David Madden: Immersed in the Seascape July 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Madden: July 18th, 2019

 

On board off the coast of North Carolina – about 35 miles east of Cape Fear, 40 miles south of Jacksonville, NC.  (33º50’ N, 77º15’W)

Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Here’s our location from the other day, courtesy of windy.com.  And here is a good Gulf Stream explanation from our friends at NOAA:

Date: July 19, 2019

Science and Technology Log

Being at sea has got me thinking; about life at sea, the lives and careers of the men and women on board, and about the marine organisms around us.  Pause there for a minute.  Nature’s beauty and abundance on land is readily seen, so long as you travel to the right location and you’re patient.  The ocean, however, hides its multitudes beneath the waves.  I’ve found myself drawn to the ocean my whole life, and here on the cruise, I am drawn to staring at and contemplating the ocean and its life – the great hidden beneath.  You know the stats: the earth is covered by ~70% water, the deep ocean has been explored less than outer space, the ocean is warming and turning more acidic, etc.  I’m not saying that you and I don’t already know these things.  I’m only saying that you feel them differently when you are in the ocean, when you are immersed for days in the seascape.   

The goal is this cruise is to survey fish.  (SEFIS = Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey).  The science crew repeats a similar protocol each day of the cruise.  It looks something like this:

  1. Chief scientist, Zeb Schobernd, determines the site locations using NOAA sea floor maps. 
  2. The science team (broken into day and night shifts) baits six traps with menhaden fish bait, and starts the two GoPros that are attached to the traps.   
  3. The Pisces crew then deploys the traps, 1-6, at pre-determined locations (see step 1).  They do this by sliding them off the back of the ship.  Traps are attached to buoys for later pick up.
  4. Wait for around 75 minutes.
  5. Pisces Senior Survey Technician, Todd Walsh, along with crew members, Mike and Junior, drop the CTD [Conductivity, Temperature, Depth] probe.  See picture below. 

                *Stay tuned for a video chronicling this process. 

6. After ~75 min, NOAA Corps officers drive back to retrieve the traps, in the order they were dropped. (1-6)

7.  Crew members Mike and Junior, along with scientists, collect the fish in the trap and sort them by species.

8.  All fish are measured for weight and length. 

9. Depending on the species, some fish contribute further information, most notably, their otoliths (to determine age) and a sample of reproductive organs to determine maturity. 

10. Rinse and repeat, four times each day, for the length of the cruise. 

I mostly work with the excellent morning crew.

The most excellent and experienced morning crew.

Mike and Junior, running the CTD, and supporting their favorite NFL teams.

Here’s a view into yesterday’s fish count – more fish and more kinds of fish:

Here is a view off the back of the boat, called the stern, where the traps are dropped. 

On Wednesday the GoPros on one of the fish traps collected footage of a friendly wandering tiger shark.  Our camera technician, Mike Bollinger, using his stereo video technique, determined the size of the shark to be ~ 8.5 feet.  I added the location’s CTD data to the picture.  This is part of an upcoming video full of neat footage.  See below. 

Tiger Shark at 64.55 meters, footage from fish trap GoPro.

Personal Log:

Things continue to be exciting on board.  My mission to film flying fish flying continues (local species unknown/not really sure; probably family: Exocoetidae). But not without some mild success!  I managed to get some of ‘em flying off the port side near the bow.  Man are they quick.  And small.  And the seas were rough.  Yet I remain undeterred!  Here’s a picture of me waiting and watching patiently, followed by a picture of an unlucky little flying fish who abandoned sea and was left stranded at ship.  Poor little fella. 

Waiting patiently for the flying fish to fly. And fly right where I was aiming and focused.

General Updates:

  1. The seas have picked up quite a bit.  Rising up to 5-6 feet.  That may not seem terrifically high, but it sure does rock the ship.  Good thing seas were flat at the start, allowing me to get used to life at sea.   
  2. I just saw some dolphins!  Yippie!  Pictures and video to come.    
  3. Though not legal, I’m dying to take a swim in these beautiful blue waters.    
  4. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching the ocean.  *short of being stranded at sea, I suppose.  See “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” – a true story and great book that’s may have served as inspiration for Moby Dick.  I loved the book, haven’t seen the movie.  Or check out the lost at sea portions of the, hard-to-believe-it-actually-happened, “Unbroken” – great book, okay movie. 

Neato Facts =

NOAA Ship Pisces won NOAA ship of the year in 2018.  This is no doubt due to the most excellent crew, seen below.  Congratulations!

We’ve caught a number of moray eels in the fish traps.  They’re super squirmy and unfriendly.  Turns out they also have pharyngeal mouth parts.  Essentially a second mouth that shoots after their first one is opened.  Check out this fascinating look into the morey eel’s jaw biomechanics.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. 

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.