Jason Moeller: June 10, 2011

JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 10, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome aboard, explorers!

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Jason Moeller, and I am the on-site coordinator of education at Knoxville Zoological Gardens. I teach the school groups, scouts, homeschool students, and student researchers who come to the Zoo to learn about the natural world.

Oscar Dyson

The Oscar Dyson sits in Kodiak Harbor

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has invited me on board the Oscar Dyson, a research vessel that will be spending the next three weeks researching a fish known as the walleye pollock in Alaska’s Bering Sea. According to NOAA’s website, the pollock made up 56.3% of Alaska’s groundfish catch, easily making it the most caught fish in Alaska’s waters. Pollock is commonly found in imitation crabmeat as well as a variety of fast food fish sandwiches.

The crew of the Oscar Dyson will be studying the population of pollock over the course of the next three weeks. I will be working with Tammy Orilio (another teacher at sea) in processing the catch. Orientation will be on June 11th, and we will set sail on June 12th.

Clouds from an airplane

Clouds above Canada

Today (June 10th), however, was mainly a travel day. After waking up at four in the morning, I caught a two-hour flight from Knoxville to Chicago, which was then followed by a six-hour flight to Anchorage. Finally, I had a forty-one minute flight from Anchorage to Kodiak. Cloud cover marred what would have been spectacular scenery, but there were some beautiful views from the aircraft otherwise.

After a quick look at the Oscar Dyson and dinner at the hotel, I went to explore the river running by our hotel. According to several fishermen, Sockeye Salmon are beginning their yearly run upriver. Grizzly Bears, though uncommon this time of year, are also occasionally spotted.

Possible Bear track

Unknown Large Track

Unfortunately, I did not see bears or salmon, but I did see this track. While faded, it did look suspiciously like the mold of a track back at the zoo.

While I did not see any bears or salmon, I did get lucky in other regards. I saw a beautiful red fox, which moved too quickly to catch on film, and rabbits were in abundance. The scenery was also beautiful.

Sideways trees

Wind on a hill shaped these trees

river in Kodiak

A river in Kodiak

Science and Technology Log

The Science and Technology segment of this blog will begin after the Walleye Pollock Survey aboard the Oscar Dyson begins.

Species Seen

Red Fox


Reader Question(s) of the Day!

The reader question(s) of the day will also begin after the start of the Walleye Pollock Survey aboard the Oscar Dyson. Readers are encouraged to send questions to jnmoelle@knoxville-zoo.org. I will attempt to answer one or more questions in future posts.

Natalie Macke, August 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Natalie Macke
NOAA Ship: Oscar Dyson

Mission: BASIS Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea
Date: 8/20/2010

Ed Farley, Chief Scientist

Learning from Guts and Gonads …   

Weather Data from the Bridge :
Visibility:  10 nautical miles (Wondering what a nautical mile is??)
Wind Direction: From the SE at 7 knots
Sea wave height: 1-2ft
Swell wave direction: 3 ft from the SW
Sea temp: 7.5 oC
Sea level pressure: 1026.0 mb
Air temp:  10oC
Science and Technology Log:

One of the objectives of the scientists on the BASIS cruise is to support Alaskan fisheries’ efforts to better understand the life histories of the local salmon populations.  The goal is to determine an index to better forecast the juvenile salmon’s return to western Alaska.  Thus management decisions may be made with a better understanding of long-term as well as short-term implications.  So to understand the science behind this, this chemistry teacher from the northeast had to first learn a bit about salmon….

The SockeyeKing and Coho seem to be the favorite for eating.  While the Chum is often used in dog food (thus the name Dog Salmon) and the Pink Salmon is often used for canned products.  Salmon are considered a keystone species of the region; therefore, its removal would have a deleterious impact to many levels of the ecosystem.  (Learn more about the Keystone Hypothesis)

Top fish are a juvenile Chum and juvenile Red. Bottom is an immature Chum.

Salmon are anadromous fish.  This simply means, while they spend most of their lives at sea in marine waters, they can and will return to fresh waters of lakes, streams and rivers to spawn.  The most tenuous part (in terms of environmental and human impact to the general population) of a salmon’s life seems to be in its juvenile stage (1st year in the ocean).  Environmental conditions, availability of food and loss to bycatch by fisheries all have impacted the salmon populations as a whole.  Our short term mission here on the Oscar Dyson is to collect data from the salmon caught during our trawls.  Below is a bit more about the specific data the scientists hope to collect and the issues behind the science of that data.

Remember that the scientists hope to establish an index to forecast the juvenile salmon’s return to western Alaska’s spawning grounds.  This index is based on relative abundance and a fitness index.  So what is a fitness index for a fish??  (I asked too..)  It’s simply the caloric content of the fish.

Making a chemistry teacher happy with yet another example of the usefulness of calorimetry.   Yes, folk..  they burn the fish and measure how much energy is released, just like we do in class except not with a soda can.  The fish are frozen for this analysis and brought back to the lab for bomb calorimetry analysis.

Various ecosystem indicators (Sea surface temperature, water column stability, types of of zooplankton, species composition and biomass) all affect both the fitness and abundance of the salmon.  Therefore, these are the data that scientists on board the Dyson are collecting.  Fish are sorted, separated, measured and then some are gutted.  Scale samples from the immature salmon are collected for determination of age and growth history.  The scales have rings very much like the rings of a tree that can tell us not only how old a salmon is; but also, the general conditions of each growing season.  A band of small width would indicate a poorer/unhealthy condition for the fish.  Scientists have been collecting these scale samples for over fifty years and have started to compare the growth history of the salmon with climate cycles looking for overall correlations in order to predict how future climate change will impact these species.  (Want to learn more about using salmon scales for growth determination, read this article from Alaska Fish and Wildlife News)

The growth of a salmon depends much on its diet.  Scientists have observed a shift in the diet of the salmon when there is a shift in zooplankton populations.  During warmer years a more stable water column develops with a pronounced thermocline. [Really warm (about 10 degrees Celsius or so) on top and really cold on bottom (close to 0 degrees Celsius)]  Associated with this type of water column are the presence of zooplankton with a smaller lipid content (less fat).  As a result, the salmon (specifically the Sockeye) were observed to be eating pollock during warmer years.  Normally, the majority of the salmon diet is zooplankton.  During colder years, a less stable water column develops and zooplankton with a higher fat content were observed to be the main diet of the juveniles.  This link between the salmon and pollock populations causes an uncertainty in forecasting future salmon population changes.   The impact of the pollock fisheries has been mostly documented in the past simply in terms of bycatch.  Summer pollock fishing often results in bycatch of Chums; whereas the winter pollock season impacts the Chinook.  Understanding this newer biological relationship between salmon and pollock is important to predicting how changes in pollock populations will ultimately impact the future of salmon.  This future causes great concern among the local northern native groupswho rely on the Chinook’s population as a major food source.

Personal Log:
We were treated Thursday evening with some blue sky and then on Friday morning to a beautiful sunrise with a view of the mountains of Unimak Island.  When grey is a common daily theme any color is appreciated oh so more..