NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker
June 6, 2018
Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean along the California Coast
Date: June 6, 2018
Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 36° 59.462 N
Longitude: 122° 31.056 W
Wind Speed: 12.77 knots
Wind Direction: Northwest winds
Wave height: 2 to 3 feet with 4-6 foot swells
Air temperature: 12.76° C
Science and Technology Log
Our first official night on the Job was Sunday, June 4th. My shift is technically 6:00 pm to 6:00 am, but we could not begin trawling until the evening when skies were dark. If fish can see the net, they can avoid it. The method we use to catch fish is a midwater trawl, also known as a pelagic trawl, because the net fishes in the water column. It’s called a modified Cobb midwater trawl net. It has a cod end, the narrow end of a tapered trawl net where the catch is collected during the trawl.
Before we lower the net, the water around the ship must be clear of marine mammals. Thirty minutes prior to each trawl, someone stands the marine mammal watch on the bridge. Once the net is deployed, someone must be watching for marine mammals outside the entire time. If any marine mammals are spotted (this includes dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions), we report it to the officer on the bridge. The rule is that if we spot a marine mammal, the net must be hauled back in and we sail a mile away from the sighting. Marine mammals are protected and we do not want any caught in the net.
When the net is in the water, we trawl for 15 minutes at 30 m deep. Optimal speed is about 2 knots, but that is weather dependent. During this time, our deck crew, and Survey Technician monitor each step of the haul, reporting back to the officer on the bridge. As they haul the net in, the deck hands and Survey Technician work together to make sure the catch goes into the bins for sorting.
I didn’t know what to expect from our first catch. Maybe we would have some fish, crabs, squid…However the first catch brought something I never saw before. Lots of Thetys!
Thetys are a type of salp. Salps are planktonic, colonial tunicates from the phylum Chordata. We also had pyrosomes, another type of colonial tunicate. They are efficient feeders, filtering particles of plankton from the water. It is expected that in areas where salps are prevalent, one can expect to find less of other species from the same trophic level. For this catch, that happened to be the case.
As of today, I officially completed 3 shifts on the job, which included 12 trawls in total. It seems that each catch was dominated by 1 or 2 species. There were other species present, but we had to sort through the catch to find them.
We had a catch that was loaded with anchovies, another with krill, and one full of pelagic red crabs. I find this to be one of the most interesting parts of the work, anticipating what we will find. There are many variables that can impact the productivity of an ecosystem, and therefore can determine what we find. Things like salinity, sea surface temperatures, upwelling, proximity to land or open ocean, and human impact, can all influence an ecosystem.
So, what do we do with our catches once we have them? We count them, and there is a method to the count. Depending on the size of the catch, we may measure out 1,000 ml, 2,000 ml, or 5,000 ml. We start with that first bucket and count every individual (species like krill or salps are measured by volume). The numbers are reported to Keith Sakuma, our chief scientist, and recorded in a handwritten data sheet, then transferred to an excel document. After the first bucket, we may focus on sorting for all other species except the predominant species. For example, for our large anchovy catch, we sorted through approximately 60 liters of fish. We didn’t count every single anchovy, but based on our primary count, we can use the total volume to estimate. However, we sort through looking for all other species and record the findings.
We will record each species we find, and then we have a list of specified species that need to be measured. We take the first twenty specimens of each so we have a record of the average size fish caught in that specific location and time. We focus on measuring the species of fish that have the most ecological and economic importance. These are the prey and those that are consumed by us. Therefore, they are also likely to suffer from human impact. Learning about these species are important to the understanding of what makes them successful, and how to mitigate the things that negatively impact their productivity.
So far this is our routine. Tonight, we had a break from trawling as we transit up to Davenport, just North of Santa Cruz. The current conditions are not favorable for trawling, so we will get back to work tomorrow evening. While we take it easy, our NOAA officers navigate the ship up the coast. I had the opportunity to speak to our Executive Officer (XO), Lieutenant Commander Emily Rose.
How did you come to work for NOAA?
I went to the University of Hawaii and got my degree in Meteorology. From there, my friend referred me to someone who currently worked in the NOAA Corps. The things she told me about the job piqued my interests, so I applied. I was selected in 2008. There was a 5-month training period, and then I was stationed in Hawaii on the Ka’imimoana, a ship that has since been decommissioned. I was sent to Santa Rosa, CA to work for National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) during my first land assignment, then I became the Operations Officer aboard the Okeanos Explorer. Before I joined the Reuben Lasker, I was stationed at the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) in Boulder, CO for 2 years.
Since you have a degree in Meteorology, do you get to use what you’ve learned for your current position?
Every time I’ve been on a ship, I’ve been the defacto weather officer. On the Reuben Lasker, I haven’t had to do too much with weather so far, but on other assignments I’ve done weather presentations and helped others like the CO (commanding officer) interpret weather patterns, and just to provide information to those who are interested in learning. It’s is not a career in Meteorology, but having a degree in a science that relates to what NOAA is beneficial. You use critical thinking skills throughout the job. If there is a challenge, you can come up with a solution. You also have math and physics, and a basic understanding of how things work. All these things help make operations successful.
What is the most important part of your job now?
The most important part of my job is to manage the ship’s crew. I make sure they are put first. I manage their time and attendance, their pay, their leave time, any personnel issues, etc. Anything they need, I am there for them. They are the reason we (the ship) are successful.
What is your favorite part of your job?
All of it! The variety. My job changes from day to day; there are new challenges each day. The variety makes it interesting.
What tool is the most important for you to do your job?
For me I would not be able to do a good job if I did not have a positive attitude. Sometimes we are faced with challenges that are not easy to fix without support and understanding. Having a positive attitude helps me get through it and helps others around me.
I also think it is important to be open-minded and be willing to try new things. There is a lot that we deal with that some have never dealt with before. Having an inquisitive mind and ability to be ready for anything are important.
When you applied for NOAA, did you know this is what you wanted to do?
Yes. Once I applied, I thought it would be pretty cool. I was also thinking about being a math teacher, or to pursue weather in the air force. I’m glad I didn’t because I get to do a whole lot more here than I would if I were in an air force weather center. Once the application process got rolling, and then I got an interview, I thought “Yeah, this is what I want to do.”
Was there something you found surprising about your job when you started?
There were a lot of surprises! You always have an idea of what you expect, but once we all got together for training, we learned something new every day. Some of us had never been on a ship before, some have never driven a small boat, some have never done any charting. And I still feel like I learn something new each day. Everybody that I’m around has a different background and experience, so it’s fun to learn from them.
If you weren’t working for NOAA, what would you be doing now?
I don’t think I would be doing something else. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on something. In fact, I tell people all the time about what they are missing! I’ve got to do more in this job than I ever thought I would. I’ve been all over the world, included places like Western Samoa, The French Marquesas, and the Marshall Islands.
If you were give advice to a young person considering a NOAA career, what would you recommend?
Anyone who is interested in going into NOAA as a scientist, crew member, or Corps Officer, one important piece would be to study hard and work hard, but keep in mind, grades are not the end-all be-all. Try hard and learn the material, and learn how to problem solve. Don’t be afraid of a challenge, and be ready to give 110% because that will help get you to the next level. For NOAA Corps specifically, having some experience working on a ship and understanding of nautical operations is beneficial. And don’t be afraid to reach out to someone from the NOAA Corps because they are willing to offer guidance.
What are your hobbies?
Sports! I play any sport that you ask me to, but I play on teams for soccer, softball, ice hockey, tennis, and a basketball league not too long ago. When I’m on land, I join as many teams as I can. I love riding my bike. On my last land assignment I went two years riding my bike to work and didn’t drive at all. My husband even bought me snow tires. You name it I’m game!
Did You Know…
- Before you can set out, you must have multiple permits. Depending on where trawling occurs, one may need a permit for state waters and federal waters. Those conducting research may receive permits to trawl in both state and federal protected areas.
- We keep some of the specimens for further analysis in the lab (back on land). There are various reasons scientists want to study further, including learning about their genetics, development, and reproduction. One group includes all the juvenile rockfish we find. Please stay tuned for the next blog to learn more about this part of the research.