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

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

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

Date: August 26, 2018

Weather Data from the Air

Conditions at 0634

Altitude: 9585 meters

Outside Temperature: -38 ℃

Distance to Destination: 362 km

Tail Wind: 0 km/h

Ground Speed: 837 km/h

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

Science and Technology Log

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

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

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

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

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

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

How deep can sharks swim?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Personal Log

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Did You Know?

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

Recommended Reading

If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams

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

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

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

 

Susan Brown: Let’s Go Fishing, September 4, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017

Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 4, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29 43.931N
Longitude: 086 09.617W
Sea wave height: .5 meters
Wind Speed: 2
Wind Direction: 250 degrees
Visibility: good
Air Temperature: 28.3 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1016 mb
Sky: partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Numbered tags used for each hook
Mackerel used for bait

Today was my first shift. We are using mackerel to bait the 100 hooks that will be places into the water at a specific station. Each hook is numbered so that we can collect data on which hook brought in a fish and entered into the database. There are several jobs out here from baiting the hooks, placing the buoys, flinging the baited hooks out, and recording data in the computer. My job today is the computer.

entering data on the deployment of the baited hooks

The longline is set and left to sit in the ocean for approximately one hour before we start bringing up the line to see if we have a fish on. Out of the 100 hooks we got one fish, a baby tiger shark and a larger juvenile tiger shark coming in at six feet or so. This tiger shark had several hooks in its mouth as well as a tag so when she was brought up on board, all the hooks were removed and the tag replaced with a new one.

IMG_5947
Removing hooks from the tiger shark’s mouth

The tag that was on the tiger shark was opened up to reveal a small scroll of paper with a unique number so that this shark can be tracked from where it was first picked up to when it ended up with us for the brief visit. Below is a short video of us bringing up the shark in the cradle! [no dialogue or narration.]

We will be setting another line tonight at our second station as we continue to motor southeast following the coast of Florida.

Beside recording data on the sharks, a CTD is deployed to collect data on conductivity, temperature and depth. We will use this data in the classroom to look for trends between the abiotic factors that may influence where we are finding certain shark species and the number of overall sharks at any given station.

The CTD that measure conductivity, temperature and depth

Personal Log

There are many different scientists on board researching different things. I am sharing a stateroom with Dani who is on the night shift. She is looking into how different sharks handle stress. I see very little of her since we are on opposite shifts so we get a quick visit at noon when there is a changing of the guards so of say. Brett and Carlos, as mentioned in an earlier post, are looking into parasites that inhabit the various animals we are bringing up. I will do a separate blog on those two and their research later this week to share what they are finding.

Donning the survival suit during abandon ship drill

Today we had a few drills to practice in case of an emergency. One was a fire drill and the other was an abandon ship drill where I had to don a large neoprene suit in less than two minutes. Here I am in that suit! It was quite cumbersome to put on.

Learning new words as I get acclimated to the ship. Here are a few for you:

The head = bathroom

Stateroom = room where I sleep

Muster = to assemble

Bow = the front of the ship

Stern = the back of the ship

Did You Know?

Military time is used on board this ship. See the photo of the clock below.

Question of the Day: Why use military time?

NOAA clock

Emily Sprowls: Tag, you’re it! March 26, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Sprowls

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

March 20 – April 3, 2017

 

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: March 26, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

13:00 hours

28°12.1’ N 89°23.8’W

Visibility 6 nm, Haze

Wind 15 kts 170°E

Sea wave height 4-5 ft.

Seawater temp 23.4°C

Science and Technology Log

MeasureShark.jpg
I learn to measure my first (little) shark!

The ship has completed our deep-water sampling and we are now headed to more shallow areas, where there are likely to be more sharks and hopefully even some that have been tagged in the past.  With each shark we catch, we record in a database their measurements and exactly where they were caught.  If things are going well with the shark out of water, we also take a fin clip, a blood sample, and attach a tag.

Tag-and-recapture is one way for wildlife biologists to estimate population size.  You can compare the number of tagged sharks to newly caught sharks, and then extrapolate using that ratio to the total number of sharks in the area.

 

P1050255
Volunteers help enter data into the “Toughbook” computer.

Recapturing a tagged shark also helps scientists determine the age of a shark, as well as its rate of growth.  In bony fish, it is possible to examine the otoliths (bony structures in the ear) to determine the age of a fish.  However, since sharks do not have bones, scientists must use other ways to determine their ages and track their growth.  One of the scientists on board (my roommate) is collecting shark vertebrae so that her lab can use growth rings in the vertebrae to assess their age, sort of like counting the rings on a tree stump.

 

Personal Log

The past few days have put all my seasickness remedies to the test with waves over 6 feet and plenty of rolling on the ship.  The good news is that they have been working pretty well for the most part – I’ve only lost my lunch once so far!  One “cure” for seasickness is to stay busy, which has been difficult to do because the high winds and lightning have made it unsafe to do any sampling.

Fortunately, the crew’s lounge is well-stocked with movies, so I have watched quite a few while we wait for the waves to calm down and the thunderstorm to pass.  The lounge has some cushioned benches long enough to stretch out on, which is key because being horizontal is the best way for me to minimize my seasickness.

 

Kids’ Questions

  • How do you put the tag on?

    P1050392
    Data collection sheet and shark tagging tool.

The tag for smaller sharks is a bit like a plastic earring, but on the shark’s dorsal fin.  First you have to “pierce” the fin with a tool like a paper hole-punch, and then use another tool to snap in the tag  — making sure that the ID numbers are facing out.  If the shark is a species that will outgrow a plastic roto tag, they get a skinny floating tag inserted just under their dorsal fin.

  • How does the tag stay on the shark?

The shark heals the wound made by the tag, and the scar tissue holds the tag in place. Because the tags are made of plastic and stainless steel, they do not rust or deteriorate in the ocean.

P1050391
Tagged dorsal fin of Mustelus sinusmexicanus.
  • How do they make the tags? 

The NOAA fisheries lab orders tags from manufacturing companies, and are similar to tags used on domestic animals like cows.  Each tag includes a phone number and the word “REWARD,” so that if fishermen catch a tagged shark they can report it.

  • What are they doing with the shark tagging data?

Tagging the sharks in the Gulf of Mexico allows us to figure out how fast they are growing and how far they are traveling.  Measuring all the sharks also helps scientists understand how the populations of different species might be changing.  Some clues to changing populations include catching smaller or fewer sharks of one species.

Lynn Kurth: It’s Shark Week! July 31, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynn M. Kurth
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 9, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic
Date:  July 31, 2014

Lat: 30 11.454 N
Long: 80 49.66 W

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind: 17 knots
Barometric Pressure:  1014.93 mb
Temperature:  29.9 Degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log:
It would be easy for me to focus only on the sharks that I’ve  encountered but there is so much more science and natural phenomena to share with you!  I have spent as much time on the bow of the boat as I can in between working on my blogs and my work shift.  There’s no denying it, I LOVE THE BOW OF THE BOAT!!!  When standing in the bow it feels as if you’re flying over the water and the view is splendid.

BOW
My Perch!

From my prized bird’s eye view from the bow I’ve noticed countless areas of water with yellowish clumps of seaweed.  This particular seaweed is called sargassum which is a type of macroalgae found in tropical waters.  Sargassum has tiny chambers which hold air and allow it to float on or near the water’s surface in order to gather light for photosynthesis.  Sargassum can be considered to be a nuisance because it frequently washes up on beaches and smells as it decomposes.  And, in some areas it can become so thick that it reduces the amount of light that other plant species need to grow and thrive. However, the floating clumps of sargassum provide a great habitat for young fish because it offers them food and shelter.

IMG_2826
Sargassum as seen from “my perch”

IMG_2906[1]
Sargassum (notice the small air bladders that it uses to stay afloat)
We have hauled in a variety of sharks and fish over the past few days.  One of the more interesting species was the remora/sharksucker.  The sharksucker attaches itself to rays, sharks, ships, dolphins and sea turtles by latching on with its suction cup like dorsal fin.  When we brought a sharksucker on board the ship it continued to attach itself to the deck of the boat and would even latch on to our arm when we gave it the chance.

IMG_2944[1]
The shark sucker attaches to my arm immediately!
The largest species of sharks that we have hauled in are Sandbar sharks which are one of the largest coastal sharks in the world.  Sandbar sharks have much larger fins compared to their body size which made them attractive to fisherman for sale in the shark fin trade.  Therefore, this species has more protection than some of the other coastal shark species because they have been over harvested in the past due to their large fins.

Thankfully finning is now banned in US waters, however despite the ban sandbar sharks have continued protection due to the fact that like many other species of sharks they are not able to quickly replace numbers lost to high fishing pressure.  Conservationists remain concerned about the future of the Sandbar shark because of this ongoing threat and the fact that they reproduce very few young.

IMG_2928[1]
The first Sandbar shark that I was able to tag
Did you Know?

Sargassum is used in/as:

  • fertilizer for crops
  • food for people
  • medicines
  • insect repellant

Personal Log:
I continue to learn a lot each day and can’t wait to see what the next day of this great adventure brings!  The folks who I’m working with have such interesting tales to share and have been very helpful as I learn the ropes here on the Oregon II.  One of the friendly folks who I’ve been working with is a second year student at the University of Tampa named Kevin Travis.  Kevin volunteered for the survey after a family friend working for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) recommended him as a volunteer.  Kevin enjoys his time on the boat because he values meeting new people and knows how beneficial it is to have a broad range of experiences.

 

IMG_2798
Kevin Travis

Louise Todd, Haul Back, September 23, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 23, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1009.89mb
Sea Temperature: 28˚C
Air Temperature: 28.2˚C
Wind speed: 8.29knots

Science and Technology Log:

The haul back is definitely the most exciting part of each station.  Bringing the line back in gives you the chance to see what you caught!  Usually there is at least something on the line but my shift has had two totally empty lines which can be pretty disappointing.  An empty line is called a water haul since all you are hauling back is water!

After the line has been in the water for one hour, everyone on the shift assembles on the bow to help with the haul back.  One crew member operates the large winch used to wind the main line back up so it can be reused.

Line on the winch
Winch holding the main line

The crew member operating the winch unhooks each gangion from the main line  and hands it to another crew member.  That crew member passes it to a member of our shift who unhooks the number from the gangion.  The gangions are carefully placed back in the barrels so they are ready for the next station.  When something is on the line, the person handling the gangions will say “Fish on”.

Nurse Shark on the line
Nurse Shark on the line

Everyone gets ready to work when we hear that call.  Every fish that comes on board is measured. Usually fish are measured on their sides as that makes it easy to read the markings on the measuring board.

Measuring Grouper
Measuring a Yellowedge Grouper (Photo credit Christine Seither)
Measuring a Sandbar
Christine and Nick measuring a Sandbar Shark

Each shark is examined to determine its gender.

Sexing a shark
Determining the sex of a sharpnose shark (Photo credit Deb Zimmerman)

Male sharks have claspers, modified pelvic fins that are used during reproduction.  Female sharks do not have claspers.

Claspers
Claspers on a Blacktip

Fin clips, small pieces of the fin, are taken from all species of sharks.  The fin clips are used to examine the genetics of the sharks for confirmation of identification and population structure, both of which are important for management decisions. 

Shark Fin Clip
That’s me in the blue hardhat taking a fin clip from a Sandbar Shark(Photo credit Lisa Jones)

Skin biopsies are taken from any dogfish sharks  in order to differentiate between the species.  Tags are applied to all sharks. Tags are useful in tracing the movement of sharks.  When a shark, or any fish with a tag, is recaptured there is a phone number on the tag to call and report the location where the shark was recaptured.

Some sharks are small and relatively easy to handle.

Cuban Dogfish
Small Cuban Dogfish (Photo credit Christine Seither)

Other sharks are large and need to be hauled out of the water using the cradle.  The cradle enables the larger sharks to be processed quickly and then returned to the water.  A scale on the cradle provides a weight on the shark.  Today was the first time my shift caught anything big enough to need the cradle.  We used the cradle today for one Sandbar and two Silky Sharks.  Everyone on deck has to put a hardhat on when the cradle is used since the cradle is operated using a crane.

Silky Shark
Silky shark coming up in the cradle
Sandbar Shark
Sandbar Shark in the cradle

Personal Log:

I continue to have such a good time on the Oregon II.  My shift has had some successful stations which is always exciting.  We have had less downtime in between our stations than we did the first few days so we are usually able to do more than one station in our shifts.  The weather in the Gulf forced us to make a few small detours and gave us some rain yesterday but otherwise the seas have been calm and the weather has been beautiful.  It is hard to believe my first week is already over.  I am hopeful that we will continue our good luck with the stations this week!  The rocking of the boat makes it very easy for me to sleep at night when my shift is over.  I sleep very soundly!  The food in the galley is delicious and there are plenty of options at each meal.  I feel right at home on the Oregon II!

Did You Know?

Flying fish are active around the boat, especially when the spotlights are on during a haul back at night.  Flying fish are able to “fly” using their modified pectoral fins that they spread out.  This flying fish flew right onto the boat!

FlyingFish
Flying Fish

Peggy Deichstetter, September 2, 2010

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

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date:  September 2, 2010

 

Me, tagging the shark
Me, tagging the shark
Finally, my first taste of shark.! My shift started at midnight. We baited 100 large hooks with mackerel. Then at a precise location the hooks were released one by one on a long line. The hooks were left in the water for one hour. Then the hooks were pulled out in the same order they were put in the water.

My first shark
My first shark

We cleaned up everything because it is really good to wash fish slime off before it smells too bad. After our shark adventure, we did another plankton tow. This time we collected pounds of sea grass. A piece of discarded plastic about the size of a Frisbee blocked the plankton shoot so that grass accumulated.
We arrived at our next site and once again baited 100 hooks, released them and waited an hour. Our luck was a little better this time. We got two large sharks, one of which I got to tag, a couple small ones and a remora.

Annmarie Babicki, August 13, 2010

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

Weather Data from the Bridge                                

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

Science and Technology:

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

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

Sandbar Shark in Cradle
Tagging the Sandbar Shark

Personal Log

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

The Bridge on the Oregon II

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

Maggie Prevenas, May 5, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: May 5, 2007

Science Log: Tagging Ice Seals

Saturday May 5, started off ordinary, as ordinary as a Saturday on an icebreaker in the middle of the Bering Sea can be. I was lingering over lunch with Gavin Brady and Dr. Michael Cameron, two members of the NOAA National Marine Mammal Laboratory ice seal team. They were telling leopard seal stories and fun factoids about other seals. Unfortunately, I had to excuse myself, as it was time for me to make an ice observation up on the bridge.

In that very short period of time that it took me to lumber up the five flights to the bridge of the Healy, something happened. We were stopped at a station, a ribbon seal had been recorded close to the ship, and the ice seal team was going to try and tag it.

Much of the ice we encountered last week was soft and honeycombed. You wouldn’t want to go ice hopping on this.
Much of the ice we encountered last week was soft and honeycombed. You wouldn’t want to go ice hopping on this.

I stopped right smack dab in the middle of my observations and flew down three flights to the hanger, where the seal team was hastily putting on their zodiac safety gear. Our last week on the Healy had us in rotting ice, or fog, or no ice at all with few opportunities to tag ice seals. This was a golden opportunity, as the boat was stopped and on station. Zodiacs away!

Jay Ver Hoef, the newest member of the ice seal team, geared up in a MS 900, bunny boots, white stocking cap, helmet, and ice camoflage overshirt.
Jay Ver Hoef, the newest member of the ice seal team, geared up in a MS 900, bunny boots, white stocking cap, helmet, and ice camoflage overshirt.

Permission was granted and the seal team was good to go.

Dr. Mike talks netting strategy to the ice seal team.
Dr. Mike talks netting strategy to the ice seal team.

They met together, refreshed their netting strategy, and waited.

The purpose of a strategy meeting is to review boat approaches and answer any questions that might arise.
The purpose of a strategy meeting is to review boat approaches and answer any questions that might arise.

The Coast Guard worked as quickly as it was able to.

Lee Harris stands next to Captain Lindstrom. The Healy supports scientific research by facilitating technology and equipment dispersal.
Lee Harris stands next to Captain Lindstrom. The Healy supports scientific research by facilitating technology and equipment dispersal.

This was only the second time these zodiacs were launched; the crew was working out protocol and safety procedures.

The ice seals rolled the zodiacs onto the deck so that they could be lifted into the icy Bering Sea.
The ice seal team rolled the zodiacs onto the deck so that they could be lifted into the icy Bering Sea.

Time ticked, ticked, ticked away.

The ice seals tracked the ribbon seal as they waited patiently for the Coast Guard to get the three zodiacs onto the water below.
The ice seal team tracked the ribbon seal as they waited patiently for the Coast Guard to get the three zodiacs into the water below.
Each zodiac had to be lifted by crane up and over the helo deck fencing.
Each zodiac had to be lifted by crane up and over the helo deck fencing.
Zodiac one contained Dr. Mike and his driver Dave Withrow.
Zodiac one contained Dr. Mike and his driver Dave Withrow.
Sean Dahle and driver Lee Harris scooted off in zodiac two.
Sean Dahle and Lee Harris scooted off in zodiac two.
This was Jay’s first decent down the Healy Jacobs Ladder.
This was Jay’s first decent down the Healy Jacobs Ladder.

Gavin Brady with driver Jay Ver Hoef descended the Jacobs ladder into the zodiacs below. They chugged off into the frosty fog, and were gone.

The zodiacs slipped into the fog and out of sight.
The zodiacs slipped into the fog and out of sight.

They had radios, GPS and other contact equipment. We knew they would be safe.

Steven Elliot, Tom Bolmer, and Captain Lindstrom help the zodiacs find the seal in the ice-maze.
Steven Elliot, Tom Bolmer, and Captain Lindstrom help the zodiacs find the seal in the ice-maze.

The rest of the seal tagging was done within a quiet and serene ice flowscape.

Dave Withrow, one of the ice seal team, took pictures of the Healy from the zodiac.
Dave Withrow, one of the ice seal team, took pictures of the Healy from the zodiac.

The three boats split up and surrounded the ice piece upon which the ribbon seal reclined. Sean Dahle and Gavin Brady quickly took control of the animal, it was a juvenile male.

The ice team wasted no time in getting measurements and data from the juvenile male ribbon seal. Photo by Dave Withrow.
The ice team wasted no time in getting measurements and data from the juvenile male ribbon seal.

The rest of the team measured its weight, some blood, it’s length, sex and attached the flipper tag.

The team attached the tag on the right rear flipper.
The team attached the tag on the right rear flipper.

Ribbon seals are willing subjects. They are true ice seals; they never touch land and rarely encounter humans. Because of their naivety of humans, they can often be approached more easily than other arctic species.

Ribbon seals can often be approached more easily than other arctic seal species.
Ribbon seals can often be approached more easily than other arctic seal species.
This young male waited patiently for the ice seal team to finish taking data.
This young male waited patiently for the ice seal team to finish taking data.

This young male was true to its breed.

The ribbon seal slipped off the ice and into the Bering Sea. The tag will send out valuable information for roughly a year.
The ribbon seal slipped off the ice and into the Bering Sea. The tag will send out valuable information for a year.

So tagging number two can go down in the ice seal journal and in the event log of the 0701 Healy Science cruise as uber successful. Ordinary days? There are none, when you are on an icebreaker somewhere the middle of the Bering Sea!

Maggie Prevenas, May 4, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: May 4, 2007

Science Log

I have watched a lot of science happen these past three weeks. I have asked a lot of questions and taken a lot of pictures. See I needed to understand what was happening here in the middle of the Bering Sea. And I need to know it so well that I can go back home and tell my students all about it.

The producers in the Bering Sea ecosystem are diatoms and other phytoplankton. They are productive because there are lots of nutrients in the water.
The producers in the Bering Sea ecosystem are diatoms and other phytoplankton. They are productive because there are lots of nutrients in the water.

I have been trying to synthesize ecosystem science and understand. Gradually, oh so slowly, I can see. And it hasn’t been easy. Scientists often do research with a very specific topic or organism. They work in small teams.  They need to gather accurate data during the mission and/or store samples to continue research back in their labs.

The scientists on-board Healy work in small teams, with one scientist named again and again as contributing essential data to the Bering Sea Ecosystem STudy. This scientist works alone but is a huge team player.  Meet Dr. Calvin Mordy.

Dr. Cal Mordy figures out what nutrients are in the water samples pulled from the Bering Sea.
Dr. Cal Mordy figures out what nutrients are in the water samples pulled from the Bering Sea.
Cal figures out what nutrients are in the water samples pulled up from the varying depths in the Bering Sea. These nutrients are like fertilizer for the tiny phytoplankton producers that cling to the bottom of the ice that covers the Bering Sea. Understanding why, how and when these tiny green food factories grow and multiply is another researchers problem. Yet another researcher is cataloging what zooplankton consumers are present and in what quantity. Cal? He’s all about the nutrients in the water of the Bering Sea.
Cal tirelessly and exactingly tests hundreds of samples of Bering Sea water.
Cal tirelessly and exactingly tests hundreds of samples of Bering Sea water.

Remember that the zooplankton (consumers) depend on the phytoplankton (producers) for food. Nutrients are key in this research. Cal tirelessly and exactingly tests hundreds of samples of Bering Sea water, at different depths in the water column, and returns information back to the BEST (Bering Sea Ecosystem Study) scientists so they may integrate that information in their research.  Lots of people depend on him for their data. They make calculations of different solutions from his cue.

Many researchers on the Healy depend on Dr. Mordy for his data.
Many researchers on the Healy depend on Dr. Mordy for his data.

With so many people depending on him for data, does he ever make a mistake? ‘Never,’ he says, and I believe him. Mistakes  advertise themselves, he explains. Any data that is out of sort is flagged. Those samples are run again, to verify the data in question. Often those samples are the result of a leaky bottle or a misfired bottle. That data is pulled. That’s that.

Somehow it is so comforting to know that Cal has such a strong grasp of this key piece of the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study. Deep in the lab onboard the USCG Cutter Healy, there is a scientist at work. Cal systematically finds out what nutrients are in this icy cold water and in what concentration. In the BEST cruise, it all starts here.

Maggie Prevenas, May 3, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: May 3, 2007

Science Log

I stuffed the cups with some sturdy brown paper towels to keep them separate and then placed them in a mesh laundry bag.

Here is Claire’s cup before we sent it down.
Here is Claire’s cup before we sent it down.

The Marine Scientist Technicians (MSTs) connected them to the CDT sampler that was dropped below 3300 meters!

I took this picture of the screen as the CTD was reeled up from the bottom.
I took this picture of the screen as the CTD was reeled up from the bottom.

How much pressure was down there? Scott Hiller, from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, plugged some numbers into an equation and told me that there was some 5100 psi (pounds per square inch) acting on those little white cups. The temperature was just above freezing.

Cups are strapped onboard the CTD
Cups are strapped onboard the CTD

Two hours after dropping them down to the bottom of the Bering Sea, they emerged strapped and dripping.

And MUCH smaller.

Oh how CUTE!

It will be a lot easier mailing these to the St. Paul students. My have they shrunk!
It will be a lot easier mailing these to the St. Paul students. My have they shrunk!

So what did we learn from this?

Well, there are lots more questions that arise. How far do the cups have to drop in order for them to compress? What is the tipping depth, the depth that they begin to compress? Does the length of time that they are submerged make a difference in how they compress? Where does the gas that is in the cup go?

Ah, science, sweet science, raising more questions than answering once again.