuggy and Zee are having loads of fun touring the ship.

CF: I will try to count the teeth of a fish and tell you what I find. Sometimes they are hard to see. I do not know if I am going back next year, but I hope so. I like being at sea. The truth is, I like being on land too. Both are nice. Thanks for writing.

BS: No, we find mostly adults, but some babies. Many creatures are small as adults.

BV: We have seen lots of jellyfish. We had so many we had to hose down the lab at the end of our session the other day. They were everywhere.

GS: We will continue to take samples here.

TL and Many Others asked how long we put the cups down for: We put the cups down for about 15 minutes. That includes the time it takes to lower the CTD to the bottom. When it gets to the bottom, it comes right back up. Thanks all for writing.

AS: Right you are!

Good job calculating all those who got 984 feet!

MM, I love the adventures I’m having here and the people I am meeting. It has been fun. I like being on land too.

JS, Dr. Kunkel took samples from some lobsters so he could help cure the disease.

KF: Could the hag fish bit us? Yes, Mel Underwood, our Watch Chief was very careful as she held the bag and backed her hands up when the fish got close to her hands. Mel is very experienced working with sea life and I have never seen her back off the way she did with this thing.

HRF: Go for it! It is a cool job!

CF: Good question. No, your bones are a lot stronger than styrofoam, so you would have to go down many miles to hurt yourself, and you could not swim that far without gear. When divers get hurt from pressure changes, it is usually something different called the bends. This happens when you are swim up to fast and certain gases in your blood stream expand as the pressure increases and form bubbles that can hurt you. Divers have to swim up slowly (the usual rule is don’t go up faster than the air bubbles next to you) in order to avoid getting the bends.

DC: Good questions: The dots are not bacteria on the lobster, they are the result of the bacteria eating away parts of the shell. The actual bacteria are too small to see. Good question about he temperature relating to growth. It is a bit more complex than that. There are many factors at work. The factor that may be causing more bacteria are chemicals like fertilizers from land getting into the water.

Dr. Kunkel came on board to study lobsters. He is a biologist, not a medical doctor. There are many scientists on board working with us, and me with them.

The quadrent is an old invention. People have been able to find their way with the stars for thousands of years. It is an ancient art. It was fun to practice it here.

SF, VF and others: The fish stayed in the bag. We made sure of that. From the bag, we put it back in the sea.

SD, sorry, I can’t help you there. I don’t think a pet skate would survive the trip back to NY.

Several of you have asked if I have gotten sick. No, I have not.

How many lobsters have we caught so far? Lots!

SS, sleeping on a boat if fun. If the waves are small, they rock you to sleep. If they are huge, however, they throw you out of bed!’

CP: bacteria infect the shells of the lobsters. This destroys the protection that the lobster should have. They grow weak and die of other causes. Good question!

Why do we work at night? Because ships work 24 hours a day so that no time is wasted. I ended up on the night shift. Why do we wear suits? To stay warm and dry on deck.

The hagfish eat shrimp and small fish, though they are scavengers and can eat large creatures as well.

Mrs. Christie Blick’s Class, you guys are doing some great work. I check on the skates for you. Some skates have protection, like thorns or spikes. They also have some interesting fins that look almost like feet. They use these to “walk” along the bottom searching for food. I know you asked about skates, but I have to mention the ray I worked with yesterday. It is related to the skate and could shock with an electrical charge for both protection and for hunting prey. Cool!

Jacob Tanenbaum, October 15, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacob Tanenbaum
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
October 5 – 16, 2008

Mission: Survey
Geographic Region: Northeast U.S.
Date: October 15, 2008

Using the sextant
Using the sextant

Science Log

Our study of creatures on the bottom of the sea has been done every year for 45 years. In fact, it is the longest series of data for fish, in the world. Why is this important? I asked Dr. Michael Fogarty, head of the Ecosystems Assessment Program, at the Northeast Fisheries Sciences Center in Woods Hole, MA.

Mr. T: This is the longest uninterrupted time series of a trawl survey anywhere in the world. Is that important?

Dr. Fogarty: Really important because the changes that we are observing occur over long periods of time due to fishing and climate and other factors, so we need to track these changes to see how individual fish species are doing and to see how the ecosystem itself is responding to these changes.

Mr. T: What have you found?

Processing samples
Processing samples

We have found overall in the 45 years that we have been doing this survey, the number of fish has remained the same, but the types of fish have changed. In Georges bank, we would have mostly cod, flounder in the past, now we have small sharks, skates, which are relative of the rays.

Mr. T: What does that mean in terms of the ecosystem?

Dr. Fogarty: It has changed the entire food web because, for example, these small sharks we are seeing are ferocious predators. Because these dog-fish prey on other species, they keep the fish we usually like to eat down in number

Mr. T: Why is that happening?

Dr. Fogarty: Our hypotheseis is that because the some fish have been hurt by too much fishing, the other fish have come in to take their place.

IMG_7042-735252I thought about that for a while. It means this ecosystem has been effected by something called Overfishing and something called climate change. I started wondering about all the different factors that might have effected the environment we are studying. There are so many! Let’s look at some of the may things that human beings have done that have changed this ecosystem in the 45 years we have been doing this study. Dr. Fogarty and I talked about this and then we created talked about this mini website for you. Click each problem area to learn more.

Remember the other day when I tried to use a sextant to fix our position? I could not even get close, so today, I took a lesson with one of the NOAA Corps officers on board, Lieutenant Junior Grade Andrew Seaman. Click here to come along.

IMG_6866-762848Elsewhere on the ship, Snuggy and Zee paid a visit to the dive locker on the ship. This is the area on the ship where SCUBA gear is stored. We are not using SCUBA on this trip, but it was fun to visit the locker and see all the gear. Snuggy and Zee learned that the crew can actually fill up the air bottles they need right on the ship. They have all the equipment they need to do work underwater right here on the ship.

We had a fire drill yesterday. I know you are all familiar with fire drills, because we have them at school. When we do them at school, we often practice evacuating the building and calling the fire department. Well, at sea, things work a little differently. We have to get away from danger, but then, we have to practice putting out the fire as well. After all, there is no fire department to call way out here! Click here for a video.

Finally, so many of you asked about dangerous creatures that we have caught. This torpedo ray does have an electrical charge to it. The ray can zap you if you are not careful. I used rubber gloves to keep from getting hurt. The hardest part was holding the thing while we took the picture. I kept dropping it becuase it was so slimy!


AT: I have not been frightened by anything on the ship or in the sea that we have seen. The hag-fish did seem gross. Very gross. Other than that, no.

Hi SP, I enjoy Korean food very much and have eaten lots of crab roe. It does not gross me out at all. Thanks for writing.

NV, Zee and Snuggy are just fine. Thanks for asking.

Mrs. B’s Class: I’m glad you liked the blog. We found the dead whale 100 miles or so off of Cape Cod. There are no sea snakes here. The water is too cold. I’m kind of glad about that!

Hello Mrs. Graham’s Class. I am staying nice and warm. Even working on deck, it is not too cold. We could stay out for several more weeks without a problem. Do you know what we use to make electricity? See if you can figure that out. We have to go back to port before we run out of that.

Mrs. Christie Blick’s Class: Very interesting. Our chief Scientists says that they can tell the whales don’t like barnicles because whales without them don’t behave in quite the same way.
This particular fish, which we call a monk fish or a goose fish has all the adaptations you mentioned. You did very well thinking those up. The Chief Scientist, Phil Politis and I are both impressed. He says that the fish hides in the mud (that is why it is brown), which keeps it hidden from predators. It has another adaptation, the illicium which we are calling a fishing rod. This adaptation lures smaller fish to the monkfish. Since it does not move around as much as many other fish, it can stay safer from predators.

Hello to Mrs. Coughlin’s Class, Mrs. Berubi’s Class. I’m glad you like the blog.

NN, I’ll be back next week. Because the crew and I, as well as a few birds are the only land-creatures we have seen out this far! Thanks for writing.

Hi Jennnifer. Thanks for your kind words and thanks for checking in on the blog.

Jacob Tanenbaum, October 14, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacob Tanenbaum
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
October 5 – 16, 2008

Mission: Survey
Geographic Region: Northeast U.S.
Date: October 14 2008

Here is Doctor Kunkel collecting samples with Watch Chief Mel Underwood.
Here is Doctor Kunkel collecting samples with Watch Chief Mel Underwood.

Science Log

Dr. Joseph Kunkel from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is investigating a mystery on board our ship. In the last few years, fisherman and biologists have all noticed that lobsters are disappearing from waters south of cape cod near shore. This includes Narragansett Bay and our own Long Island Sound. Why? Thats’ what Dr. Kunkel is trying to find out.

He and other scientists have found that the lobsters are infected with a bacteria. Dr. Kunkel has a hypothesis. He believes that some lobsters get the bacteria because their shells are not as strong as other lobsters and don’t protect them as well. He is here collecting samples to test his hypothesis.

Shellfish are affected by acid rain
Shellfish are affected by acid rain

He has even made a discovery. He and another scientist, named Dr. Jercinovic, discovered that this shell fish actually has boney material in certain places in the shell. The boney material helps make the lobster strong enough to resist the bacteria. Effected lobsters may not have as much bone, so their shells are weaker. Why are the shells weaker? There may be a few reasons. The water South of Cape Cod is warmer than it normally is. Climate change may be to blame. The water has a lot of pollution from cities like New York and Boston. There are many streams and rivers pouring into the area that are Affected by acid rain. All of these things may effect the lobsters in the sea. They may effect other creatures in the sea as well. Can you think of things that are happening in our neighborhood that may contribute to this problem? Post your ideas on the blog and I will share them with Dr. Kunkel. What does shell disease look like? Can you see the red spots on the photo on the right? That is shell disease. It can get much worse. Thanks Dr. Kunkel for sharing your work and your photograph.

Cups are ready!
Cups are ready!

The art teachers, Mrs. Bensen in CLE and Mrs. Piteo in WOS had groups of students decorate Styrofoam cups for an experiment on the ship involving technology, water pressure in science and perspective in art. You probably have felt water pressure. When you swim to the bottom of the deep end of a pool, you may have felt your ears pop. This is water pressure. It is caused by the weight of the water on top of you pushing down on you. Well, a pool is only 10 or 12 feet deep. Just imagine the pressure at 600 feet down. We wanted to do an experiment with water pressure. Since Styrofoam is has a lot of air in it, we wanted to see what happened when we sent the decorated cups to the bottom of the sea. Click here for a video and see for yourself. If you decorated a cup, you will get it back when I come in next week.

Here are some more interesting creatures that came up in our nets overnight. We have been in deeper water and some some of the creatures have been quite interesting.

This “sea pen” is a type of soft coral.
This “sea pen” is a type of soft coral.
Two sea-hags
Two sea-hags

This is a sea-hag. It is a snake-like fish that has some amazing teeth. We put one inside a plastic bag for a few minutes to watch it try to eat its way out. Take a look at this video to see what happened.

Spoon Arm Octopi
Spoon Arm Octopi

Here are three Spoon Arm Octopi. Each octopi has three hearts, not one. One pumps blood through the body and the other two pump blood through the gills. There are three octopi in this photo. How many hearts to they have in all?

Red fish

This redfish are also an interesting criters. When they lay eggs, you can see the babies inside. They live in deep water. We caught this one at a depth of 300 meters. How many feet is that?

Squid and sea star
Squid and sea star

Here is a bobtail squid and a sea-start. The squid looks like an octopus, but it is not.

Skate case with a baby skate inside
Skate case with a baby skate inside

This skate case had a baby skate inside. Here is what it looked like as the tiny creature emerged.

Crab and eggs
Crab and eggs

Finally, the red on the underside of this crab are the eggs. Biologists call them roe.

Zee and Snuggy paid a visit to the ship’s hospital to take a look around. The hospital is amazing. They are able to treat a wide variety of injuries and ailments without having to call for help. They can even put in stiches if they need to. In cases of serious injury, however, the Coast Guard would have to take the patient to land with the helicopter or fast boat. Zee and Snuggy had a great time touring the hospital, and all three of us are just fine.


Jacob Tanenbaum, October 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacob Tanenbaum
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
October 5 – 16, 2008

Mission: Survey
Geographic Region: Northeast U.S.
Date: October 10, 2008

IMG_6354-743446Science Log

Did you figure out the answer to yesterday’s question? Those creatures were the real cast of Sponge Bob Square Pants TV Show. We saw a sponge, like Sponge Bob, and sea stars like Patrick, plankton, like Sheldon Plankton, some squid like Squidward, a crab like Mr. Krabs next to a sand dollar (because Mr. Krabs loves money), a lobster like Larry the Lobster and a snail like Gary. All the creatures in the program actually exist in the sea, except for squirrels, and we have seen them all on this adventure. Amazing creatures keep coming up in our nets day after day. Let’s take a look at a creature called a skate. The skate makes those funny black rectangles that you find on beaches. Take a look at where those rectangles come from and what is inside of them. Click here for a video!

Skates also have interesting faces. They live along the bottom of the sea. Their eyes are on top of their head to spot predators and their mouthes are below to eat what is on the bottom. They have two nostril -like openings above their mouth called spiracles. They look just like eyes but actually help the skate breathe. Here are a few interesting skate faces.


This sea robin uses three separate parts of its pectoral fin, called fin-rays to move, almost like its walking along the bottom of the sea as it looks for food. This helps is move very quietly, making it able to sneak up on prey unobserved.

Sea Robin
Sea Robin

These two baby dog-fish show different stages of development. This one is still connected to an egg sack. The other has broken loose from it, but you can still see where it was attached just below the mouth. Usually in this species, just like most fish in the shark family has eggs that develop inside the mother’s body. She gives birth to the pups when they have hatched from their eggs and are ready for the open sea.

Dogfish egg sack
Dogfish egg sack

IMG_6374-789593Many people have asked me about garbage. Here is some of what we have found so far. We caught part of someone else’s fishing net. Here is a Styrofoam cup and here is a plastic bag, which we caught 140 miles from the nearest land. How do you think it got here?

Finally, we were visited by some dolphins last night. They were eating smaller fish and as they came in for their attack, you can see the smaller fish jumping straight out of the water into the air to try to avoid being caught. Click here for a video.


IMG_6383-764446Snuggy and Zee decided to visit the kitchen today. Here are Zee and Snuggy with our chief Steward Dennis M. Carey and our 2nd cook, Alexander Williams. The food here is fantastic. See how large the kitchen is? We have a lot of people to feed on this ship, and the cooks here work hard. You have seen a few of the many different jobs that people can do on a ship like this. You have seen the scientists at work in the labs, you have seen the engineers who make the engine go. You have been to the bridge where the NOAA Corp officers run the ship. You have been to the kitchen where the cooks keep us so well fed. Tomorrow, you will see how the deck crew trawl our sample nets through the water. Keep checking the blog this weekend. There will be lots to see.


Now, some answers to your questions and comments:

Hi to KD and to Derek Jeter. We are staying safe. Thanks for writing.

Hello to St. Mark School in Florida. I’m glad you are enjoying the blog. I really enjoyed your thoughts about what these fish have in common. Great work. Here are some answers:

If a ship hit a drifter, the drifter would probably be broken. But the ocean is a big place, and that does not happen very often.

Can your school adopt a drifter? Of course! Take a look here: In the mean time, you are welcome to follow the adventures of our buoy. Keep checking this website!

I have Snuggy because some of my kindergarten classes asked me to take a bear with me to sea. So I did!

How heavy are the drifters? It weight 30 pounds or so, I would guess. Enough to make me work to pick it up.

I knew the whale was dead because part of it was decomposing. We could see it and we could smell it. Yuck.

Did any fish try to bite me? Yes. One scallop closed its shell on my finger. I had to be quick to get my hand out of the way in time. Other than that, no.

At 8 knots per hour, the ship could travel 192 knots, or about 220 miles in a day.

Congratulations to all who calculated correctly. The truth is that we have to stop for sample trawls every hour or two, so we seldom make our top cruising speed when we do work like this. So, we usually travel less than we could.

Oh, and to all those who asked, so far I have not gotten sick. Yet.

Thanks all for writing. Keep checking the blog!

Jeff Grevert, June 14, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Grevert
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
June 8 – 16, 2005

Mission: Surf Clam Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 14, 2005


Weather Data

Latitude: 40° 28′ N
Longitude: 69° 27′ W
Visibility: < 1nm
Wind Direction: 230°
Wind Speed: 12 kts
Sea Wave Height: 1 ft.
Swell Wave Height: 3 ft.
Sea Water Temp: 10.3° C
Sea Level Pressure: 1004.1 mb
Cloud Cover: 1/8 (Altocumulus)

0000- 0600 Went on watch. Conducted a few trawls which yielded ocean quahogs. Bycatch included little skates and starfish. At the end of my watch I ate breakfast and went to sleep.

1200-1800 Conducted more successful trawls. This was the first day that my watch had two uninterrupted watches.  We got a lot of work done and had good clam yields.  Interesting bycatch included a goosefish. Not knowing any better, my cabin mate stuck his hand in the goosefish’s mouth and got bitten.  At the end of my watch I ate dinner and went to work on my lesson plans.

On the next watch the dredge hit an underwater rock field and got mangled.  The crew and scientists successfully replaced the front blade assembly with a spare. This halted operations for a while but soon we were back to work.

The goosefish has sharp teeth!
The goosefish has sharp teeth!