Emily Sprowls: Whirlwind Return to Shore, April 11, 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: April 11, 2017

Weather Data

The weather on the last scheduled day of the cruise was so bad (12 ft. seas! 30 knot winds!) that the ship came into port early on Sunday. The strong winds and waves kicked up and a string of severe storms and tornadoes swept through the area just after my flight home left on Monday morning.

Science and Technology Log

The last few days of the cruise brought in a lot of sharks, fish and data. We were kept pretty busy, putting in and hauling out 3 or 4 lines each shift. In total between both shifts we set 53 stations and caught 679 vertebrate specimens (not counting the invertebrates: sea stars, sea cucumbers and all those isopods)! There were points when this was totally exhausting and repetitive, but then there were moments when we were holding sharks and it was all worth it! We caught some amazing creatures, and some just floated or flew by for a visit like jellyfish and migrant birds.

In between stations the scientists worked to collect and label tissue samples from the specimens needed by different research labs, including fin clips, parasites, muscles, and eye lenses.

Personal Log

To be completely honest, there was a point about two-thirds through the cruise when I felt pretty tired, a little bit nauseous, and like I had already seen and learned so much that I was ready to go home. That happened to be a day when another thunderstorm blew in, and we had to take a break from sampling. That terrific weather break (during which we lounged with popcorn and a not-so-terrific movie) also coincided with the forecast suggesting a possible early end to the cruise. Suddenly, it seemed like my trip was almost over — I realized that I had so many more questions for my new scientist friends and not enough time to learn everything!

Fortunately, the scientists on board were very kind and eager to answer my students’ questions with the best information they could find. We had several engaging discussions while answering the kids’ questions… in fact, at one point we were so engrossed in a conversation about dogfish life history that we were suddenly interrupted by radio calls from the deck and bridge that we had missed hauling in our line! We grabbed all our gear: boots, gloves, life jackets, hardhats, clipboards, cameras, laptop; and ran out on deck as fast as we could muster. We had all forgotten it was April Fool’s Day! Ha!

Oregon2 crew

NOAA Corps Officers LCDR Lecia Salerno, LT Reni Rydlewicz and ENS Chelsea Parrish

I am so grateful to the entire crew for their hospitality and their willingness to teach me about their jobs. They shared not only their homes on the boat, but also their own stories and knowledge about the work we were doing. I was lucky to share my first boat experience with Ensign Parrish, who was on her first cruise as a newly minted NOAA officer. Her infectious smile and clear love for being at sea, all while learning the ropes of the Oregon II, helped pull me right along with her enthusiasm.

The main person responsible for my excellent experience aboard was the Field Party Chief.

Baby tiger shark

The amazing shark wrangler Kristin Hannan with a young tiger shark!

Kristin Hannan was friendly and generous with her time, all while coordinating stations with the bridge, managing the scientific crew, and preparing for the next research trip. She was also indefatigable! By the time I would get my baiting gloves off, catch my breath, and get ready to help clean up, she had already finished scrubbing the barrels and decks! Most endearing, however, were her encyclopedic knowledge of shark anatomy and population ecology, and her love of all things shark (even the movie JAWS), tempered by a clear, rational, scientific perspective on issues facing the Gulf of Mexico.

Eventually, the trip drew to a close. As we approached the final sampling stations, there were many species I had hoped to see that hadn’t come up yet. It was as if all I had to do was wish for them and they appeared in the final hauls: Stingrays – CHECK! Big bull shark – CHECK! Beautiful baby tiger shark — CHECK! Adorable spinner shark — CHECK!

I started to see why this work was so addictive and attractive to the crew. But, at the end, I was definitely ready to be on stable land and order whatever I wanted from a restaurant. Going home to my incredibly spacious queen-sized bed and enormous 50 square foot bathroom was also quite nice! I loved my adventure at sea, while I also so admire the tenacity and grit that the scientists and crew on the Oregon II have for living the boat life for much, much longer than two fun weeks. Thank you!

Kids’ Questions

What types of sharks will you catch in the Gulf?

On our leg, we caught the following shark species:

Scalloped hammerhead

Scalloped hammerhead

  • Blacknose shark , CARCHARHINUS ACRONOTUS
  • Spinner shark, CARCHARHINUS BREVIPINNA
  • Blacktip shark, CARCHARHINUS LIMBATUS
  • Sandbar shark, CARCHARHINUS PLUMBEUS
  • Gulper shark, CENTROPHORUS GRANULOSUS
  • Little gulper shark, CENTROPHORUS UYATO
  • Tiger shark, GALEOCERDO CUVIERI
  • Dusky smoothhound shark, MUSTELUS CANIS
  • Gulf smoothhound, MUSTELUS SINUSMEXICANUS
  • Sharpnose shark, RHIZOPRIONODON TERRAENOVAE
  • Scalloped hammerhead shark, SPHYRNA LEWINI
  • Cuban dogfish shark, SQUALUS CUBENSIS

 

 

Clearnose skate

Clearnose skate

We also caught the following batoid species:

  • Southern stingray, DASYATIS AMERICANA
  • Roughtail stingray, DASYATIS CENTROURA
  • Bullnose ray, MYLIOBATIS FREMINVILLII
  • Clearnose skate, RAJA EGLANTERIA

 

What is the most populous type of shark in the Gulf of Mexico?

Sharpnose sharks were the most common in our sampling (we caught 247!) Bonnethead sharks are the more common species closer to shore, and blacktip sharks tend to be more common out farther to sea.

Are some shark species more or less sensitive to pollution?

Bull sharks are tolerant of extremes in water conditions (they have been found in the Mississippi River!), so they may be less sensitive to pollution. In general, hammerhead species are more sensitive and younger sharks are also in sensitive life stages, so they might be more sensitive. This is exactly the kind of questions that scientists might be able to answer more definitively someday using the large amounts of data collected by the Oregon II.

What are sharks’ lifespans?

Each shark species is different, but generally they live a long time. Small sharpnose sharks can live about 10 years. Dogfish can live up to 70 years. Other sharks average about 30 years. There is speculation that a Greenland shark has lived over 100 years! These long lifespans are part of the reason many shark populations are vulnerable because it takes them a long time to reach maturity and they do not reproduce quickly. Life history information about sharks is important to know as the NOAA scientists help manage fisheries.

 

 

Barney Peterson: What Are We Catching? August 28, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13 – 28, 2016

Mission: Long Line Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Sunday, August 28, 2016

Weather Data is not available for this post because I am writing from the Biloxi/Gulfport Airport.

WHAT ARE WE CATCHING?

This is a long-line survey.  That means we go to an assigned GPS point, deploy hi-flyer buoys, add weights to hold the line down, add 100 baited hooks, leave it in place for an hour, and retrieve everything.

mackerel-bait-fish

Mackerel is used to bait the hooks.

As the equipment is pulled in we identify, measure and record everything we catch.  Sometimes, like in the case of a really large, feisty shark that struggles enough to straighten or break a hook or the lines, we try to identify and record the one that got away.  We tag each shark so that it can be identified if it is ever caught again.  We tally each hook as it is deployed and retrieved, and the computer records a GPS position for each retrieval so scientists can form a picture of how the catch was distributed along the section we were fishing.  The target catch for this particular survey was listed as sharks and red snapper.  The reality is that we caught a much wider variety of marine life.

We list our catch in two categories: Bony fish, and Sharks.  The major difference is in the skeletons.  Bony fish have just that: a skeleton made of hard bone like a salmon or halibut.  Sharks, on the other hand, have a cartilaginous skeleton, rigid fins, and 5 to 7 gill openings on each side.  Sharks have multiple rows of sharp teeth arranged around both upper and lower jaws.  Since they have no bones, those teeth are embedded in the gums and are easily dislodged.  This is not a problem because they are easily replaced as well.  There are other wonderful differences that separate sharks from bony fish.

Bony Fish we caught:

The most common of the bony fish that we caught were Red Groupers (Epinephelus morio), distinguished by of their brownish to red-orange color, large eyes and very large mouths.  Their dorsal fins, especially, have pointed spikes.

chrissy-with-enormous-grouper

Chrissy holding an enormous grouper

We also caught Black Sea Bass (Centropristus striata) which resemble the groupers in that they also have large mouths and prominent eyes.

sea-bass

Black Sea Bass

A third fish that resembles these two is the Speckled Hind (Epinephelus drummondhayi).  It has a broad body, large mouth and undershot jaw giving the face a different look.  Yes, we did catch several Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), although not as many as I expected.  Snappers are a brighter color than the Red Groupers, and have a more triangular shaped head, large mouth and prominent canine teeth.

red-snapper

Red Snapper

The most exciting bony fish we caught was barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda).  We caught several of these and each time I was impressed with their sleek shape and very sharp teeth!

barracuda

TAS Barney Peterson with a barracuda

Most of the bony fish we caught were in fairly deep water.

 

Sharks:

We were fortunate to catch a variety of sharks ranging from fairly small to impressively big!

The most commonly caught were Sandbar Sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus): large, dark-gray to brown on top and white on the bottom.

sandbar-shark

Sandbar Shark

Unless you really know your sharks, it is difficult for the amateur to distinguish between some of the various types.  Experts look at color, nose shape, fin shape and placement, and distinguishing characteristics like the hammer-shaped head of the Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) and Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) sharks that were caught on this trip.

great-hammerhead

Great Hammerhead Shark

The beautifully patterned coloring of the Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is fairly easy to recognize and so is the yellowish cast to the sides of the Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris).

Other sharks we caught were Black-nose (Carcharhinus acrontus), Atlantic Sharp-nosed (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) and Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucus).

Several of the sharks we caught were large, very close to 3 meters long, very heavy and very strong!  Small sharks and bony fish were brought aboard on the hooks to be measured against a scaled board on the deck then weighed by holding them up on a spring scale before tagging and releasing them.  Any shark larger than about 1.5 meters was usually heavy and strong enough that it was guided into a net cradle that was lifted by crane to deck level where it could be measured, weighed and tagged with the least possibility of harm to either the shark or the crew members.  Large powerful sharks do not feel the force of gravity when in the water, but once out of it, the power of their weight works against them so getting them back into the water quickly is important.  Large powerful sharks are also pretty upset about being caught and use their strength to thrash around trying to escape.  The power in a swat from a shark tail or the abrasion from their rough skin can be painful and unpleasant for those handling them.

PERSONAL LOG

The Night Sky

I am standing alone on the well deck; my head is buzzing with the melodies of the Eagles and England Dan.  A warm breeze brushes over me as I tune out the hum of the ship’s engines and focus on the rhythm of the bow waves rushing past below me.  It is dark! Dark enough and clear enough that I can see stars above me from horizon to horizon: the soft cloudy glow of the Milky Way, the distinctive patterns of familiar favorites like the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper with its signature bright point, the North Star.  Cassiopeia appears as a huge “W” and even the tiny cluster of the “Seven Sisters” is distinct in the black bowl of the night sky over the Gulf of Mexico.  The longer I look the more stars I see.

This is one of the first really cloudless nights of this cruise so far.  Mike Conway, a member of the deck crew came looking for me to be sure I didn’t miss out on an opportunity to witness this amazingly beautiful show.  As I first exited the dry lab and stumbled toward the bow all I could pick out were three faint stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper.  The longer I looked, the more my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, and the more spectacular the show became.  Soon there were too many stars for me to pick out any but the most familiar constellations.

As a child I spent many summer nighttime hours on a blanket in our yard as my father patiently guided my eyes toward constellation after constellation, telling me the myths that explained each one. Many years have passed since then.  I have gotten busy seeing other sights and hearing other stories.  I had not thought about those long ago summer nights for many years.  Tonight, looking up in wonder, I felt very close to Pop again and to those great times we shared.

 

Jeff Miller: Wrestling Sharks for Science, September 9, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 9, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 9.4 knots
Wind Speed: 6.75 knots
Air Temp: 29.4°C
Sea Temp: 30.4°C
Seas: <1 meter
Sea Depth: 13 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  N 29 25.103
Long:  W 092.36.483

Science and Technology Log
The major goal of our mission is to survey shark populations in the western Gulf of Mexico and collect measurements and biological samples.  The sharks are also tagged so if they are re-caught scientists can learn about their growth and movements.

Sharks are members of the class of fishes called Chondrichthyes,which are cartilaginous fishes meaning they have an internal skeleton made of cartilage.  Within the class Chondricthyes, sharks belong to the subclass Elasmobranchii together with their closest relatives the skates and rays.  There are about 450 species of living sharks that inhabit oceans around the world.

Sharks, or better put their ancient relatives, have inhabited the oceans for approximately 450 million years and have evolved a number of unique characteristics that help them survive and thrive in virtually all parts of the world.  The most recognizable feature of sharks is their shape.  A shark’s body shape and fin placement allow water to flow over the shark reducing drag and making swimming easier.  In addition, the shark’s cartilaginous skeleton reduces weight while providing strength and flexibility, which also increases energy efficiency.

Blacktip shark

Measuring a blacktip shark on deck. The blacktip shark shows the typical body shape and fin placement of sharks. These physical characteristics decrease drag and help sharks move more efficiently through water.

When I held a shark for the first time, the feature I noticed most is the incredible muscle mass and strength of the shark.  The body of a typical shark is composed of over 60% muscle (the average human has about 35-40% muscle mass).  Most sharks need to keep swimming to breathe and, therefore, typically move steadily and slowly through the water.  This slow, steady movement is powered by red muscle, which makes up about 10% of a sharks muscle and requires high amounts of oxygen to produce fuel for muscle contraction.  The other 90% of a sharks muscle is called white muscle and is used for powerful bursts of speed when eluding predators (other sharks) or capturing prey.

Since sharks are so strong and potentially dangerous, one lesson that I learned quickly was how to properly handle a shark on deck.  Smaller sharks can typically be handled by one person.  To hold a small shark, you grab the shark just behind the chondrocranium (the stiff cartilage that makes up the “skull” of the shark) and above the gill slits.  This is a relatively soft area that can be squeezed firmly with your hand to hold the shark.  If the shark is a bit feisty, a second hand can be used to hold the tail.

Holding a sharpnose shark

Smaller sharks, like this sharpnose shark, can be held by firmly grabbing the shark just behind the head.

Larger and/or more aggressive sharks typically require two sets of hands to hold safely.  When two people are needed to hold a shark, it is very important that both people grab the shark at the same time.  One person holds the head while the other holds the tail.  When trying to hold a larger, more powerful shark, you do not want to grab the tail first.  Sharks are very flexible and can bend their heads back towards their tail, which can pose a safety risk for the handler.  While holding a shark sounds simple, subduing a large shark and getting it to cooperate while taking measurements takes a lot of focus, strength, and teamwork.

Holding a blacktip shark

Teamwork is required to handle larger sharks like this blacktip shark, which was caught because it preyed on a small sharpnose shark that was already on the hook.

 

Measuring a blacktip shark

Collecting measurements from a large blacktip shark.

 

Holding a blacktip shark

Holding a blacktip shark before determining its weight.

When a shark is too big to bring on deck safely, the shark is placed into a cradle and hoisted from the water so it can be measured and tagged.  We have used the cradle on a number of sharks including a 7.5 foot tiger shark and a 6 foot scalloped hammerhead shark.  When processing sharks, we try to work quickly and efficiently to measure and tag the sharks to minimize stress on the animals and time out of the water.  Once our data collection is complete, the sharks are returned to the water.

Tiger shark in the cradle

Large sharks, like this tiger shark, are hoisted up on a cradle in order to be measured and tagged.

Personal Log
We are now in full work mode on the ship.  My daily routine consists of waking up around 7:30 and grabbing breakfast.  After breakfast I like to go check in on the night team to see what they caught and determine when they will do their next haul (i.e. pull in their catch).  This usually gives me a couple hours of free time before my shift begins at noon.  I like to use my time in the morning to work on my log and go through pictures from the previous day.  I eat lunch around 11:30 so I am ready to start work at noon.  My shift, which runs from noon to midnight, typically includes surveying three or four different stations.  At each station, we set our baited hooks for one hour, haul the catch, and process the sharks and fishes.  We process the sharks immediately and then release them, whereas we keep the fish to collect biological samples (otoliths and gonads).  Once we finish processing the catch, we have free time until the ship reaches the next survey station.  The stations can be anywhere from 6 or 7 miles apart to over 40 miles apart.  Therefore, our downtime throughout the day can vary widely from 30 minutes to several hours (the ship usually travels at about 10 knots; 1 knot = 1.15 mph).  At midnight, we switch roles with the night team.  Working with fish in temperatures reaching  the low 90°s will make you dirty.  Therefore, I typically head to the shower to clean up before going to bed.  I am usually in bed by 12:30 and will be back up early in the morning to do it all over again.  It is a busy schedule, but the work is interesting, exciting, and fun.  I feel very lucky to be out here because not many people get the opportunity to wrestle sharks.  This is one experience I will always remember.

Kathleen Gibson, Hammerheads on the Line, August 4, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Gibson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 8, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographic Area of the Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Florida and Carolina Coast
Date:  Aug 4, 2015

Coordinates:
LAT   3323.870N
LONG    07736.658 W

Great Hammerhead Photo Credit: Ian Davenport

Great Hammerhead (Photo Credit: Ian Davenport)

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 28
Sea Temp (deg C): 29.2
Air Temp (deg C):  24.2

Early this morning the night shift caught and cradled a great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran). This is a first for this cruise leg. I’m sure that just saying “Hammerhead” conjures an image of a shark with an unusual head projection (cephalofoil), but did you know that there are at least 8 distinct Hammerhead species?  Thus far in the cruise we have caught 4 scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini), one of which I was fortunate to tag.

Science and Technology Log

All eight species of hammerhead sharks have cephalofoils with differences noted in shape, size, and eye placement, to name a few. Research indicates that this structure acts as a hydrofoil or rudder, increasing the shark’s agility. In addition, the structure contains a high concentration of specialized electro sensory organs (Ampullae of Lorenzini) that help the shark detect electric signals of other organisms nearby.  The eye placement at each end of the cephalofoil allows hammerhead sharks to have essentially a panoramic view with only a slight movement of their head – quite handy when hunting or avoiding other predators.

 

Comparison of Scalloped and Great Hammerhead Sharks

Comparison of Scalloped and Great Hammerhead Sharks
Image Credit: NOAA Fisheries Shark Species

Great hammerhead sharks are highly migratory. They are found worldwide in tropical latitudes, and at various depths. There are no  geographically Distinct Population Segments (DPS) identified. The great hammerhead, as its name implies, is the largest of the group and average size estimates of mature individuals varies between 10-14 ft in length with a weight approximately 500 lb.; the largest recorded was 20 ft in length. The one we caught was ll ft. in length.

Great Hammerhead Photo Credit: Ian Davenport

Great Hammerhead
Photo Credit: Ian Davenport


Great Hammerhead

Great Hammerhead

As with most shark species, the numbers declined rapidly between 1975 and 1995 due to the fin fishing industry and focused sport fishing often fueled by fear and misinformation. One has to wonder what the average length was before that time.

Scalloped Hammerhead sharks are the most common hammerhead species. Their habitat overlaps that of the great hammerhead, though they are more often found in slightly shallower waters. In contrast to the great hammerhead, scalloped hammerheads are only semi-migratory, and scientists have identified Distinct Population Segments around the world.  This is important information when evaluating population size and determining which groups, if any, need regulatory protection.

Weighing a small Scalloped Hammerhead Photo Credit: Ken Wilkinson

Weighing a small scalloped hammerhead
Photo Credit: Ken Wilkinson

 

Scalloped Hammerhead on deck. Photo: Erica Nuss

Scalloped hammerhead on deck
Photo: Ian Davenport

The average life expectancy for both species is approximately 30 years.  Males tend to become sexually mature before females, at smaller weights; females mature between 7-10 years (sources vary). In my last log I discussed shark reproduction – Oviparous vs. Viviparous. (egg laying vs. live birth).  All hammerheads are viviparous placental sharks but reproductive patterns do differ. Great hammerheads bear young every two years, typically having 20-40 pups. A great hammerhead recently caught by a fisherman in Florida was found to be pregnant with 33 pups. Scalloped have slightly fewer pups in each brood, but can reproduce more frequently.

 

Career Spotlight – NOAA Corps

Setting and retrieving the Longline requires coordination between Deck Operations and the Bridge.  Up until now I’ve highlighted those on deck. Let’s learn a bit about two NOAA officers on the Bridge.

The NOAA Corps is one of the 7 Uniformed Services of the United States and all members are officers. The Corps’ charge is to support the scientific mission of NOAA, operating and navigating NOAA ships and airplanes.  Applicants for the Corps must have earned Bachelor’s degree and many have graduate degrees.  A science degree is not required but a significant number of science units must have been completed.  It’s not unusual for Corps recruits to have done post-baccalaureate studies to complete the required science coursework.  New recruits go through Basic Officer’s Training at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.

Lt. Lecia Salerno – Executive Officer (XO) – NOAA 

Lt. Lecia Salerno at the Helm
Lt. Lecia Salerno at the  helm or the Oregon II during Longline retrieval.

Lt. Salerno is a 10-year veteran of the NOAA Corps and has significant experience with ship operations.  She was recently assigned to the Oregon II as the XO. This is Lecia’s first assignment as an XO and she reports directly to Captain Dave Nelson. In addition to her Bridge responsibilities, she manages personnel issues, ship accounts and expenditures. During these first few weeks on her new ship, Lt. Salerno is on watch for split shifts – day and night – and is quickly becoming familiar with the nuances of the Oregon II.  This ship is the oldest (and much loved) ship in NOAA’s fleet, having been built in 1964, which can make it a challenge to pilot. It’s no small task to maneuver a 170-foot vessel up to a small highflyer and a float, and continue moving the ship along the Longline throughout retrieval.

Lecia has a strong academic background in science  and in the liberal arts and initially considered joining another branch of the military after college.  Her  assignments with  NOAA incorporate her varied interests and expertise, which she feels makes her job that much more rewarding.

Lt. Laura Dwyer on the Bridge of the Oregon II

Lt. Laura Dwyer on the Bridge of the Oregon II

Lt. Laura Dwyer- Junior Officer – NOAA Corps

Laura has always had a love for the ocean, but did not initially look in that direction for a career.  She first earned a degree in International Business from James Madison University.  Her interest in marine life took her back to the sea and she spent a number of years as a scuba diving instructor in the U.S. and Australia.  Laura returned to the U.S.  to take additional biology coursework.  During that time she more fully investigated the NOAA Corps, applied and was accepted.

Laura has been on the Oregon II for 1.5 years and loves her work.  When she is on shift she independently handles the ship during all operations and also acts as Navigator.  What she loves about the Corps is that the work merges science and technology, and there are many opportunities for her to grow professionally. In December Laura will be assigned to a shore duty unit that is developing Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV).

Personal Log

Measuring a Sharpnose Photo: Kristin Hannan

Notice the white spots on the dorsal side of this atlantic sharpnose, characteristic of this species.
Photo: Kristin Hannan

It’s amazing to think that just over a week ago I held my first live shark.  We caught over  30 sharks at our first station and our inexperience showed.  At first even the small ones looked like all teeth and tail, and those teeth are not only sharp but carry some pretty nasty bacteria. It took all of us (new volunteers) forever to get the hooks out quickly without causing significant trauma to the shark–or ourselves.  A tail smack from this small-but-mighty tiger shark pictured below left me with a wedge-shaped bruise for a week!

Immature Male Tiger Shark. He's cute but he taught me a lesson with his tail.

Immature Male Tiger Shark.
He’s cute but he taught me a lesson with his tail.

Since then we have caught hundreds of sharks.  We’ve caught so many Atlantic Sharpnose that on occasion it seems mundane.  Then I catch myself and realize how amazing it is to be doing what I’m doing– holding a wild animal in my hands, freeing it from the circle hook (finally!), looking at the detailed pattern of its skin, and feeling it’s rough texture, measuring it and releasing it back into the sea.

Sandbar Shark on the Line

A beautiful sandbar shark on the line.

I’m pleased to be able to say that my day shift team has become much more confident and efficient.  Our mid-day haul yesterday numbered over 40 sharks, including a few large sharks that were cradled, and it went really smoothly.

Weighing in. Hook out - No Problem! Photo: Jim Nienow

An Atlantic Sharpnose weighing in at 2.1 kg.
Photo: Kristin Hannan

 

Out it Comes - No Problem Photo: Ian Davenport

Taking a closer look at an Atlantic Sharpnose shark.
Photo: Ian Davenport

At this point I’ve had a chance to work at most of the volunteer stations including baiting hooks, throwing off the high-flyer marker, numbering, gangions, throwing bait, data entry,  tagging shark, removing hooks, and measuring/ weighing.  A highlight of last night was getting to throw out the hook to pull in the high-flyer marker at the start of retrieval.  I’m not known for having the best throwing arm but it all worked out!

Ready to Throw Photo: Kristin Hannan

Ready to Throw
Photo: Kristin Hannan

Got it! Photo: Kristin Hannan

Right on Target!
Photo: Kristin Hannan

 

Question of the Day:  What is this?

Can you identify these?

Can you identify these?

NOAA SHARK FACTS: Bite off More that you can chew

For more on hammerheads: click

For my incoming  Marine Science students — Investigate two other hammerhead species. How are they distinguished from great hammerheads?

 

Leah Johnson: All About the Fish, July 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Friday, July 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:38 PM
Latitude 033.235230
Longitude -077.298950
Water Temperature 25.88 °C
Salinity -No Data-
Air Temperature 28.3 °C
Relative Humidity 78 %
Wind Speed 5.76 knots
Wind Direction 355.13 degrees
Air Pressure 1011.3 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
When the traps are reeled in, the GoPro camera attachments are unclipped and brought into the dry lab. The cameras are encased in waterproof housing that can withstand the higher pressure at the seafloor. One camera is placed on the front of the trap, and one camera is placed on the back. Each video card captures ~45 minutes of footage. The videos will be carefully scrutinized at a later date to identify the fish (since many do not enter the traps), describe the habitat, and also describe the fish behavior. While aboard the ship, the videos are downloaded and watched just to make sure that the cameras worked properly, and to gain a general idea of what was happening around the trap. Occasionally, there are some really exciting moments, like when a tiger shark decided to investigate our trap!

tiger sharkThis tiger shark appeared in the video from both trap cameras as it circled.

While the cameras are being prepped in the dry lab for the next deployment, we are busy in the wet lab with the fish caught in the traps. The first step is identification. I could not identify a single fish when the first trap landed on the deck! However, I am slowly learning the names and distinctive features of the local fish. Here are a few examples of the fish that we have hauled in so far:

Once the fish are identified, they are sorted into different bins. We record the mass of each bin and the lengths of each fish. Most of the smaller fish are returned to the ocean once the measurements are recorded. Some fish are kept for further measuring and sampling. For each of these fish, we find the mass, recheck the total length (snout to tail), and also measure the fork length (snout to fork in tail) and standard length (snout to start of tail).

I measured the fish while one of my crew mates recorded the data.

I measured the fish while one of my crew mates recorded the data.

The fish is then ready for sampling. Depending on the species of fish, we may collect a variety of other biological materials:

  • Otoliths (ear stones) are made of calcium carbonate, and are located near the brain. As the fish grows, the calcium carbonate accumulates in layers. As a result, otoliths can be used – similarly to tree rings – to determine the age of the fish. I retrieved my first set of otoliths today!
  • Muscle tissue (the part of the fish that we eat) can be used to test for the presence of mercury. Since mercury is toxic, it is important to determine its concentration in fish species that are regularly consumed.
  • Gonads (ovaries in females or testes in males) can be examined to determine if a fish is of reproductive age, and whether it is just about to spawn (release eggs / sperm into the water).
  • The stomach contents indicate what the fish has eaten.

This toadfish had snail shells in its stomach!

This toadfish had snail shells in its stomach!

The soft tissues are kept in bags and preserved in a freezer in the wet lab. Sample analyses will take place in various onshore labs.

Personal Log:
It is important to remember that this ship is home to most of the people on board. They live and work together in very close quarters. There are daily routines and specific duties that individuals fill to keep Pisces running smoothly. Cooperation is key. I do my best to be useful when I can, and step aside when I cannot. Despite my inexperience at sea, everyone has been incredibly kind, patient, and helpful. I am lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people who are willing to show me the ropes!

Did You Know?
The lionfish is an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean. Its numbers are increasing in waters off the Southeastern U.S. coast. These fish have few predators, and they are consuming smaller fish and invertebrates which also sustain local snapper and grouper populations.

lionfish

This lionfish was in one of our traps yesterday.

Stephen Tomasetti: Sharks of the Gulf, August 24, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Tomasetti
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 11 – 25, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
You can view the geographical location of the cruise here at anytime: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov
Date: Sunday, August 24, 2014

Weather Data from Bridge:
Air Temperature: 31.5 Degrees C
Water Temperature: 31.1 Degrees C
Wind Speed: 7.88 Knots
Barometric Pressure: 1009.4 Millibars

Science and Technology Log:

Today I’ll walk you through the sharks and other fish we’ve caught along leg two of the NOAA Oregon II longline survey. Unfortunately, due to red tide, many sharks had moved out of the areas we were in, so we caught substantially less sharks than usual. But, we still caught quite a few. Check them out:

Atlantic sharpnose

Atlantic sharpnose shark

Name: Atlantic sharpnose shark

Sci. Name: Rhizoprionodon terraenovae

Description: These sharks are very common both inshore and offshore. They often have white spots along the side. You can also tell them by their long labial furrows (grooves around the mouth).

Scientist Andre Debose and volunteer Sarah Larsen work up a blacktip

Scientist Andre Debose and volunteer Sarah Larsen work up a blacktip shark

Name: Blacktip shark

Sci. Name: Carcharhinus limbatus

Description: These sharks can be pretty feisty. They are surprisingly strong (even the little ones). You can identify them by the black marking on the tip of their pectoral fins and the lower lobe of their caudal fin.

Scientist Michael Felts with a Florida smoothhound (photo cred: Joan Turner)

Scientist Michael Felts with a Florida smoothhound (photo cred: Joan Turner)

Name: Florida smoothhound

Sci. Name: Mustelus norrisi

Description: These are my favorite sharks that we’ve caught. They are beautiful. They have small, blunt teeth and are missing a precaudal pit (before the caudal fin). They are long sharks, with second dorsal fins that are very large.

A young tiger shark

A young tiger shark

Name: Tiger shark

Sci. Name: Galeocerdo cuvier

Description: These sharks are known for being fierce hunters and apex predators. They are beautiful sharks with dark spots/stripes along the sides and dorsal fin. They can reach over five meters!

Sandbar shark

Sandbar shark

Name: Sandbar Shark

Sci. Name: Carcharhinus plumbeus

Description: We caught a lot of these sharks on our shifts. They were generally pretty large and we often had to use the cradle to get them close enough to take their measurements. One way to tell sandbar sharks is by their large dorsal fin.

A parasite pulled of the anal fin of a sandbar shark

A parasite pulled off the anal fin of a sandbar shark

For all the sharks we catch, we generally take length measurements, mass, sex and a fin clip/tissue sample (to look at genetic population structure). Then the shark is tagged with a tag and tossed back in the water. Occasionally, NOAA uses a satellite tag on sharks if they want to get additional data. On this cruise the night watch tagged a hammerhead shark with a satellite tag. This particular tag will transmit information when the dorsal fin breaks the surface of the water (often hammerheads and tiger sharks are tagged with these tags because they occasionally come up to the surface).

Personal Log:

Well we’re through fishing for this leg of the survey. We arrive back in Pascagoula, Mississippi tomorrow morning. There’s a lot to miss aboard the Oregon II. Below is a list of the top 5 things I’ll miss about life on the ship (in no particular order).

5) The Food: Three delicious meals a day. I’m not going to know what to do when I return to New York City and have to cook my own food again. Mac’ n cheese. Captain’s Platter. Eggs Benedict. Ice cream every night. I’ve been spoiled.

Second Chef Mark Potter hard at work

Second Cook Mark Potter hard at work

4) The Crew: I spent the majority of my time with the “day shift,” of scientists and fishermen. We would spend basically 11am-2am every day together. We’d eat together. Work together. Hang out between sets together. And finally watch movies together after shift.

The day crew pictured at night

The day crew pictured at night

In addition to the day shift there is an entire crew of interesting people I’ve spent time with: the NOAA Corps Officers, the Engineers, the Night Shift, and the Stewards. It takes a large crew to keep this ship running.

3) The Open Ocean: Picture cruising alongside dolphins at sunset, flying fish cutting through the water, a breeze on deck, and nothing but open ocean until the horizon line.

A flying fish jumped aboard

A flying fish jumped aboard

2) The Fishing: Before this trip it’d been a while since I had been fishing. I’ve never fished using longlines until the Oregon II. I learned a lot about fishing. Check out my earlier blog post here for more on that.

1) The Marine Life: You’ve already read a lot about some of the fish we caught. Here are more photos!

Volunteers Samantha Ehnert and Kelly Korvath kissing sharpnoses

Volunteers Samantha Ehnert and Kelly Korvath kissing Atlantic sharpnose sharks

Red Snapper

Red Snapper

Today, on our way back to Pascagoula, we stopped for a while to test the emergency equipment. In case of an emergency, there are a variety of lifesaving resources to utilize. We shot off flare guns, smoke signals and line casters. I shot off a line caster which slightly resembles a rocket launcher that shoots a rope to another ship in the case that we’d need to get to them. It was sort of like the Fourth of July!

Lieutenant Commander Eric Johnson shooting off a flare

Lieutenant Commander Eric Johnson shooting off a flare

Did You Know? Japanese warriors used to use dried shark skin for the handles of their swords, to keep them from slipping out of their hands.

Julie Karre: Heading Back to Land… August 5-6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013  

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Range of Cruise: Atlantic
Date: Monday August 5 – Tuesday August 6, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Monday – NE WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS
SEAS 2 TO 3 FEET
DOMINANT PERIOD 6 SECONDS

Tuesday – E WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS
SEAS 3 TO 4 FEET

Science and Technology Log

Meet the Scientists

Meet some of my favorite people in the world. Without these people my experience would have lacked the learning and laughter that made it such a joy.

Kristin Hannan

Field Party Chief Kristin Hannan has the pleasure of working with her favorite shark species, the Tiger Shark. And those little babies are cute!

Field Party Chief Kristin Hannan has the pleasure of working with her favorite shark species, the Tiger Shark. And those little babies are cute!

Kristin was the Field Party Chief for the first and second legs of the Longline survey. She was also my watch leader, which meant she was by my side in support every step of the way. And as I progressed as a shark handler, she was there with a high five every time. I hit the jackpot landing on a ship with Kristin. She is now off to visit Harry Potter World (I’m so jealous I can hardly stand it) before rejoining the the survey when it leaves Mayport. This is Kristin’s fifth year doing the Longline Survey. The first time she did it, she was a volunteer just like us. I wish Kristin the best of luck in all she does and hope to call her a friend for years to come.
Amy Schmitt
Research Biologist for NOAA Amy Schmitt gives a big smooch to a baby Tiger Shark.

Research Biologist for NOAA Amy Schmitt gives a big smooch to a baby Tiger Shark.

Amy is a research biologist out of the Pascagoula-based fisheries lab. She has been with NOAA for two years, but has been working in research biology for most of her career. She is a native of Colorado and shares my blond hair and fair complexion. We could usually be found together cooling off in the dry lab as often as possible. It was also Amy who coined one of my nicknames on the cruise – Data Girl. According to the science team, the Teachers at Sea make excellent data recorders. I can’t imagine why 🙂
Amy and I work together to process an adolescent Tiger Shark. Amy and I often worked together and truly enjoyed our time together.

Amy and I work together to process an adolescent Tiger Shark. Amy and I often worked together and truly enjoyed our time together.

Lisa Jones
NOAA scientist and Field Party Chief for the second leg of Longline Lisa Jones handles an Atlantic Sharpnose on the first haul of the night shift.

NOAA scientist and Field Party Chief for the third and fourth legs of Longline, Lisa Jones handles an Atlantic Sharpnose on the first haul of the night shift.

Lisa has been doing the Longline survey for 16 years now. She is a wealth of information about sharks, living aboard a ship, and marine life. She is also a passionate dog lover, which many of the volunteers shared with her. Lisa will be taking over the duties of Field Party Chief for the third and fourth legs of the survey. She will be aboard the Oregon II for all four legs of the survey this year. That’s a lot of boat rocking!
Mike Hendon
NOAA Research Biologist Mike Hendon works to quickly process a Sandbar Shark.

NOAA Research Biologist Mike Hendon works to quickly process a Sandbar Shark.

Mike is a research biologist out of the Pascagoula-based fisheries lab. He’s a seasoned veteran of the Longline survey and was a great mentor for those of us new to the shark-handling community. Mike also has two adorable kids and two cute dogs waiting for him at home. He was part of the science team for the first leg of the survey. He can sometimes be found wearing mismatched socks.
Mike and Volunteer Claudia Friess work on Atlantic Sharpnose.

Mike and Volunteer Claudia Friess work on Atlantic Sharpnose.

Personal Log

My final days are winding down and I am caught (no pun intended) off guard by how much I am going to miss this. There is such a peacefulness that comes from the rocking of a boat, especially if you don’t get seasick. And working alongside people who share a passionate nature – we may not all be passionate about the same things, but we are all passionate – is such a reinvigorating experience. These two weeks gave me an opportunity to talk about my environmental science integration in my classroom with people who care very much about environmental science. It was so inspiring to have them care about what I was doing in my classroom. It gives me another reason to trust the importance of what I’m doing as well as more people I want to make proud.

Fun list time! Things you get used to living on a ship:

  1. Noise. There is so much happening on a ship, from the engine to the cradle pulling up a shark. It’s all loud. But you get used to it.
  2. Sneaking into your stateroom as silently as possible so you don’t wake up your AWESOME roommate Rachel.

    NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor steering the Oregon II during a morning haul back.

    NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor steering the Oregon II during a morning haul back.

  3. Waiting. There’s a lot of waiting time on a survey like this. You find ways to make that time meaningful.

    The night shift waiting in anticipation as Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols begins to bring in the line.

    The night shift waiting in anticipation as Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols begins to bring in the line.

  4. Rocking. Duh.
  5. Taking high steps through doorways. The doors that separate the interior and exterior of the ship are water tight, so they don’t go all the way to the floor. You can only bash your shins in so many times before it becomes second nature.
  6. Sharks. I said in a previous post that this survey has been eye opening and it’s worth sharing again. I don’t have a marine science background and I had fallen victim to the media portrayals of sharks. I had no idea that there were sharks as small as the Sharpnose that can be handled by such an amateur like myself.

    This is what it feels like when you successfully (and quickly) unhook a shark! VICTORY! Volunteer Kevin Travis is victorious.

    This is what it feels like when you successfully (and quickly) unhook a shark! VICTORY! Volunteer Kevin Travis is victorious.

  7. Sunsets. Words cannot describe the colors that make their way to you when there’s uninterrupted skyline. Oh I will definitely miss those sunsets.

    One of the last sunsets for the first leg of the Oregon II.

    One of the last sunsets for the first leg of the Oregon II.

  8. The stars. I live a life of being asleep by 10pm and up at 6 am and often times forget to look up at the stars even on the nights when I might have been able to see them. These two weeks gave me some of the darkest nights I’ve had and some of the best company in the world.
Dolphins escort the Oregon II back towards land on its final day at sea for the first leg of Longline. Photo Credit: Mike Hendon

Dolphins escort the Oregon II back towards land on its final day at sea for the first leg of Longline.
Photo Credit: Mike Hendon