Now that I am back home, I have some time to think about the variety of animals I saw on the cruise and do a little more research about them. Many of the animals we caught in our net have the ability to light up. This adaptation is known as bioluminescence. Different species use bioluminescence in different ways to help them survive.
Myctophids are a type of fish also known as a lantern fish. These small fish can occupy the same habitat as juvenile pollock, and we caught several of them at our sampling stations. I got a chance to look at them closely and I could see small spots, called photophores, along the sides of their bodies. In dark waters, these spots have bioluminescent properties. Lantern fish can control when to light them up and how bright the spots will glow.
There are many different species of lantern fish. Scientists have learned that each species has a unique pattern of bioluminescent photophores along the sides of their bodies. For this reason, it is believed that lantern fish use their bioluminescent properties to help them find a mate.
The photophores can be seen as white spots on this lantern fish. Image courtesy of NOAA.
Lantern fish also have bioluminescent areas on the underside of their bodies. This adaptation helps them achieve what is known as counter-illumination. In the ocean, a predator can be lurking in the dark waters below its prey. Since many things feed on lantern fish, it is important for them to have a way to camouflage into the environment. When a predator looks up, during the day, a fish that is lit up on the bottom will blend in with the lighter waters above it, making it hard to see.
The camouflaging effect of counter-illumination can be seen when this bioluminescent fish lights up its underside. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian.
Lots of animals use this technique to help them hide from predators, including squid. We pulled in many small squid in with our samples that had patterns of photophores on them. Depending on the species, squid also use bioluminescence to attract mates and to confuse predators.
The pattern of lighted photophores can be seen on this squid. Image courtesy of NOAA.
In addition to fish and crustaceans, we also pulled in a variety of jellyfish. Jellyfish also have bioluminescence characteristics. Many jellyfish use light as a way to protect themselves from predators. When a jellyfish is threatened by a predator, it flashes in a rapid pattern. This signals other fish nearby that it is being hunted. This can alert larger predators, who may be hunting the predator of the jellyfish. The larger predator will then swoop in after the jellyfish’s predator, allowing the jellyfish to escape!
Many jellyfish use bioluminescence to protect themselves from predators. Image courtesy of NOAA.
I have been home for over a week and I think I finally have my land legs back again. Looking back on the experience, there were so many little surprises that came with living onboard a ship. One thing I noticed is that I got much better at walking around the longer I was there. I learned to always have one hand available to grab a railing or brace myself during any sudden movements. However, I never quite mastered getting a decent workout in on the treadmill! Another surprise is how relaxing the rocking of the ship could be when I laid down. I thought the movement would be distracting, but it actually helped me drift off to sleep!
Did you know?
There are many superstitions surrounding life on a ship. It is considered bad luck to have bananas on board and whistling is discouraged. Whistling onboard a ship is thought to bring on wind and storms!
I am on the day schedule which is from noon to midnight. Between stations tonight is a long steam so I took the opportunity with this down time to visit the bridge where the ship is commanded. The NOAA Corps officers supplied a brief history of the corp and showed me several of the instrument panels which showed the mapping of the ocean floor.
“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, known informally as the NOAA Corps, is one of seven federal uniformed services of the United States, and operates under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a scientific agency within the Office of Commerce.
“The NOAA Corps is part of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) and traces its roots to the former U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, which dates back to 1807 and President Thomas Jefferson.”(1)
During the Civil War, many surveyors of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey stayed on as surveyors to either join with the Union Army where they were enlisted into the Army, or with the Union Navy, where they remained as civilians, in which case they could be executed as spies if captured. With the approach of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson, to avoid the situation where surveyors working with the armed forces might be captured as spies, established the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Corps.
During WWI and World War II, the Corps abandoned their peacetime activities to support the war effort with their technical skills. In 1965 the Survey Corps was transferred to the United States Environmental Science Services Administration and in 1979, (ESSA) and in 1970 the ESSA was redesignated as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and so became the NOAA Corps.
“Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA.” (1)
“The combination of commissioned service with scientific and operational expertise allows the NOAA Corps to provide a unique and indispensable service to the nation. NOAA Corps officers enable NOAA to fulfill mission requirements, meet changing environmental concerns, take advantage of emerging technologies, and serve as environmental first responders.” (1)
There are presently 321 officers, 16 ships, and 10 aircraft.
We are steaming on a course that has been previously mapped which should allow us to drop the net in a safe area when we reach the next station.
The ship’s sonar is “painting” the ocean floor’s depth. The dark blue is the deepest depth.
The path of the ship is highlighted. The circles are the stations to drop the nets for a sample of the fish at that location.
This monitor shows the depth mapped against time.
This monitor also showing the depth.
A view inside the bridge at dusk.
The full moon rising behind the ship ( and a bit of cloud )
What can you do ?
When I asked “What can I tell my students who have an interest in NOAA ?”
If you have an interest in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts you might begin with investigating a Cooperative Observer Program, NOAA’s National Weather Service.
“More than 8,700 volunteers take observations on farms, in urban and suburban areas, National Parks, seashores, and mountaintops. The data are truly representative of where people live, work and play”.(2)
Did you know:
The NOAA Corps celebrates it 100 Year Anniversary this May 22, 2017!
This bobtail squid displays beautiful colors! (3 cm)
NOAA Teacher At Sea Amy Orchard Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster September 14 – 27, 2014
Mission: Fish Tagging Geographical area of cruise: Tortugas Ecological Reserve North & South sections: Tortugas Bank Date: September 17, 18, 19, 2014
Weather, September 19, 2014 20:00 hours
Latitude 24° 35’ 07’’N Longitude 83° 01’ 09’’W
Broken clouds, clear.
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 29° Celsius (84° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 30.2° Celsius (86.7°Fahrenheit)
CLICKING ON THE SMALL PHOTOS WILL ENLARGE THEM & REVEAL HIDDEN TEXT.
We did not have great success with the shrimp bait. Guess these fish prefer their shrimp au naturel where as we gave them cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp. This morning we set out again in the small boats so the divers could re-bait the traps with squid instead.
Look up the word coxswain if you don’t know what it means. Here we pronounce it “COXS-UN”. Before each dive, we run through a safety assessment, called the GAR (shown here by Nick) It stands for Green, Amber, Red. We rank the following categories and if our numbers are low enough to fall into the Green category, divers are allowed to dive: Supervision, Planning, Crew Selection, Crew Fitness, Environment, Event Complexity. If we come up with an Amber, we know we need to dive with caution and Red means we won’t be diving that launch. The Commanding Officer (CO) has the ultimate authority to say if divers go out or not.
This was left over from the last science trip and we were glad to have it since our shrimp didn’t lure the fish into our traps.
FWC diver. Taken with my underwater camera from the small boat.
Finally Ariel looks much more like a scientist now that she has a pen in her pocket!
Safety on the ship
Safety always comes first on the Nancy Foster. We have had briefings on safety, we wear hard hats while the cranes are moving, we wear closed toe shoes (except when in the shower) and we have had fire drills & first aid emergency drills. Today we had an abandon ship drill. First we each arrived at our muster stations (our assigned place to meet), then we climbed into our Survival Suits (nicknamed the Gumby suit.) This is made of very thick neoprene, probably 7-9 millimeters thick, and covers you from head to toe to fingertips. It is meant to keep you safe from hypothermia if you were overboard for a long period of time.
Getting into this full body, super heavy neoprene suit is a real chore! I discovered the best way is to jump up and down. Photo by ENS Conor Magnin
It is confirmed. I am not as tall as the average adult. This suit hangs so low that I look like I am kneeling down. Oh well, I would most certainly still be warm in open seas. Photo by ENS Conor Magnin
This is Gumby. Can you see the resemblance? Photo credit: Stock Photo
After wriggling back out, we went to find our assigned life raft. There are 6 rafts which each hold 25 people. There is enough bunk space on the ship for 37 people, so there are plenty of life rafts for all. Three rafts sit on each side of the ship so even if the ship was under water listing to one side, we could still access enough rafts for all.
6 rafts x 25 people each = 150 lives saved. Only 37 on the ship at a time, so I think we are safe.
Inside this capsule is the life raft. It opens upon hitting the water and has a cool tent for shade. Still, I prefer the Nancy Foster and have full faith in our crew to keep her upright.
In addition to the Survival Suit, Nick thought he would be safer being more visible so he wore a few extra items to ensure his safety!
Nick has a horde of awesome hats. Keep your eyes peeled for more.
Dancing with the Remotely Operated Vehicle
Part of each day has been spent looking underwater with the Remotely Operated Vehicle piloted by Lance Horn and Jason White from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (yet another partner in this 14-day collaboration)
Lance Horn and Jason White are geniuses with the Remotely Operated Vehicle. There are lots of very highly technical parts to this equipment and they do it all – and they do it well.
I will be sharing lots more information about the ROV in an upcoming post. Today I wanted you to see who else besides scientists are curious about the ROV (the large instrument with the yellow top you see in the video here)
We checked traps again this morning and had success with the squid. The dive teams will perform surgery today! The surgery only takes about 10 minutes, which may seem quick, but since they are underwater at a depth of about 100 feet, they must work quickly so as to not run out of their air supply. One scientist (usually Paul Barbera, FWC Associate Scientist – who they call the Fish Whisperer) will hold the fish steady while another will make the incision, insert the acoustic transmitter and then stitch up the incision. The stitches will dissolve in about a week or two. The acoustic transmitter (fish tag) will last 2-5 years. Life span of the tag is determined by it’s battery life. The smaller tags (for smaller fish) can last 2 years and the larger tags (for larger fish) will work for about 5 years. This allows the scientists to gather information on the same fish for multiple years, giving them a really good idea of their seasonality – or the fish’s movements between different areas, both protected an unprotected.
Acoustic Transmitters – Fish Tags which will be surgically placed in the fish at a depth of about 100 feet. Here you can see the smaller ones are about 4 cm and the larger 6.5 cm
This footage was not shot during our cruise, but Ben Binder, FWC Biological Scientist, shared this video with me describing the surgery process. Here you will see two scientists who are aboard the Nancy Foster with me. Paul is securing the fish and Mike McCallister, FWC Biological Scientist, is performing the surgery. They are working with a Lion Fish here.
Placing the fish tag is just one part of the process of collecting the data the scientists are hoping to gather. The second part is to place an instrument which can read the acoustic transmitter as it swims past (within the fish of course!) Danielle Morley, FWC Assistant Research Scientist, and I worked to prepare some previously used acoustic receivers. Each of the 90 receivers the FWC have placed in the waters off the Florida Keys costs about $2500. Therefore, used receivers are reprogrammed, repainted with anti-fouling paint and used again. Anti-fouling paint makes it very difficult for animals like barnacles to build their calcium carbonate skeletons on the receiver’s exposed top. The receivers are made up of a hydrophone, a circuit board and a battery. I replaced the batteries and cleaned up the O rings. The O rings are extremely important as they ensure the capsule is completely water-proof and can be submerged in ocean water for a year at a time.
The red on the top of the receiver is the anti-fouling paint. It is the only part of the receiver which is exposed to sea water.
Here I am cleaning and lubricating the O rings to ensure a water-tight seal. I tried really hard to find at least one photo of me without a HUGE grin on my face so you can see that we truly are serious about science around here (we are just having a REALLY good time doing it!) Photo by Danielle Morley.
These are the receiver stands, which are allowed under a special permit from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, will sit on the ocean floor. They have a concrete block on the bottom to weigh them down and then a series of PVC pipes to hold the receiver. If you are wondering why these are sitting on dry land, I snapped this shot during my tour of Scott’s office before we left for sea.
After a year, the batteries need replaced and the data needs retrieved. Today, the divers will retrieve 6 acoustic receivers on Riley’s Hump and replace them with those we reprogrammed. This is footage of our divers (Jeff, Sean and Colin) making the swap. Thanks to Cammy Clark, the Miami Herald reporter, who dived down about 100 feet to capture the action.
Over the last 5 days, there have been 65 dives and 3 surgeries performed. The scientists deem this as very successful trip. Additionally, all divers returned safely to the ship after each dive! This morning the divers are retrieving the traps, which like the receiver stands are allowed by a special permit from the FKNMS. Even if conditions did not allow us to get the traps and they needed to stay at the bottom, no fish would be caught for very long. Each trap is closed with a zinc clip that will dissolve after a week or two.
Zinc clips keep the traps closed, but only temporarily. They dissolve after a week or two allowing any fish to escape if a trap has to be abandoned due to weather or other conditions.
The large fish we are trapping can easily stay down in a trap that long. But today, the weather allowed us to retrieve the traps.
Along with the traps, Ben and Ariel brought five Lion Fish Pterois volitans back up.
I was told that if I held the fish way out in front of my body, it would look bigger – but since this was a whopping 42 cm, I didn’t need to hold it out far to make it look large. Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Kissing this invasive species good-bye (well, at least these five) Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Notice the large, wide mouth. This is a voracious predator which is part of the problem with them moving in to the area. Photo by Amy Orchard
Lion Fish are not naturally found here. They are native to the Indo-Pacific. It has not been determined exactly how they got to the area but they are very popular for home aquariums. However, since they are voracious predators, after eating all their other aquarium fish, people have been dumping them in the Atlantic Ocean for decades. It was decided that efforts to eradicate the species would be futile since they are prolific breeders, have no natural predators and have been found in extremely deep waters where it would be unfeasible to reach them. Instead, there are large efforts to manage their populations in certain areas.
One does need to be extremely careful as they have venomous spines – 13 along the top (dorsal spines) and 3 along the bottom (anal spines) The pain they inflict & the reaction people can have when stung sounds very similar to the bark scorpion.
All these teeth are not used for chewing. A Lion Fish swallows it’s prey whole. It uses a striking method to capture its prey, but these teeth help to hold it in once it is caught.
If you look closely along the bottom part of the fish, you can see its anal spines. The 13 spines on the top (dorsal) are easy enough to see.
Once the spine enters, the loose skin covering the spine is pushed down, causing a compression of the venom glands which releases the venom via the grove in the spine. Here the loose skin has been pushed down to reveal the spine.
I found out they are SUPER tasty! Especially since Bob Burroughs, 2nd Cook and Lito LLena, Chief Steward prepared them as ceviche – my favorite.
I have been eating SO WELL! Usually when there is a large group eating together, the cooks cringe when the vegetarians come by, but Bob & Lito are always happy to see me and have made me some DELICIOUS dishes. Thanks Bob & Lito!
So, so good!
In the afternoon we got a special treat. We left the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and ferried over to Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park for a tour and some snorkeling. One can only reach the fort by boat or sea plane. It was built between the years 1846 and 1875 as a way to claim the main shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean. It never saw battle, mostly because it’s fire power was so massive that no one wanted to go up against it!
Me & LTJG Linh Nguyen. NOAA Corps, is hard working, kind, funny and truly awesome. Photo credit: Alejandro Acosta
This huge cannon was on the top tier of the fort and was one of many that protected the fort.. It was brought up by man power. Quite a feat. You can see that it was able to rotate 360 degrees in order to protect the fort from ships coming in any direction.
Lots of restoration work is being done to bring it back to its original state.
Even though I have been able to travel out into the open ocean on the small boats each day, it was SO GOOD to actually get into the water and snorkel around. So many amazing things to see and take photos of.
Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus) and Brain Coral (Diploria clivosa)
Sargent Major (Abudefduf saxatilis) and Fire Coral (members of the phylum Cnidaria, class Hydrozoa, order Capitata, family Milleporidae)
Snook (Centropomus undecimalis)
There were many jelly fish (mostly Moon Jellies) and we all got stung a lot, but the underwater scenery was well worth it.
Taken while snorkeling
Bonus Points – make a COMMENT and tell me how the LION FISH and the GILA MONSTER are similar!
Answer to my last post: It was a DOLPHIN. The Common Bottlenose Tursiops truncatus
Also, the definition of RECIPROCITY is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.
I have been so impressed with the seamless collaboration between the crew & science team as well as the different agencies within the science team. Everyone gives of themselves so freely for the main goal of the scientific mission.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014
Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Leg I Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC Date: September 10, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge
Present Weather CL
Visibility 10 +nm
Wind 025° 10kts
Sea Level Pressure 1016.2
Sea Wave Height 3-4 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 26.6°C
Air 24.8° C
Science and Technology Log
We are now “on the road again” trawling. The nets were lowered at about 7:30 am. I was surprised by how small our catch has been. The scientists are not at all surprised. They said because of the time of year, many fish are in the estuaries spawning (reproducing). Today we have been on the edge of the continental shelf off the coast of Delaware and Virginia. When we get in closer, the scientists say we will have a lot more fish in our net.
Single beam display in acoustics lab
It is fascinating how they are selecting sites for sampling.The sea floor needs to be fairly flat to pull a net across. We learn what the bottom is like using sonar. A multi-beam sonar on the bottom of the hull is in the center of the ship. There is also a single-beam sonar there. They serve two different purposes. The single-beam looks straight down the water column. It is like a really bright penlight. This shows what is in the water column such as fish and plankton. It also can reach greater depths since its light is stronger. The multi-beam is more like a floodlight. It spreads out over the bottom revealing all the different levels of the ground. These sonar beams bounce off the bottom and send the ship information. The crew watches the sonar information and scouts for a good area to drop our nets. Of course, there are certain areas where samples need to be taken. They are trying to repeat a tow at the same time every year within a strata area. “So what is a strata?” I asked.
Geoff Shook, our survey technician, reads the information on the display
Strata lines are like lines on a topographic map on land. It is called a bathymetric map underwater. The lines on a bathymetric map are called strata lines. These are based on the different depths. The net needs to be pulled within the same strata at the same time each year. As long as a tow is within the strata the habitat is about the same. In order to get accurate population information, they must make at least two tows within a strata. Some of the strata are hundreds of square miles. Strata are the same depth range and habitat. Closer to the continental shelf, the strata are much narrower. Closer to shore, they are much wider. For example, strata 70 is 281 square nautical miles (nm). It is 55-110 m deep and is next to the shelf. However, strata 73 is closer to shore, is 2145 sq. nm, and is 27-55 m deep. Their habitats are different so random samples need to be taken within each.
So, I think of it like a chess board within a strata. If we want a random sample, we could drop a piece of soft clay from about a 1/2 m above the board. Where it hits is where we tow in that strata. Our first tow is at D5. The second piece of clay could fall on H2. So, there is where we would sample.
Then, when the ship is over top of the strata we will sample, it must find a safe area to tow which won’t tangle or break the net. You can’t get a sample with a broken net.
Notice the wires on the spools which haul the nets. On the first one the wire is tightly wrapped. On the second one the wire has a gap. This could lead it to break or more easily tangle. We are doing a deep tow tonight outside of the “normal” range of 366 m deep. However, it will not only give us new information, but will, hopefully, help rewrap the wire on the second spool so it will be tight. Have you ever tangled a loose fishing line on your reel? It is somewhat similar to that so we are trying to prevent this from happening later.
Notice the nice symmetrical lines on this spool
Notice the gap between the wires
So, what have I been doing while waiting for a tow to complete? It depends. One time I told jokes with the scientists. Another I had a snack. Once I ate dinner. Right now, I’m working on my blog. Nap is not an option. I’ll explain that later.
It was a Win-Win Wednesday. We got some great fish by going deep, we explored some very deep water, the wire was rewound properly onto the spool, and we will have a shrimp fest tomorrow.
Meet the Crew
Luke Staiger, 2nd Cook
The old adage “an army runs on its stomach” holds true for a research vessel. Meet Luke Staiger, our 2nd cook. Luke is with the Bigelow on temporary assignment from the Reuben Lasker in San Diego. NOAA members get moved around short term as needed. Luke has been with NOAA for 12 years. He has been cooking since he was a kid. His most important tool is an 8″ all purpose knife. It must be sharp and long-handled. If he could invent the perfect tool for the job, what do you suppose it would be? That’s right, a knife that is comfortable to hold all day.
Luke worked in a buffet restaurant so this is the perfect situation for him since it’s all buffet. He worked his way up to cook after doing other jobs at the restaurant. I’m looking forward to a breakfast that he prepares since cooking breakfast is his favorite.
Luke recognizes how important the work is that NOAA does. We need to preserve our resources, such as water, he says. NOAA keeps an eye on things so we don’t lose sight of what matters. When not on a boat, Luke enjoys fixing up cars, especially adding stereo systems. Luke has an easy going personality and a ready smile, making it pleasant to work with him.
How did he find NOAA? Similar to others that I have interviewed, he looked online. NOAA has good benefits, you get to travel, and the experience is good. His advice to my students is to gain lots of experience in your field, even if it’s just volunteering. You will find work if you do a good job and have a lot of experience.
Remember I said I won’t get a nap during my 20 minutes between tows? It is interesting how our stateroom (cabin/bedroom) works. There are four of us in our stateroom. When I leave to go to work, I cannot go back until the end of my watch. I carry everything with me so it is like the private room for two other women. Then I only have one room mate. We get the room for 12 hours. There are curtains around our beds and we wear earplugs. I hardly know that the other scientist on my watch, Lacey, is even there. All I do is check to see if her curtain is closed. That means, “I’m asleep.”
Did You Know?
Did you know that there is an anchor-cleaning device onboard the ship? It sprays salt water at 150 psi (pounds per square inch). The anchor gets pretty dirty sitting on the ocean floor when we are at anchor. They don’t want all that dirt on the ship in the anchor locker, so it gets cleaned. A clean ship is a happy ship.
Question of the Day
Why would different depths affect which fish live there?
Sonoluminescence. This is short bursts of light from imploding bubbles in water (or in a liquid) when excited (moved around) by sound. A mantis shrimp is capable of sonoluminescence because the high speed of its front legs is capable of creating and rapidly shrinking air bubbles. The bubble looks like a spark underwater with no fire.
Something to Think About
If we don’t preserve our fisheries, which is what NOAA is researching, soon there won’t be any fish.
We used a deep-water protocol, which is between 183 and 366 m. If you are fishing in a strata that is 200 feet deep, would you fall in the deep-water protocol?
Animals Seen Today
Here are pictures of what we saw today in our really deep water trawl.
Mission: Alaska Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical Area: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 6th, 2013
Location Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 55.29.300 N
Longitude: 156.25.200 W
Ship speed: 10.7 kn
Weather Data from the Bridge: Air temperature: 8.6 degrees Centigrade
Surface water temperature: 8.6 degrees Centigrade
Wind speed: 14 kn
Wind direction: 210 degrees
Barometric pressure: 1008.5 mb
Science and Technology Log:
The Oscar Dyson is equipped with several labs to accommodate the researchers on board. In this blog post I will describe to you what is happening in the wet/fish lab. This is where I have experienced quite a bit of hands-on data collection.
Pollock being separated on the conveyor belt.
Basket full of pollock.
After a trawl, the crew dumps the load of fish into a bin. Inside the lab we can raise or lower this bin to control the amount of fish coming onto a conveyor belt. Once the fish are on the belt the scientists decide how they will be separated. We separate the pollock according to age into baskets. They are categorized by size; under 20 cm (age 1), under 30 cm (age 2), and any larger than 30 cm
A basket full of small squid
At this time we also pull out any other sea creatures that are not pollock. So far we have pulled up quite a few jelly fish, la lumpsucker, shrimp, squid, eulachon, and capelin. These are also weighed, measured, and in some cases frozen per request of scientists not currently on board.
After organizing the pollock into appropriate age groups, we then measure and record their weight in bulk. Scientists are using a scale attached to a touch screen computer with a program called CLAMS to record this information. The pollock are then dumped into a stainless steel bin where their sex will be determined. In order to do this the fish must be cut open to look for “boy parts, or girl parts”. After the pollock are separated into female and male bins we begin to measure their length.
This is the tool used for measuring length of the fish.
The tool used to measure length is called the Ichthystick. This tool is connected to the CLAMS computer system. The fish is placed on the Ichthystick and a pointer with a magnet in it is placed at the tail end of the fish. There are three different types of length measurement that can be done: fork length, standard length, and total length. When the magnetic pointer touches the Ichthystick it senses that length and sends the information to the CLAMS computer system.
One of these bins of fish is placed aside for individual weighing, length measurements, and removal of otoliths. You may recall that I mentioned otoliths in the last blog post. These ear bones are sent to a lab and analyzed to determine the age of each of these individually measured fish. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center has created a demonstration program where you can try to determine the age of different types of fish by looking at their otoliths. Click here to try it yourself! (I will add hyperlink to: http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/refm/age/interactive.htm)
Ben and Brian in fire gear with flares.
One afternoon while waiting for the fishermen to bring up the trawl net, I watched a group of porpoises swimming behind the ship. Another day I was able to see whales from up on the bridge. These were pretty far out and required binoculars to see any detail. I observed many spouts, saw one breach, and some flukes as well.
There is quite a bit of downtime for me on the ship while I am waiting in between trawls. I get to read a lot and watch movies in my free time. I have had the opportunity to talk with different members of the crew and learn about their roles a bit. The chief engineer gave me a tour of the engine rooms (more about this with pictures in a future post.)
The 4th of July fireworks show on the Oscar Dyson was like no others I have ever experienced. Two of our crew, Ben & Brian, dressed in official fire gear shot expired flares off the ship into the sea. America themed music was played over the PA system. I have attached a video of our fireworks display. Happy Independence Day everyone!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II June 22 – July 3
Mission: Groundfish Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: June 24, 2012
Ship Data from the Bridge Latitude: 2858 N
Longitude: 9310.96 W
Speed: 10 mph
Wind Speed: 6.77
Wind Direction: N/NE
Surface Water Salinity: 30.9
Air Temperature: 28.5 C
Relative Humidity: 79%
Barometric Pressure: 1009.84 mb
Water Depth: 24.3 meters
About ready to set sail!
And the journey has begun! I arrived in Houston on Thursday afternoon, only to be whisked away by Chief Scientist Andre DeBose to meet a few of the other scientists and crew for dinner. I had a great time getting to know a few of the people I will be working with over the next couple of weeks. We arrived to the port at Galveston about 10pm, where I got a quick tour of the Oregon II, my home for the next 2 weeks. Exhausted from traveling, I made myself at home in my stateroom before turning in for the evening.
Because we weren’t scheduled to set sail until 1400, I had a bit of time in the morning to explore Galveston. Being the adventurous type , I took this time to explore the land I would soon be leaving. The Oregon II is docked at Pier 21, located on “The Strand”, a strip filled with historic buildings and tourist shops. I spent most of my morning snapping photos, checking out the shops, and tracking down a good breakfast burrito at one
of the many Mexican food places that don the strip.
The pier in Galveston
Once back at the ship, we were briefed on the “Do’s and Don’ts” while on board, and what our shifts would look like. I am on the night watch, which means I will be working from midnight until noon each day. This will be a tough schedule to get used to, but I’m hoping we’ll see some neat things at night, and that it will be a little cooler out. I knew I should get to sleep as soon as we set sail, however I couldn’t help hanging out on deck for a little while as we left the port. I was rewarded for this opportunity by watching the pelicans and dolphins seeing our ship out of the port. I snapped a few more photos, enjoyed the cool breeze, and then headed down for bed.
I had quite a blast on my first night shift. I think keeping busy was a good thing, even though it was exhausting. I enjoyed getting to know my team a little better, and of course, checking out all the critters! Some of my favorites were the squid, sharp-nose and dogfish sharks, lizardfish, and my all-time favorite so far – the bashful crab.
Why do you think he is called the “bashful crab”?
Science and Technology Log
I am always under the mindset that if you want to learn something, you need to throw yourself in head first. Well, that’s exactly what I did on my very first shift on the Oregon II. We are split up into 2 shifts — midnight to noon or noon to midnight. On my watch, I am working with our watch leader, Alonzo, 2 scientists, Lindsey and Alex, and a volunteer, Renee. Our Field Party Chief Scientist (FPC), Andre, had to leave unexpectedly. Our new FPC, Brittany, was with us a bit of this first watch to make sure we understood our tasks, as I had lots of questions! Not only did I get the privilege to work the nightshift (I know you’re probably wondering why I said privilege — I’ll explain soon), but we also had one of the busiest shifts we’re anticipated to have for the length of this cruise. Just after midnight on Saturday morning, we pulled up our first trawl and conducted our first CTD.
The CTD warming up just below the water’s surface
Rinsing out the CTD with freshwater
A CTD, if you remember from my first blog, stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. We put the device overboard in the front of the ship (the bow), and let it sit just below the surface for about 3 minutes so the sensors can warm up before we drop it to its scheduled depth. Then we lower it so it is as close to the ocean floor as possible. We do this at every station to collect important information about the oxygen level in the water in these areas. This information is important because we want to find out what the optimal conditions (temperature, salinity and oxygen levels) are for the specimens we collect. Knowing what environmental conditions suit each species allows us to see how shifts in the environment can impact populations. The data from the CTD is displayed on the computer in our dry lab, where the data points are plotted on a graph.
The dry lab is where we process a lot of our data both from the CTD and the sampling. We can monitor our CTD casts and find the weather information here. It is also the area where scientists go when there is a bit of downtime to relax before the next catch is brought in.
Bringing up the trawl — this was a big catch!
Working in the dry lab
Over in the back of the ship, also known as the stern, the trawl picks up all sorts of critters from the ocean bottom. When we’re ready, the deck crew helps us bring up the trawl and dump our catch into large buckets on deck. We had so much on the first catch that they dumped it out on the floor and we shoveled it into buckets like we were shoveling snow. We then weighed our catch before bringing it in and sorting it. Our first few catches were quite large — we had 6 or 7 baskets full of critters! Each basket can hold roughly 25kg. So, mathematicians, about how many kilograms were our first couple of catches? The nighttime brings on some interesting animals, and there is a certain excitement to staring out at the pitch black ocean.
Our troughs full of the catch, waiting to be sorted
With these large catches, jumping in head first was exactly what I had to do. I got a quick crash course in how to identify and sort the fish. I had no idea there would be so many different types! From the entire catch, we were to pull out red snapper, shrimp (pink, white and brown only), blue crabs, and anything unusual. We did this by dumping all the fish in a large trough, which we would then dig through to find our samples and place them in separate baskets.
We are pulling out samples primarily of shrimp because that is one of the main focuses of our survey this summer. The estimated abundance of shrimp, calculated from the trawl catches, is used to set limits for the commercial fishermen.
In addition to sorting out these important critters, we would also take what we call a subsample, the size of which is determined by the size of our total catch. Of this subsample, we sorted out everything in this section of the catch. We often had over 20 different types fish or crustaceans! Once the subsample was sorted, Alonzo would then weigh the total weight of a certain species and enter the data into our computer system. From here the fun part really began.
Lindsey is measuring, weighing and sexing the catch while I enter the data into the computer.
Weighing the lizardfish
We would measure the length of each critter on our measuring board, which uses a magnetic wand to capture the data and send it directly to the computer database. For most of the species, we would also take the weight of the first fish and every fifth fish thereafter, and, if possible, also determine its sex and stage of maturity. All this information was entered in the database. We typically worked in teams of 2 with one person measuring and weighing the fish and the other entering information into the computer. We were a bit slow to start, but after the first catch we had a system down. Once we had all of our data, we bagged up some of the fish that people have requested for samples while the rest headed back to the ocean. Fish from our survey will go to scientists in lab across the country to study further.
Because all the stations were about 2-5 miles apart on our first watch, we were working nonstop from midnight until about 11am. We pulled up about 7 catches, and almost always had a catch waiting to be sorted on deck.
Hard at work measuring my lizardfish
Don’t forget, you can leave your questions in the “Comments” section below, and I’ll do my best to answer them!
Students: Don’t forget to put your name in your response. Remember, the first one to respond correctly will receive a prize in the fall!
Critter Query #1: What’s the biggest commercial shrimp found in the Gulf of Mexico and what is its scientific name?
Critter Query #2: Name 3 types of shark found in the Gulf of Mexico. (more than one correct response — all correct responses will receive a prize providing there are no repeats)
NOAA Teacher at Sea Lesley Urasky Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces June 16 – June 29, 2012
Mission: SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands Date: June 20, 2012
Location: Latitude: 18.1937
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 28°C (83°F)
Wind Speed: 19 knots (22 mph), Beaufort scale: 5
Wind Direction: from N
Relative Humidity: 80%
Barometric Pressure: 1,014.90 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (83°F)
Science and Technology Log
The cameras are a very important aspect of the abundance survey the cruise is conducting. Since catching fish is an iffy prospect (you may catch some, you may not) the cameras are extremely important in determining the abundance and variety of reef fish. At every site sampled during daylight hours, we deploy the camera array. The cameras can only be utilized during the daytime because there are no lights – video relies on the ambient light filtering down from the surface.
Camera array – the lens of one of the cameras is facing forward.
Deployment of the array at a site begins once the Bridge verifies we are over the sampling site. The camera array is turned on and is raised over the rail of the ship and lowered to the water’s surface on a line from a winch that has a ‘quick release’ attached to the array. Once over the surface, a deck hand pulls on the line to the quick release allowing the array to free fall to the bottom of the ocean. Attached to the array is enough line with buoys attached. The buoys mark the array at the surface and give the deck hands something to aim for with the grappling hook when it is time for the array to be retrieved. Once the buoys are on deck, a hydraulic pot hauler is used to raise the array from the sea floor to the side of the ship. From there, another winch is used to bring the array on board.
Vic, Jordan, Joey, and Joe deploying the camera array.
When the array is deployed, a scientist starts a computer program that collects the time, position and depth the array was dropped at. The array is allowed to “soak” on the bottom for about 38 minutes. The initial 3-5 minutes are for the cameras to power up and allow any sediment or debris on the bottom to settle after the array displaces it. The cameras are only actually recording for 25 of those minutes. The final 3-5 minutes are when the computers are powering down. At one point in time, the cameras on the array were actual video cameras sealed in waterproof, seawater-rated cases. With this system, after each deployment, every individual case had to be physically removed from the array, opened up, and the DV tape switched out. With the new system, there are a series of four digital cameras that communicate wirelessly with the computers inside the dry lab.
We did have a short-lived problem with one of the digital cameras — it quit working and the electronics technician that takes care of the cameras, Kenny Wilkinson, took a couple of nights to trouble shoot and repair it. During this time period, we reverted back to the original standard video camera. Throughout the cruise, Kenny uploads the videos taken during the day and repairs the cameras at night so they will be ready for the next day’s deployments.
Squid (before being cut into pieces) used for bait on the camera array
Besides the structure of the camera array which is designed to attract reef fish, the array is baited with squid. A bag of frozen, cut squid hangs down near the middle. The squid is replaced at every site.
Adding bait to the camera array.
In addition to the bait bag, a Temperature Depth Recorder (TDR) is attached near the center, hanging downward near the bottom third of the array. The purpose of the TDR is to measure the temperature of the water at various depths. It is also used to verify that the depth where the camera comes to rest on the ocean bottom and is roughly equivalent to what the acoustic sounding reports at the site. This is important because the camera generally doesn’t settle directly beneath the ship. Its location is ultimately determined by the drift as it falls through the water column and current. The actual TDR instrument is very small and is attached to the array near the bait bag. After retrieving the array at each site, the TDR is removed from the array and brought inside to download the information. To download, there is a small magnet that is used to tap the instrument (once) and then a stylus attached to the computer is used to read a flash of light emitted by an LED. The magnet is then tapped four times on the instrument to clear the previous run’s data. The data actually records the pressure exerted by the overlying water column in pounds per square inch (psi) which is then converted to a depth.
Computer screen showing the data downloaded from the TDR.
The video from each day is uploaded to the computer system during the night shift. The following day, Kevin Rademacher (chief scientist), views the videos and quickly annotates the “highlights”. The following things are noted: visual clarity (turbidity [cloudiness due to suspended materials], what the lighting is like [backlit], and possible focusing issues), substrate (what the bottom is made of), commercially viable fish, fish with specific management plans, presence of lionfish (an invasive species), and fish behavior. Of the four cameras, the one with the best available image is noted for later viewing.
Computer data entry form for camera array image logs
Once back at the lab, the videos are more completely analyzed. A typical 20-minute video will take anywhere from 30 minutes to three days to complete. This is highly dependent upon density and diversity of fish species seen; the greater the density and diversity, the longer or more viewing events it will take. The experience of the reader is also an important factor. Depending upon the level of expertise, a review system is in place to “back read” or verify species identification. The resulting data is entered into a database which is then used to assign yearly data points for trend analysis. The final database is submitted to the various management councils. From there, management or fisheries rebuilding plans are developed and hopefully, implemented.
Spotted moray eel viewed from the camera array. He’s well camouflaged; can you find him?
Coney with a parasitic isopod attached below its eye.
Two Lionfish – an invasive species
Today, we are off the coast of St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We traveled from the southern coast of St. Croix, went around the western tip of the island and across the straight. When I woke up I could see not only St. Thomas and St. John, but a host of smaller islands located off their coastline.
Map of the Virgin Islands. St. Croix and St. Thomas are separated by 35 miles of ocean. It took us about 3 hours to cross to our next set of sampling sites.
Around dinner time last night we had an interesting event happen on board. They announced over the radio system that there was a leak in the water line and asked us not to use the heads (toilets). A while later, they announced no unnecessary use of water (showers, etc.); following that they shut off all water. It didn’t take long for the repairs to occur, and soon the water was returned. However, when I went to dinner, I discovered that the stateroom I’m sharing with Kelly Schill, the Ops Officer, had flooded. Fortunately, the effects of the flooding were not nearly as bad as I had feared. Only a small portion of the room had been affected. The crew did a great job of rapidly assessing the problem and fixing it in a timely manner. After this, I have absolutely no fear about any problems on board because I know the crew will react swiftly, maintain safety, and be professional all the while.
Last night was the first sunset I’ve seen since I’ve been on board. Up until this point, it has been too hazy and cloudy. The current haze is caused by dust/sand storms in the Sahara Desert blowing minute particles across the Atlantic Ocean.
St. Thomas sunset
Today has been a slow day with almost nary a fish caught. We did catch one fish, but by default. It was near the surface and hooked onto our bait. We immediately reeled in the line and extracted it. It was necessary to remove it because it would have skewed our data since it was caught at the surface and not near the reef. This fish was a really exciting one for me to see, because it was a Shark Sucker (Echeneis naucrates). These are the fish you may have seen that hang on to sharks waiting for tasty tidbits to float by. They are always on the lookout for a free meal.
Shark sucker on measuring board
One of the most interesting aspects of the shark sucker is that they have a suction device called laminae on top of their heads that looks a little like a grooved Venetian blind system. In order to attach to the shark (or other organism), they “open the blinds” and then close them creating a suction-like connection.
The “sucker” structure on the Shark Sucker. Don’t they look like Venetian blinds?
I got to not only see and feel this structure on the fish, but also let it attach itself to my arm! It was the neatest feeling ever! The laminae are actually a modified dorsal spines; these spines are needed because of the roughness of shark’s skin. When the shark sucker detached itself from me, it left a red, slightly irritated mark on my arm that disappeared after a couple of hours.
Look, Ma, No Hands! Shark sucker attached to my arm.
Tomorrow we’ll be helping place a buoy in between St. Croix and St. Thomas. It will be interesting to see the process and how the anchor is attached.
With all the weird and wonderful animals we’re retrieving, I can’t wait to see what another day of fishing brings.