Allison Irwin: Trawling for Fish, July 13, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7-25, 2019


Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area: Northern Coast of California

Date: July 13, 2019

Weather at 1600 Pacific Standard Time on Thursday 11 July 2019

Happy to report we’re back to a much calmer sea state! I finally made it up to the flying bridge again since it isn’t raining or choppy anymore. It’s the first time in two days I’ve needed to wear sunglasses. The ocean looks almost level with scattered patches of wavelets which indicates about a 5 knot wind speed. It reminds me of the surface of my palms after I’ve been in the water too long – mostly smooth but with lots of tiny wrinkles. Check out this awesome weather website to look at what the wind is doing in your area!

weather conditions
A weather map from Windy.com


PERSONAL LOG


Stretch everyday. I should stretch everyday. I do not. On the ship it’s even more of a necessity. One of the scientists calls it “Boaga” – like mixing “boat” with “yoga.” Try doing yoga on the ship and the rocking might cause you to tumble, but I enjoy a good challenge. Fitness requires strength and flexibility, so if I do some yoga and have to work harder to stay balanced since the ship is rocking, all the better.

A combination of the good food, constant access to homemade snacks, and lack of natural ways to burn calories on the ship, I need to turn to deliberate exercise. I just haven’t started that routine yet. The ship does have a nice, albeit small, gym on the same floor as my stateroom. It includes free weights, kettlebells, a treadmill, and a few other pieces of equipment. Now that our first week is coming to a close, my goal for today – and everyday forward – is to develop a routine for stretching and cardio. Sigh. Otherwise the five pounds I’ve already gained will turn into fifteen. And I have no desire to work off fifteen pounds of belly fat when I get home.


THE SCIENCE


“Trawl” has its origins in Latin. The original word meant “to drag” and it still carries a similar denotation. Fishermen use trawl as a noun, verb, and adjective. On NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker we use a Nordic 264 Surface Trawl to conduct the Coastal Pelagic Species Survey each night. The trawl is spooled onto a giant iron net reel which connects to the deck with sixteen 2.5 inch bolts and is securely welded.  We try to get three trawls in per night, but sometimes we don’t quite make it. Poor weather, issues with the net, or sighting a marine mammal can all put a quick end to a trawl.

Now let’s use it as a verb. The origin “to drag” deals more with how you operate the net than the construction of the net itself. To trawl for fish like we do each night means to slowly unravel 185 meters in length of heavy ropes, chains, and nylon cord mesh into the water off the stern with an average of 15,000 pounds of tension while the ship steams at a steady rate of about 3 knots. Getting the net into the water takes about 15 minutes.

Scott Jones, Chief Bosun, took me on a tour of the equipment. Two reels below deck spooled with cable the diameter of my forearm, one even larger reel on the fantail to house the net and ropes, a winch to lift the weight of the trawl as it transitions from deck to water, plus two work stations for the Chief Bosun to manually monitor and control all those moving pieces. There are three additional nets on board in case they need to replace the one we’ve been using all week, but the deck crew are pretty adept at sewing and mending the nets as needed.

As I stand on the bridge watching the net snake its way into the water behind the ship, everything pauses for a brief moment so the deck crew can use daisy knots to sew floatable devices into the kites. Later, they attach two more of these floats to the headrope (top line). The floats keep the mouth of the net open vertically.   A couple minutes later they stop to attach 250lb Tom weights to the footrope (bottom line) of the trawl opening. When fully deployed, this roughly 25 meter vertical opening is as tall as an 8-story building!

It’s like watching choreography – every detail must be done at exactly the right moment, in the right order, or it won’t work. The Chief Bosun is the conductor, the deck crew the artists. Hollow metal doors filled with buoyant wood core – together weighing more than a ton on land – are the last to enter the water. Each hangs on large gallows on the starboard and port side of the ship, just off stage, until they’re cued to perform. These doors are configured with heavy boots and angled in the water to act as a spreading mechanism to keep the net from collapsing in on itself.

largemouth bass

If unspooled properly, the net ends up looking like an enormous largemouth bass lurking just under the surface.

photo from http://www.pixabay.com

Commercial fishermen use all kinds of nets, long lines, and pots depending on the type of catch they’re targeting, fishing regulations, and cultural traditions. But if we use “trawl” as an adjective, it describes a specific kind of net that is usually very large and designed to catch a lot of fish all at one time. It looks like a cone with a smaller, more narrow section at the very end to collect the fish.

I imagine something like a cake decorating bag that’s being used to fill a mini eclair. Except, instead of squeezing delicious icing into the pastry, we’re funneling a bunch of fish into what fishermen call a “codend.” This codend (pronounced cod-end, like the fish) houses the prize at the end of the trawl! When they haul everything back in – taking a little longer, about 45 minutes to complete the haul back – they end up with (hopefully) a codend full of fish to study.

mini eclairs
Two Mini Eclairs Filled with Pastry Cream

A trawl net can either be used like we are to collect fish close to the surface or it can be weighted and dropped to the sea floor in search of groundfish. We’re searching for pelagic fishes that come up to the surface to feed at night, so it makes sense for us to trawl at the surface. Think of pelagic fish as the fishes in the water. Sounds funny to say, but these fishes don’t like to be near the seabed or too close to the land by the coast. They like to stay solidly in the water. Think of where anchovies, mackerel, tuna, and sharks like to hang out.

To catch groundfish on the other hand, we’d need to trawl the bottom of the ocean since they prefer to stay close to the ocean floor. Trawling the seabed in the Northeast Pacific Ocean would bring in flavorful rockfish and flounder, but we’re not looking for groundfish during this survey. One very lucrative and maybe less known groundfish in this area is the sablefish. In commercial fishing, they use bigger nets, and a trawl can bring in tens of thousands of pounds in just one tow. When I spoke to someone on board who used to work on a commercial trawl boat, he said catching sablefish are a pain!  They live in very deep waters. Plus, the trawl must hit the seabed hard and drag along the bottom in order to catch them. This causes huge tears, many feet wide, in the mesh. He said they used to keep giant patches of mesh on the boat deck so they could patch up the holes in between trawls. When I get home, I’m definitely going to purchase sablefish and try it for dinner.

  • Trawl Net Spooled
  • Chief Bosun Scott Jones
  • Trawl Entering the Water
  • Codend Floating in the Water
  • Trawl Net Snaking off the Stern
  • Floats Sewn into the Kites
  • Floats
  • Daisy Knot
  • Getting Ready to Add Tom Weights
  • Hauling the Net back on Deck
  • Prepping the Codend
  • Emptying the Catch


TEACHING CONNECTIONS


I’ve never once wondered how the fish I buy at the grocery store ends up on my plate. Now I can’t seem to stop asking the scientists and deck crew questions. There are all these regulations to follow, methods to learn based on what type of fish you’re targeting, and so much that someone would need to understand about traveling in the ocean before even attempting to fish commercially. I’ve been immersed in a world I don’t recognize, and yet the fishing industry impacts my life on a daily basis. We are so far removed from what we eat.

The other aspect to the trawling topic that interests me is just how effortless it looks. The deck crew make such an intricate task look, truly, easy. An article on BBC News called Can 10,000 Hours of Practice Make You an Expert? does a nice job of summarizing how this might be possible. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I’m currently reading Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, that I’ve already read Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell and Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, and that as a teacher I’m familiar with Ericsson’s work on deliberate practice. I know how many years and cumulative hours they each must have put in to make it appear seamless.

Like most teachers, I want my students to find a career that they love enough to practice with such diligence. I want them to find a vocation instead of just work to pay the bills. I feel very much led to making sure my students have access to as much information as possible about post-secondary career and training options. For that reason, I’m glad to have met these folks and learn from them so I can share their practice with the hundreds, possibly thousands of teenagers I’ll teach over the course of my career.

It’s easy for me to do this as a reading specialist since I can read career profiles with students, let them annotate the text, and then engage them in a discussion on a regular basis. Reading, analyzing, and discussing text are kind of my bread and butter. For other disciplines, it might take a bit of a re-work to fit this in, but certainly not impossible. A science, math, art, STEM, you-name-it teacher could post a career profile specific to their discipline to their digital classroom space each week for students to read at their leisure. Or you could bring discipline specific literacy skills into your classroom by incorporating short texts into your lessons a few times each quarter.

I’m planning now to read a career profile with my students one time per week. I’ll keep the texts short so that reading, annotating, and discussing the text will stay under 15 minutes.  Some careers from the ship they might find interesting are the Chief Bosun position or a NOAA Corps Officer, but I’ll share a wide variety of career profiles from many disciplines based on the students’ interests once I meet them this year.


TEACHING RESOURCES

Erica Marlaine: One Fish, Two Fish, June 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 26, 2019


Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 58º 33.15 N
Longitude: 152º 58.87 W
Wind Speed: 17.5 knots
Wind Direction: 229º
Air Temperature:  13º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1020.2 mb


Science Log

Today we did our first two trawls of the trip. According to Webster’s dictionary, trawl is defined as the act of fishing with a trawl net, which is a large conical net dragged along the sea bottom in order to gather fish or other marine life. It can also mean the act of sifting through something as part of a search.  Both definitions are accurate for what is done on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.

The Oscar Dyson uses a variety of nets to catch the fish being studied. One net that has been used for many years is called an Aleutian Wing Trawl (or an AWT). The mesh size of the AWT is ½ inch.  Attached to the AWT net are smaller nets (called pocket nets) which also have a ½ inch mesh size.  The new net being used this year is an LFS 1421, which has a 1/8 inch mesh size. It has 9 pocket nets, also with 1/8 inch mesh size. It is thought that fewer fish will escape the LFS net because the mesh size is smaller, in turn allowing the scientists to get a more accurate picture of the fish and other creatures living in the areas they are trawling.  Trawls are being conducted using both nets (back-to-back) to determine the extent to which the new net is more efficient and provides a more accurate measure.

AWT and LFS nets
The older AWT net is on the left. The newer LFS 1421 net is on the right.

Once the nets are pulled in, the processing begins. The main net (i.e., codend) is emptied onto the large processing table in the fish lab.

catch on the processing table
One catch on the processing table.

Each pocket net is emptied into a separate plastic bin.  The fish are then identified, weighed, measured, and sometimes dissected in order for us to accurately determine the age and sex of each fish.

Evan with plastic bin
Volunteer Biologist Evan Reeve with a pocket net bin.

Otoliths (ear bones) and ovaries are collected from a sample of the walleye pollock caught in the codend of the net. Otoliths allow scientists to determine the age of the fish.  Over time, ridges form on the otoliths, and are indicative of age in much the same way a tree’s age can be determined by counting the rings of its trunk. 

Ovaries are collected to be sent back to the lab as part of a long-term histology study which hopes to determine whether walleye pollock experience multi-batch spawning events (i.e., do pollock spawn more than one time) within or between seasons. Histology, also known as microscopic anatomy or microanatomy, uses a microscope to study the anatomy of biological tissues. In contrast, gross anatomy looks at structures without a microscope.

After a trawl, scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson examine the ovaries with the naked eye to determine the reproductive stage of the walleye pollock that has been caught. There are 5 stages: Immature (not yet capable of spawning, typically age 0-2); Developing (beginning to develop the ability to spawn) Pre-spawning, Spawning, and Spent (completed spawning).  Once a pollock spawns, it begins the cycle again beginning at step 3 (pre-spawning). Additionally, the histology study also hopes to determine whether the spawning stages being designated by scientists during the cruise are in fact accurate.

Elementary Math Fun

Let’s say 200 total fish were caught in the new LFS 1421 net, including the nine pocket nets attached.

Pocket nets 1, 2 and 3 each had 20 age-0 pollock in them.

Pocket nets 4, 5 and 6 each had 13 lantern fish in them.

Pocket net 7 had 3 small herrings  in it.

Pocket nets 8 and 9 each had 2 age-1 pollock in them.

How many fish were in the codend or main part of the net?


Personal Log

As a Southern Californian, I imagined Alaska to be cold even in the summer, and packed sweaters and a big puffy winter coat.  Apparently shorts and t-shirts would have been more appropriate! The weather in Kodiak has been warm and beautiful, with the sun shining until midnight.

Barometer Mountain
Barometer Mountain, Kodiak, Alaska

My first day in Kodiak was a free day, so I joined the science team on a hike up Barometer Mountain, which many say is the most difficult hike in Kodiak.  It is 2100 feet straight up a very steep, rocky, brush-filled path, and then 2100 feet down that same, steep path.  It was quite the challenge, but the view from the top was magnificent.

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
My home for the next three weeks!

At present, there are 31 people onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, including NOAA corps officers, engineers, deck personnel, cooks, scientists, interns, and me, the NOAA Teacher at Sea. The ship, which was originally launched in 2003, and commissioned into service as a NOAA ship in 2005, is named for Alaskan fisherman and fishing industry leader Oscar E. Dyson. It is one of the most advanced fisheries research vessels in the world, due in part to its acoustic quieting technology.  This allows scientists to monitor fish populations without concern that the ship’s noise will affect the behavior of the fish.

Justin Garritt: Paired Trawling, X-raying, and The Galley Master: September 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Justin Garritt

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

September 1-14, 2018

Mission: Hake Research

Geographical area of cruise: Seattle, Washington to Newport, Oregon

Date: September 9-11, 2018: Day 7-9

Location: West of the Columbia River and Astoria, Oregon

 

Where Are We? After fishing off of the Straits of Juan de Fuca on Friday and Saturday, we headed south.  We ended up west of the Columbia River off the coast of Astoria, Oregon and continued to fish for a few days.

 

The fishing and sampling continues: A typical day consists of the scientists waking up before sunrise to begin scouting for fish. We use the information from the acoustic transducer to find fish.

Chief Scientist Rebecca Thomas
Chief Scientist Rebecca Thomas spots signs of fish on the sonar

sonar from the acoustic transducer
The sonar from the acoustic transducer showing signs of fish

Paired Trawling: Last week I wrote about our goals of the cruise. One of them was to perform paired trawls to determine net size impact to evaluate the differences between the US 32mm net liners and the Canadian 7mm net liners. A paired trawl is when we fish approximately the same location and depth two times using two different size liners. Data is collected on the size, characteristics, and species of fish being caught to eliminate the possibility that there is bias in the data between the two liners. Below are pictures of the nets being sent in and brought back based on information from the sonars. This typically happened 2-4 times per day (1-2 paired trawls).

 

Sorting the Fish Aboard:

rockfish photo shoot
A rockfish photo shoot 🙂

How We Collect Data:

When fish come aboard we follow this flow chart to determine what analysis needs to be done on the catch.

img_11131
Our instructional chart for how we analyze the hake and other species

Hake is the majority of the fish we catch. It is also the main species we are researching this cruise.

A random sample of 250 are set aside and the rest are sent back in to the ocean. Of the approximately 250 random hake, 30 are dissected for enhanced sampling (length, weight, sex, maturity, and other projects).

220 are set aside for sex/length analysis. All other species of fish must be logged into the computer and some are kept for special research projects. See pictures below:

Male vs. female hake distinction:

Determining the length of the hake:

Enhanced sampling (length, weight, sex, maturity, and other projects):

IMG_1251
Dissecting the hake to enhance sample

Special Projects: There are also a number of special projects going on aboard:

Fish X-ray: Scientist Dezhang Chu x-rays samples of fish occasionally. The x-ray is used to determine the volume of the swim bladders in certain species of fish (see picture below). The volume of different species’ swim bladders affects the observed acoustics. I spoke to him about the purpose of this study. He said that the present acoustic transducers are great to capture whether fish are present below the ship’s surface but are still not able to classify the type of species being observed. He is working on a team that is trying to use x-ray’s from multiple species to solve that problem. When asked how long he thought it may take for there to be an acoustic system advanced enough to better predict the species onscreen, he said, “People have and will continue to spend their entire careers on improving the system.” If we have more scientists like Dr. Chu on this project, I predict it will be much sooner than he leads on.

"Super Chu"
“Super Chu” and I with his new apron I made him for x-raying

Filming the Catch: Melanie Johnson leads the science team’s visual analysis. During each trawl a camera is placed securely on the net. The purpose of the net is to analyze approximately which depth and time certain fish enter the net.

fish entering the net
Camera footage of fish entering the net

———————————————————————

Getting to know the crew: As promised in other blog posts, here is another interview from the incredible crew aboard  NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada who continue to make my journey such a rich experience:

Mr. Arnold Dones, Head Chef

Arnold Dones is our head chef or what I like to call him, “Master Chef.” Since the minute I’ve been aboard I quickly noticed the incredible work ethic and talent of our chef. To be clear, every meal has incredible! When I spoke to my mom a few days into the cruise my exact words were, “The food aboard is better than a buffet on a cruise ship. I expected to come aboard for two weeks and lose a few pounds. Well that’s not going to happen!”

Chef Arnold
Chef Arnold and his incredible food artwork

Arnold was born in the Philippines and his family migrated here when he was twenty. When he first got here he knew very little English and worked hard to learn the language and the American culture. He worked a few odd and end jobs until he joined the United States military as a chef. During his first years in the military, he showed so much promise as a chef that he enrolled in “A School” which allowed him to learn how to be a master chef in the military. He spent more than a decade working on military vessels. His last ship placement was aboard the USS Ronald Reagan where he and his team prepared meals for 6,000 soldiers per meal. Two months ago he joined the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada family as head chef.  Arnold has two children and a wife who live back in San Diego.

After a tour of the galley with Arnold, I learned how much work it takes to pull 42 meals in 14 days for over 40 crew members without a supermarket nearby. A few weeks out, Arnold has to create his menu for the next cruise leg (typically two weeks). He then has to order the food required to make the meals and do so by staying under a strict budget. When the ship ends a leg and pulls in to port, a large truck pulls up and unloads all his ordered food in large boxes. He then organizes it in the order he plans to prepare it in his large freezer, refrigerator, and store rooms. The trick is to be sure his menu is organized so nothing spoils before it is used.  Arnold’s day begins at 05:00  (5am) and goes until 19:00 (7pm) with a short break after lunch. The only days off he has is a day or two once every two weeks when the boat is in port.

Here is a sample menu for the day:

Breakfast (7-8am)- Eggs benedict, blueberry pancakes, french toast, hash browns, scrambled eggs, oat meal, cut fresh fruit, and breakfast danish.

Lunch (11-12pm)- Bacon wrapped rockfish, chicken wings, Chinese noodles, brussel sprouts, bread, a large salad bar, homemade salads, avocado, bean salad, homemade cookies, and ice cream.

Dinner (5-6pm)-  Stuffed pork chops with spinach and cheese, fine braised chicken thigh, baked salmon, Spanish rice, oven potatoes, peas, dinner rolls, a large salad bar, homemade salads, homemade apple pie, and ice cream.

Snack (24/7)- Soup, crackers, ice cream, and salad/fruit bar

We dock in Newport, Oregon on Friday, September 14, 2018. My final post will be on Friday. Thank you for continuing to follow along in this journey. I am grateful for your support and for the amazing people I have met aboard.

Justin

 

Kimberly Godfrey: Night time..Day time! June 10, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Godfrey

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 31 – June 11, 2018

 

Mission: Rockfish recruitment and ecosystem assessment survey

Geographic Range: California Coast

Date: June 10, 2018

Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 36° 39.980′ N

Longitude: 122° 33.640′ W

Wind: 30.87 Knots from the SE

Air Temperature: 12° C

Waves: 2-3 feet with 6-8 foot swells

Science Log

As you may have gathered from my previous blogs, I spent my time working with the night scientists. However, there was a lot happening during the daylight hours that I would like to highlight. There was a separate team assigned to the day shift. Some of their tasks included analyzing water samples, fishing, and surveying marine mammals and seabirds.

Catching fish during the day allowed them to see what prey were available to diurnal predators, and they could also compare their daytime catch to the evening catches. They used a different net called a MIK Net, which is a smaller net used for catching smaller and younger fish.

MIK Net
The MIK net used by the day time scientists to catch juvenile fish.

The day shift is also the best time for spotting seabirds and marine mammals. Some of the bird species spotted included brown pelican, common murre, terns, black-footed albatross, shearwaters, and at least 1 brown booby. The marine mammals we spotted included humpback whales, fin whales, blue whales, common dolphins, and sea lions.

I had an opportunity to speak with Whitney Friedman, a postdoctoral researcher with NOAA, and she explained to me some of the goals of their marine mammal survey. Many may recall that there was a time when whale populations, especially humpback whales, were in significant decline. Today, humpback whales are considered a success story because of rebounded populations. The concern now is monitoring the success of their food sources. Humpback whales feed on krill and fish like anchovies. However, it is possible that when these sources are less available or as competition increases, they may feed on something else. The question is, what is that something else? During this survey, one goal was to collect whale scat for analysis. Studies have found that some seabirds feed on juvenile salmon incidentally when their preferred local prey is limited, and they move inshore to feed on anchovy. Is it possible that whales might do the same? What else might they be foraging on? Unfortunately, we did not have much luck catching whale scat this time around, but they will try again in the future, and hopefully will find the answers they are looking for.

As previously mentioned, we also did water quality tests and took water samples using the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) Rosette. This instrument has multiple functions. As the initials suggest, it detects conductivity (the measure of how well a solution conducts electricity) and temperature at any given depth. Salinity (the amount of dissolved salts and other minerals) and conductivity are directly related. By knowing the salinity and temperature, one can determine the density. Density is one of the key factors that drives the ocean currents. Many species depend on the ocean currents to bring in nutrients and food. It all comes full circle.

CTD
CTD Rosette used to capture conductivity, temperature, and depth. We also used this to take water samples at specified depths.

CTD
The CTD is lowered into the water by a winch with the assistance of the deck crew.

When we lowered the CTD we could also take water samples at any given depth. This allowed scientist to test for various parameters. For example, we filtered various water samples to determine the amount of chlorophyll at certain depths. This can help scientists estimate the growth rates of algae, which in the open ocean are called phytoplankton. One of the scientists collected water to analyze for environmental DNA (eDNA). This is DNA that might be left in the air, soil, or water from feces, mucus, or even shed skin of an organism. In her case, she was trying to find a way to analyze the water samples for sea turtle DNA.

I’ve heard of eDNA, but I have never actually understood how they collected and analyzed samples for this information. My understanding is that it can be used to detect at least the presence of an extant species. However, when collecting these samples, it is likely to find more than one species. Scientists can use previously determined DNA libraries to compare to the DNA found in their samples.

Personal Log

We started trawling again on the evening of June 7th. By then we settled ourselves into the protection of the Monterey Bay due to the weather getting bad. While we still had some off-shore stations, we tried our best to stay close to the bay because of the wind and swells. We had some interesting and challenging trawls in this area: lots of jellyfish. Some of the trawls were so full we had to actually drop the catch and abort the trawl. If not, we risked tearing the net. We tried to mitigate the overwhelming presence of jellies by reducing our trawls to 5 minutes instead of 15 minutes, and we still had similar results. One night, we had to cancel the final trawl to sew up the net. I’ve been told that sewing a fish net is an art form. Our deck hands and lead fisherman knew exactly what to do.

Let me tell you my experience with jellyfish during the survey. As you may recall, someone must be on watch for marine mammals on the bridge. This is the ship’s control room that sits on the 5th level above water.

Reuben Lasker
The Bridge of the Reuben Lasker is where we do inside Marine Mammal Watch. This is where the main controls of the ship are located.

From here you can see the surface of the water quite well, which makes it a great spot for the marine mammal watch. It was also great for watching hundreds of moon jellies and sea nettles float right by. It was one of the coolest things to watch. It was somewhat peaceful, especially hanging your head out of the window, the cool air blowing against your face, and the occasional mist of sea spray as the ship’s hull crashes against some of the larger swells. However, that same peaceful state disappears the moment you realize, “I’m gonna have to lift, count, and sort all those jellies!” I wasn’t too concerned about being stung; we had gloves for the sea nettles and the moon jellies were no real threat. However, the sea nettles (Chrysaora fuscenscens) smelled AWFUL, and the moon jellies (Aurelia spp.) are quite large and heavy. I’m honestly not sure how much they weighed; we did measure up to 20 per haul, some of them measuring over 400 mm. Even if they weighed about 5 pounds, lifting 50-60 of them consecutively until the count is complete is enough to get the muscles burning and the heart rate elevated. It was a workout to say the least. I was literally elbows deep in jellyfish. I also wore my hair in a ponytail most of the time. Anyone that knows me knows well enough that my hair is long, and definitely spent some time dipping into the gelatinous goop. I smelled so bad! HAHAHAHA! Nonetheless, it was still one of the most intriguing experiences I’ve had. Even though the jelly hauls proved to be hard work, I enjoyed it.

In those last few days, I felt like I became integrated into the team of scientists, and I felt comfortable with living out at sea. I had a few moments of nausea, but never really got sea sick. I still couldn’t walk straight when the ship rocked, but even the experts wobbled when the ship hit the big swells. Then, that was it for me. By the time I got the hang of it all, it was time to leave. I wish there were more hours in the day, so I could have experienced more of the day time activities, but I still got to see more than I thought I would, and for that I am grateful.

Did you know…

NOAA offers many career options. As a scientist, here are some things one might study:

  • track and forecast severe storms like hurricanes and tornadoes; monitor global weather and climatic patterns
  • Research coastal ecosystems to determine their health, to monitor fish populations, and to create policies that promote sustainable fisheries
  • Charting coastal regions and gathering navigational data to protect the ship from entering unsafe waters

NOAA Corps allows one to serve as a uniformed officer, commanding a ship or piloting aircraft. On NOAA Ships, they need engineers, technicians, IT specialists, deck hands, fishermen, and even cooks (The Reuben Lasker had two of the best, Kathy (Chief Steward) and Susan (second cook)). There are many opportunities available through NOAA, and there is a longer list of amazing experiences one can have working for this organization. If you want to explore in more detail, visit http://www.careers.noaa.gov/index.html

 

Amanda Dice: Fish Sticks with a Side of Science, August 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Amanda Dice

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 21 – September 2, 2017

 

IMG_1553
We have made it to the most northern point on the survey.

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Fishery Survey

Geographic area of cruise:
Western Gulf of Alaska

Date: August 29, 2017

Weather Data: 10.2 C, rainy/stormy

Latitude: 59 20.0 N, Longitude: 152 02.5 W

 

 

Science and Technology Log

The main focus of this survey is to gather information about juvenile walleye pollock, Gadus chalcogrammus. Juvenile pollock less than 1 year of age are called young-of-the-year, or age-0 juveniles. Age-0 walleye pollock are ecologically important. Many species of birds, mammals and other fish rely on them as a food source. Adult pollock have a high economic value. Pollock is commercially fished and commonly used in fish sticks and fish and chips. This study is interested in learning more about the size of current juvenile pollock populations, where they occur, and how healthy they are.

IMG_1132
An age 0 juvenile pollock is shown below an adult pollock.

In order to collect a sample, a trawl net is lowered into the water off of the back of the ship. The deck crew and bridge crew work together to release the right amount of wire and to drive the ship at the right speed in order to lower the net to the desired depth. The net is shaped like a sock, with the opening facing into the water current. In order to keep the mouth of the net from closing as it is pulled through the water, each side is connected to a large metal panel called a “door”. As the doors move through the water, they pull on the sides of the trawl net, keeping it open. When the doors are ready to be put in the water, the fishing officer will instruct the winch operator to “shoot the doors”!

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The deck crew bring the trawl net back on deck. One of the metal “doors” can be seen hanging off of the back of the ship.

Sensors help monitor the depth of the upper and lower sides of the net and relay a signal to computers on the bridge, where the data can be monitored.

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Sensors on the trawl net relay data to computers on the bridge which show the position of the net in the water.

Once the net is reeled in with a large winch, the catch is placed on a sorting table, in a room just off of the back deck called the fish lab. Here, the science team works to sort the different species of fish, jellyfish, and other kinds of marine animals that were caught.

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Crew members stand below a winch and empty the catch from the trawl net into a large bin.

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The catch is then sorted on the sorting table in the fish lab.

Juvenile pollock are sorted into their own bin. If it is a small catch, we weigh, count, and measure the length of each one. However, if it is a large catch, we take a smaller sample, called a subsample, from the whole catch. We use the weight, lengths, and count of animals in the subsample to provide an estimate count and average size of the rest of the fish caught at that station, which are only weighed. This information is compiled on a computer system right in the fish lab.

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Here I am measuring some fish.

 

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Data from the catch is collected on computers in the fish lab.

 

The focus of this study is juvenile pollock, but we do catch several other species in the trawl net. The presence of other species can provide information about the habitats where juvenile pollock live. Therefore, data from all species collected are also recorded.

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Here are some other interesting species we caught: 1. jellyfish (with a partially digested pollock inside it!) 2. lumpsucker 3. herring 4. spider crab

A small sample of juvenile pollock are frozen and saved for further study, once back on land. These fish will be analyzed to determine their lipid, or fat, content and calorie content. This data reveals information about how healthy these fish are and if they are getting enough food to survive through the cold Alaskan winters.

Other agencies within NOAA also conduct scientific surveys in this area. These studies might focus on different species or abiotic (non-living) properties of the Gulf of Alaska marine ecosystem. The data collected by each agency is shared across the larger NOAA organization to help scientists get a comprehensive look at how healthy marine ecosystems are in this area.

 

Personal Log

As we move from one station to the next, I have been spending time up on the bridge. This gives me a chance to scan the water for sea birds and marine mammals, or to just take in the scenery. Other members of the crew also like to come up to do this same thing. I have really enjoyed having this time every day to share in this activity (one of my favorite past-times) with other people and to learn from them how to identify different species.

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Here I am outside of the bridge, posing with some glaciers!

 

Did You Know?

You can find the exact age of many fish species by looking at a bone in their ears! Fish have a special ear bone, called an otolith. Every year, a new layer will grow around the outside of this bone. As the fish ages, the otolith gets larger and larger. Scientists can find the exact age of the fish by cutting a cross section of this bone and counting the rings made from new layers being added each year.

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A small otolith of an age 0 juvenile pollock

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Larger otoliths from an adult pollock

Anna Levy: First Day of Fishing! July 12, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10 – 20, 2017

 

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 12, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

We’re traveling through some mild rainstorms. Nothing extreme, but we do feel a little more side to side rocking motion in the boat (which makes me feel sleepy!)

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Mild rainstorms on the horizon

Latitude: 29 degrees, 56.2 minutes North

Longitude: 86 degrees, 20.6 minutes West

Air temp: 24.7 degrees Celsius

Water temp: 30.1 degrees Celsius

Wind direction: light and variable

Wind speed: light and variable

Wave height: 1 foot (about 0.3 meters)

Sky: overcast with light rain

 

Science and Technology Log

Today I completed my first shift on the science team and we surveyed 3 complete stations. At each station, we carried out a multi-step protocol (or procedure). Here are the steps:

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The Depth Contour Output graph displays data collected from one station.

Before we begin fishing, the ship conducts a transect (or cross-section) of the survey area, using multiple pieces of equipment to observe the ocean floor. This tells us if it is safe (for both ship operations and for fragile coral that may exist) to trawl here. If a coral reef or other large obstacle was present, we would see significant variation in the depth of the ocean floor. This “depth contour output” graph shows the data we collected at one station. How deep is the water at this station? Is it safe to trawl here?

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The CTD collects information about water chemistry

We also use a collection of instruments called a “CTD” to collect information about the chemistry of water itself at different depths. This information is called the water’s “profile.” For fisheries studies, we are most interested in the amount of dissolved oxygen and the temperature at different depths. Why might this information be relevant for understanding the health of fish populations?

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Forel-Ule color scale

We also measure the water color using the Forel-Ule color scale by matching it to the samples shown in this photo. This gives scientists an indication of the amount of particulates, chlorophyll, and nutrients are in the water.

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Trawl Net being lowered into water

Once we determine it is safe to trawl, the ship returns to the starting location. We will trawl along the same path that we observed. Here’s the trawl net before it is lowered into the water. It will be pulled just along the bottom of the survey area, using tickler chains to agitate the ocean floor for benthic organisms for 30 minutes, and collecting whatever crosses its path!

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The catch is emptied into baskets

Once the trawl is finished, the deck crew uses a large crane to pull the trawl on board. We all help to empty the net and place everything into baskets. Most of what we catch are biological organisms, but small amounts of non-living material (like shells, dead coral, and even trash) come up as well.

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The Wet Lab

We then bring the baskets into the wet lab.

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Baskets are emptied into a long trough with a conveyor belt

We dump the baskets into a long metal trough that has a conveyor belt at the bottom.

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The catch is sorted into baskets by species

Next we sort the catch. Each species gets its own basket and we count the number of individuals for each species.

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Identifying organisms

Then, it’s time for the tough part (for me at least) – every organism has to be identified by its scientific name. That’s a lot of Latin! Fortunately, Andre and the senior scientists are very patient and happy to help those of us who are new. It’s amazing how many species these experienced scientists recognize off the top of their heads.

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Field Guides

We also have many field guides, which are books containing photos and descriptions of species, to help us.

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For each species, we record the total number of individuals and total mass

We are interested in how much of each species are present, so we record both the total number of individuals and total mass of each species.

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TAS Anna Levy measures the length of a flatfish using the Limnoterra Board

We also measure the length and mass of a sample of individuals. A handy device called a Limnoterra Electronic Measuring Board makes this process easy.  We place the mouth of the fish on one end of this board and then touch its tail fin with a pen-like magnetic wand. The board then automatically sends the fish’s length to the computer to be recorded.  We use an electronic balance that is also connected to the computer to measure and record mass.

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A computer screen displays FSCS software

All of the information is recorded in a database, using software called FSCS (pronounced “fiscus”).

Many of the specimens we collect are saved for use in further research on land.   Scientists at NOAA and other research institutions can request that we “bag and tag” species that they want. Those samples are then frozen and given to the scientists when we return to shore.

Any organisms or other material that remains is returned to the sea, where it can be eaten or continue its natural cycle through the ecosystem. The conveyor belt, conveniently, travels to a chute that empties back into the ocean. Now all that’s left is to clean the lab and wait for the process to begin again at the next station!

Our goal is to complete this process 48 times, at the 48 remaining stations, while at sea. 3 down, 45 to go!

Personal Log

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Sometimes the work is high-paced…

This work has real highs and lows for me, personally. There are dramatic, hold your breath, moments like when equipment is lifted off the deck with cranes and lowered into the water. There is the excitement of anticipating what data or species we will find. My favorite moment is when we dump the buckets and all of the different species become visible. I’m amazed at the diversity and beauty of organisms that we continue to see. It reminds me of all of the stereotypical “under the sea” images you might see in a Disney movie.

The more challenging part is the pace of the work. Sometimes there are many different things going on, so it’s easy to keep busy and focus on learning new things, so time passes quickly. Other times, though, things get repetitive. For example, once we start entering all of the data about the individual fish, one person calls out the length and mass of a fish, while the other enters it into the computer – over and over until we’ve worked through all of the fish.

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… but sometimes the work even stops altogether, especially when whether interferes.

Sometimes, the work even stops altogether, especially when the weather interferes. There have been mild rainstorms coming and going continually. It is not safe to have people on deck to deploy the CTD and trawling equipment when there is lightning in the area, so there is nothing for the science team to do but wait during these times.

Because the pace of the work is constantly changing, it’s difficult to get into a groove, so I found myself getting really tired at the end of the shift. However, an important part of collecting data out in the field is being flexible and adapting to the surroundings. There is a lot to accomplish in a limited amount of time so I keep reminding myself to focus on the work and do my best to contribute!

Did You Know?

When working at sea, scientists must use special balances that are able to compensate for the movement of the ship in order to get accurate measurements of mass.

To ensure that we are accurately identifying species, we save 1 individual from each species caught at a randomly selected station. We will freeze those individuals and take them back to NOAA’s lab in Pascagoula, where other scientists will confirm that we identified the species correctly!

Questions to Consider:

Review: Look at the “depth contour output” graph above: How deep is the water at this station? Is it safe to trawl here?

Research: What does “CTD” stand for?

Research: For fisheries studies, we are most interested in the amount of dissolved oxygen and the temperature at different depths. Why might this information be relevant for understanding the health of fish populations?

Reflect: Why might scientists decide to use three different pieces of equipment to collect the same data about the ocean floor? And, why might they have several different scientists independently identify the species name of the same individuals?

Sian Proctor: Nothing But Net!, July 12, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 12, 2017

Me next to chafing gear from AWT. Image by Meredith Emery.

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Latitude:   56° 46.8 N
  • Longitude: 154° 13.7 W
  • Time: 0800
  • Sky:Clear
  • Visibility: 10 nautical miles
  • Wind Direction: 279
  • Wind Speed: 9 Knots
  • Sea Wave Height: 1-2 foot swell
  • Barometric Pressure: 1019.9 millibars
  • Sea Water Temperature:   11.1°C
  • Air Temperature:   12.0°C
  • Sunrise: 0531
  • Sunset: 2300

Science and Technology Log: Nothing But Net!

Once the scientists determine where and how deep they want to fish, based on analyzing the echogram, then the boat moves into position and the net is deployed. Safety is the top priority when working on the vessel. The deckhands all have to wear life jackets, hard hats, and good boots when working on deck because the conditions can be sunny one moment and stormy the next.  There is some serious hardware at the back of boat. There are cranes, winches, and spools of wire ropes & chains. The Chief Boatswain is responsible for all deck operations and deploying any gear overboard. The following video illustrates the sampling process using an Aleutian Wing Trawl net.

There is a camera (aka camtrawl) attached to the net along with a small pocket net. The pocket net is designed to catch tiny animals that slip through the AWT meshes. The pocket mesh only catches a small amount of escaping animals which can then be used to determine what was in the water column with the bigger pollock. The camtrawl has a pair of cameras that shoot stereo images of what is entering the net. The camtrawl was developed by NOAA scientists and its goal is to estimate the size and identify the species that enter the net using visual recognition software from University of Washington. The ultimate goal of the camtrawl is to be able to identify everything entering the net without ever having to actually catch the fish.

 

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A limitation of the AWT is that it can’t go closer than a few meters from the sea floor. Pollock are semi-pelagic so they are sometimes down at the sea floor and a different net is used. The Poly Nor’Easter (PNE) is used to trawl along the bottom of the Gulf of Alaska because the bottom can be rocky. The PNE has roller gear along its bottom to keep it from getting stuck. The opening of the PNE is 6 meters tall and 15 meters wide and also funnels to a codend.

There is a third net on Oscar Dyson called the Methot and it is used to catch large plankton such as krill. The Methot is so small that it sits on the deck and is easily lifted and put into the water. The net you use is determined by what you are trying to catch and where they are located in the water column.

Interview with Ryan Harris

Chief Boatswain

Chief Boatswain Ryan Harris managing Oscar Dyson crane.

  • Official Title
    • Chief Boatswain
  • Normal Job Duties
    • I am in charge of the deck operations on board the ship from deploying gear over the side to up keep of the ship.
  • How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
    • 15 months
  • What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
    • I get to see things normal people do not.
  • When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
    • 11 years ago I fell in love with the excitement of travel.
  • What are some of the challenges with your job?
    • Trying to keep all the gear working to complete the mission.
  • What are some of the rewards with your job?
    • I get to serve my country and leave something behind that me and my family can be proud of.
  • Describe a memorable moment at sea.
    • Seeing killer Whales 5 feet away.

Interview with Tom Stucki

Lead Fishermen

Lead Fishermen Tom Stucki on the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson. Image by Matthew Phillips.

  • Official Title
    • Lead Fishermen
  • Normal Job Duties
    • I run the winches for trawls, Maintain and fix the nets, help with maintenance of our equipment. Paint and preserve the ship when time and weather allows, clean up inside of ship.
  •  How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
    • 2 months this time and a month long trip last year. I am a relief pool employee. I fill in where the fleet needs me.
  • Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
    • I grew up on the coast in a fishing community.
  • What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
    • The crew and work we do.
  • Why is your work (or research) important?
    • Our work is translated back to the commercial fleets so we don’t end up overfishing.
  • When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
    • Once I got out of the Army and went on my first successful Salmon fishing trip.
  • What part of your job with NOAA (or contracted to NOAA) did you least expect to be doing?
    • Traveling as a relief pool employee.
  • What are some of the challenges with your job?
    • Working 12 hour days for months at a time.
  • What are some of the rewards with your job?
    • Knowing that the work I am helping with actually matters and hopefully will have positive implications down the road.
  • Describe a memorable moment at sea.
    • There are lots but its always nice in the middle of a trawl when you look up the sun is setting the water is flat calm and you think to yourself “yeah, I get paid for doing this.

Interview with Jay Michelsen

Skilled Fisherman

  • Official Title
    • Skilled Fisherman
  • Normal Job Duties
    • Operations of equipment to facilitate the needs of the science party.
  •  How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
    • two years
  • Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
    • I love the challenge of creating something stable from something so uncertain and ever changing as the ocean.
  • What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
    • Seeing some of the creatures that the ocean has living in its depth.
  • Why is your work (or research) important?
    • My work is important more for personal reasons, I am able to support my family and make their lives more comfortable. My work on the ship is nothing special besides understanding the rigging and being able to trouble shoot issues that arise just as quickly as they show up.
  • When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
    • I have wanted to pursue a career on the water for as long as I can remember, however it was my mother five years ago who pushed me to follow that desire.
  • What are some of the rewards with your job?
    • I enjoy seeing the creatures that we pull up from the ocean. The pay isn’t bad. If you are able to stay in for a long period of time, you can get a stable retirement.
  • Describe a memorable moment at sea.
    • There was a time that we brought up a salmon shark in the net and I was able to get it back into the water by cutting a hole in the net and pulling it out with the help of another deckhand. It was exhilarating!

Personal Log

Me in the survival suit.

I will admit that my biggest concern with going to sea was the thought of falling overboard. Now that I have been on Oscar Dyson I have learned that safety is a top priority and there are a lot of procedures for keeping everyone productive yet safe. Every week there are safety drills such as fire, abandon ship, and person overboard. The one I like the most is the abandon ship because I get to try on the survival suit. The waters here are so cold that survival overboard is unlikely without the survival suit.

It is comforting to know that the crew of Oscar Dyson work hard to keep themselves and everyone on board safe. I am no longer afraid of falling overboard because I’ve learned to be safe when navigating around the vessel and I have finally developed my sea legs – well sort of! The weather has been amazing with smooth sailing almost everyday. We did have a few days with some rolling seas and I had to put a seasickness patch behind my ear.

 

Education Tidbit: NOAA Fisheries Website

Another cool NOAA website that lets you explore deeper into fisheries and this video shows you how to find information for educators and students.

Did You Know?

The average size of a Bering Sea commercial fishing net is 60m tall by 120m wide.

Dana Chu: May 17, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dana Chu
On Board NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 13 – 22, 2016

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS) is a working partnership between Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and Point Blue Conservation Science to survey the oceanographic conditions that influence and drive the availability of prey species (i.e., krill) to predators (i.e., marine mammals and sea birds).

Geographic area of cruise: Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries

Date: Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Clear skies, light winds at 0600 increased to 18 knots at 0900, 6-8 feet swells

Science and Technology Log

Ahoy from the Bell Shimada! Today, I will explain three of the tools that are deployed from the side deck to obtain samples of the water and the ocean’s prey species.

First off we have the Harmful Algal Bloom Net, also known as the HAB Net, which is basically a 10-inch opening with a 39-inch fine mesh netting attached to a closed end canister. The HAB net is deployed manually by hand to the depth of 30 feet three consecutive times to obtain a water sample. The top fourth of the water collected is decanted and the remaining water (approximately 80ml) is transferred to a bottle which is then sealed and labeled with the location (latitude, longitude), date, time, vertical or horizontal position, and any particular comments. The samples will eventually be mailed off to California Department of Health Services lab for analysis for harmful toxins from algae that can affect shellfish consumers.

Next we have the hoop net, which is pretty much similar in design to the HAB net, except for a larger opening diameter of 3 feet (think hula hoop) and a net length of nine feet. The net tapers off into a closed container with open slits on the sides to allow for water drainage. The purpose of the hoop net to collect organisms that are found at the various depth levels of the deployment. The hoop net is attached to a cable held by the winch. The hoop net is lowered at a specific angle which when calculated with the speed of the vessel equates to a certain depth. The survey crew reports the wire angle sighting throughout the deployment.

Every time the hoop net is brought back up there is a sense of anticipation at what we will find once the canister is open. Coloring is a good indicator. Purple usually indicates a high concentration of doliolids, while a darker color may indicate a significant amount of krill. Phytoplankton usually have a brownish coloring. Many of the hoop net collections from today and yesterday include doliolids and colonial salps, neither are very nutrient dense. Yesterday we also found pyrosomes, which are transparent organisms that resemble a sea cucumber with little bumps and soft thorns along their body. The smallest pyrosome we came upon was two and a half inches with the largest over six inches long. A few small fish of less than one inch in length also showed up sporadically in these collections as well.

The Scientific team is looking for the presence of krill in the samples obtained. The Euphausia pacifica is one of the many species of krill found in these waters. Many tiny krill were found in the various hoop net deployments. On the last hoop net deployment for today and yesterday, larger sized krill of approximately 1 inch) were found. This is good news because krill is the dominant food source for marine mammals such as whales. Ideally it would be even better if the larger krill appeared more frequently in the hoop net samples.

Finally, we have the Tucker Trawl, which is the largest and most complex of the three nets discussed in today’s post. The Tucker Trawl consists of three separate nets, one for sampling at each depth: the top, middle, and bottom of the water column. Like the hoop net, the tucker trawl nets also have a canister with open slits along the side covered with mesh to allow water to drain. All three nets are mounted on the same frame attached to a wire cable held by the winch. As the Tucker Trawl is towed only one net is open at a time for a specific length of time. The net is closed by dropping a weight down along the tow. Once the weight reaches the net opening, it triggers the net to shut and sends a vibration signal up the cable line back to the surface which can be felt by the scientist holding the cable. The net is then towed at the next depth for ten minutes. Once the last net tow has been completed, the Tucker Trawl is brought back up to surface. Similar to the hoop net, the survey tech reads the wire angle throughout the deployment to determine the angle the cable needs to be at in order for the net to reach a certain depth. This is where all the Geometry comes in handy!

As mentioned already, with three nets, the Tucker Trawl yields three separate collections of the nutrients found within the top, middle and bottom of the water column. Once the nets are retrieved, each collection container is poured into a different bucket or tub, and then into a sieve before making it into a collection bottle. If there is a large quantity collected, a subsample is used to fill up a maximum of two bottles before the remainder is discarded back into the ocean. Once the samples are processed, an outside label is attached to the bottle and an interior label is dropped inside the bottle, formalin is added to preserve the sample organisms collected so that they can be analyzed later back in the lab.

Personal Log

It is so good to finally get my sea legs! I am glad I can be of use and actively participate. Cooperative teamwork is essential to getting everything to flow smoothly and on time. The Bell Shimada’s deck crew and NOAA team work hand in hand with the scientists to deploy and retrieve the various instruments and devices.

In the past two days I am getting a lot of hands on experience with deploying the HAB net to assisting with processing samples from the HOOP Net and Tucker Trawl. It’s always exciting to see what we might have collected. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week may bring. I wonder what interesting finds we will get with the midnight Tucker Trawl samples.

Lesson Learned: Neatness and accuracy are imperative when labeling samples! Pre-planning and preparing labels ahead of time helps streamline the process once the samples are in hand.

Word of the Day:        Thermocline – This is the depth range where the temperature of the water drops steeply. The region above the thermocline has nutrient depleted waters and while the region below has nutrient rich waters.

 

Emily Whalen: Station 381–Cashes Ledge, May 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: May 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Winds:  Light and variable
Seas: 1-2ft
Air Temperature:   6.2○ C
Water Temperature:  5.8○ C

Science and Technology Log:

Earlier today I had planned to write about all of the safety features on board the Bigelow and explain how safe they make me feel while I am on board.  However, that was before our first sampling station turned out to be a monster haul!  For most stations I have done so far, it takes about an hour from the time that the net comes back on board to the time that we are cleaning up the wetlab.  At station 381, it took us one minute shy of three hours! So explaining the EEBD and the EPIRB will have to wait so that I can describe the awesome sampling we did at station 381, Cashes Ledge.

This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine.  The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam.  This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!
This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine. The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam. This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!

Before I get to describing the actual catch, I want to give you an idea of all of the work that has to be done in the acoustics lab and on the bridge long before the net even gets into the water.

The bridge is the highest enclosed deck on the boat, and it is where the officers work to navigate the ship.  To this end, it is full of nautical charts, screens that give information about the ship’s location and speed, the engine, generators, other ships, radios for communication, weather data and other technical equipment.  After arriving at the latitude and longitude of each sampling station, the officer’s attention turns to the screen that displays information from the Olex Realtime Bathymetry Program, which collects data using a ME70 multibeam sonar device attached to bottom of the hull of the ship .

Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges in trawling has been getting the net caught on the bottom of the ocean.  This is often called getting ‘hung’ and it can happen when the net snags on a big rock, sunken debris, or anything else resting on the sea floor.  The consequences can range from losing a few minutes time working the net free, to tearing or even losing the net. The Olex data is extremely useful because it can essentially paint a picture of the sea floor to ensure that the net doesn’t encounter any obstacles.  Upon arrival at a site, the boat will cruise looking for a clear path that is about a mile long and 300 yards wide.  Only after finding a suitable spot will the net go into the water.

Check out this view of the seafloor.  On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges.  That's where we dragged the net and caught all of the fish!
Check out this view of the seafloor. On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges. We trawled right between the ridges and caught a lot of really big fish!

The ME70 Multibeam uses sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean at specific points.  It is similar to a simpler, single stream sonar in that it shoots a wave of sound down to the seafloor, waits for it to bounce back up to the ship and then calculates the distance the wave traveled based on the time and the speed of sound through the water, which depends on temperature.  The advantage to using the multibeam is that it shoots out 200 beams of sound at once instead of just one.  This means that with each ‘ping’, or burst of sound energy, we know the depth at many points under the ship instead of just one.  Considering that the multibeam pings at a rate of 2 Hertz to 0.5 Herts, which is once every 0.5 seconds to 2 seconds, that’s a lot of information about the sea floor contour!

This is what the nautical chart for Cashes Ledge looks like. The numbers represent depth in fathoms.  The light blue lines are contour lines.  The places where they are close together represent steep cliffs.  The red line represents the Bigelow’s track. You can see where we trawled as a short jag between the L and the E in the word Ledge

The stations that we sample are randomly selected by a computer program that was written by one of the scientists in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who happens to be on board this trip.  Just by chance, station number 381 was on Cashes Ledge, which is an underwater geographical feature that includes jagged cliffs and underwater mountains.  The area has been fished very little because all of the bottom features present many hazards for trawl nets.  In fact, it is currently a protected area, which means the commercial fishing isn’t allowed there.  As a research vessel, we have permission to sample there because we are working to collect data that will provide useful information for stock assessments.

My watch came on duty at noon, at which time the Bigelow was scouting out the bottom and looking for a spot to sample within 1 nautical mile of the latitude and longitude of station 381.  Shortly before 1pm, the CTD dropped and then the net went in the water.  By 1:30, the net was coming back on board the ship, and there was a buzz going around about how big the catch was predicted to be.  As it turns out, the catch was huge!  Once on board, the net empties into the checker, which is usually plenty big enough to hold everything.  This time though, it was overflowing with big, beautiful cod, pollock and haddock.  You can see that one of the deck crew is using a shovel to fill the orange baskets with fish so that they can be taken into the lab and sorted!

You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge.  How many different kinds of fish can you see?
You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge. How many different kinds of fish can you see? Photo by fellow volunteer Joe Warren

 

At this point, I was standing at the conveyor belt, grabbing slippery fish as quickly as I could and sorting them into baskets.  Big haddock, little haddock, big cod, little cod, pollock, pollock, pollock.  As fast as I could sort, the fish kept coming!  Every basket in the lab was full and everyone was working at top speed to process fish so that we could empty the baskets and fill them up with more fish!  One of the things that was interesting to notice was the variation within each species.  When you see pictures of fish, or just a few fish at a time, they don’t look that different.  But looking at so many all at once, I really saw how some have brighter colors, or fatter bodies or bigger spots.  But only for a moment, because the fish just kept coming and coming and coming!

Finally, the fish were sorted and I headed to my station, where TK, the cutter that I have been working with, had already started processing some of the huge pollock that we had caught.  I helped him maneuver them up onto the lengthing board so that he could measure them and take samples, and we fell into a fish-measuring groove that lasted for two hours.  Grab a fish, take the length, print a label and put it on an envelope, slip the otolith into the envelope, examine the stomach contents, repeat.

Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets
Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets waiting to get counted and measured. Photo by Watch Chief Adam Poquette.

Some of you have asked about the fish that we have seen and so here is a list of the species that we saw at just this one site:

  • Pollock
  • Haddock
  • Atlantic wolffish
  • Cod
  • Goosefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Alewife
  • Acadian redfish
  • Alligator fish
  • White hake
  • Red hake
  • American plaice
  • Little skate
  • American lobster
  • Sea raven
  • Thorny skate
  • Red deepsea crab

 

 

 

 

I think it’s human nature to try to draw conclusions about what we see and do.  If all we knew about the state of our fish populations was based on the data from this one catch, then we might conclude that there are tons of healthy fish stocks in the sea.  However, I know that this is just one small data point in a literal sea of data points and it cannot be considered independently of the others.  Just because this is data that I was able to see, touch and smell doesn’t give it any more validity than other data that I can only see as a point on a map or numbers on a screen.  Eventually, every measurement and sample will be compiled into reports, and it’s that big picture over a long period of time that will really allow give us a better understanding of the state of affairs in the ocean.

Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow
Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow

Personal Log

Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!
Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!

It seems like time is passing faster and faster on board the Bigelow.  I have been getting up each morning and doing a Hero’s Journey workout up on the flying bridge.  One of my shipmates let me borrow a book that is about all of the people who have died trying to climb Mount Washington.  Today I did laundry, and to quote Olaf, putting on my warm and clean sweatshirt fresh out of the dryer was like a warm hug!  I am getting to know the crew and learning how they all ended up here, working on a NOAA ship.  It’s tough to believe but a week from today, I will be wrapping up and getting ready to go back to school!

Emily Whalen: Trawling in Cape Cod Bay, April 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: April 29, 2015

Weather Data:
GPS location:  4251.770’N, 07043.695’W
Sky condition:  Cloudy
Wind: 10 kts NNW
Wave height: 1-2 feet
Water temperature:  6.2○ C
Air temperature:  8.1○ C

Science and Technology Log:

On board the Henry B. Bigelow we are working to complete the fourth and final leg of the spring bottom trawl survey. Since 1948, NOAA has sent ships along the east coast from Cape Hatteras to the Scotian Shelf to catch, identify, measure and collect the fish and invertebrates from the sea floor. Scientists and fishermen use this data to assess the health of the ocean and make management decisions about fish stocks.

What do you recognize on this chart?  Do you know where Derry, NH is on the map?
This is the area that we will be trawling. Each blue circle represents one of the sites that we will sample. We are covering a LOT of ground! Image courtesy of NOAA.

Today I am going to give you a rundown of the small role that I play in this process. I am on the noon to midnight watch with a crew of six other scientists, which means that we are responsible for processing everything caught in the giant trawl net on board during those hours. During the first three legs of the survey, the Bigelow has sampled over 300 sites. We are working to finish the survey by completing the remaining sites, which are scattered throughout Cape Cod Bay and the Gulf of Maine.  The data collected on this trip will be added to data from similar trips that NOAA has taken each spring for almost 60 years.  These huge sets of data allow scientists to track species that are dwindling, recovering, thriving or shifting habitats.

The CTD ready to deploy.
The CTD ready to deploy.

At each sampling station, the ship first drops a man-sized piece of equipment called a CTD to the sea floor. The CTD measures conductivity, temperature and depth, hence its name.  Using the conductivity measurement, the CTD software also calculates salinity, which is the amount of dissolved salt in the water.  It also has light sensors that are used to measure how much light is penetrating through the water.

While the CTD is in the water,  the deck crew prepares the trawl net and streams it from the back of the ship.  The net is towed by a set of hydraulic winches that are controlled by a sophisticated autotrawl system.  The system senses the tension on each trawl warp and will pay out or reel in cable to ensure that the net is fishing properly.

Once deployed, the net sinks to the bottom and the ship tows it for twenty minutes, which is a little more than one nautical mile. The mouth of the net is rectangular so that it can open up wide and catch the most fish.  The bottom edge of the mouth has something called a rockhopper sweep on it, which is made of a series of heavy disks that roll along the rocky bottom instead of getting hung up or tangled.  The top edge of the net has floats along it to hold it wide open.   There are sensors positioned throughout the net that send data back to the ship about the shape of the net’s mouth, the water temperature on the bottom, the amount of contact with the bottom, the speed of water through the net and the direction that the water is flowing through the net.  It is important that each tow is standardized like this so that the fish populations in the sample areas aren’t misrepresented by the catch.   For example, if the net was twisted or didn’t open properly, the catch might be very small, even in an area that is teaming with fish.

Do you think this is what trawl nets looked like in 1948?
This is what the net looks like when it is coming back on board. The deck hands are guiding the trawl warps onto the big black spools. The whole process is powered by two hydraulic winches.

After twenty minutes, the net is hauled back onto the boat using heavy-duty winches.  The science crew changes into brightly colored foul weather gear and heads to the wet lab, where we wait to see what we’ve caught in the net. The watch chief turns the music up and everyone goes to their station along a conveyor belt the transports the fish from outside on the deck to inside the lab. We sort the catch by species into baskets and buckets, working at a slow, comfortable pace when the catch is small, or at a rapid fire, breakneck speed when the catch is large.

If you guessed 'sponges', then you are correct!
This is the conveyor belt that transports the catch from the deck into the wetlab. The crew works to sort things into buckets. Do you know what these chunky yellow blobs that we caught this time are?

After that, the species and weight of each container is recorded into the Fisheries Scientific Computing System (FSCS), which is an amazing software system that allows our team of seven people to collect an enormous amount of data very quickly. Then we work in teams of two to process each fish at work stations using a barcode scanner, magnetic lengthing board, digital scale, fillet knives, tweezers, two touch screen monitors, a freshwater hose, scannable stickers, envelopes, baggies, jars and finally a conveyor belt that leads to a chute that returns the catch back to the ocean.  To picture what this looks like, imagine a grocery store checkout line crossed with an arcade crossed with a water park crossed with an operating room.  Add in some music playing from an ipod and it’s a pretty raucous scene!

The data that we collect for each fish varies.  At a bare minimum, we will measure the length of the fish, which is electronically transmitted into FSCS.  For some fish, we also record the weight, sex and stage of maturity.  This also often includes taking tissue samples and packaging them up so that they can be studied back at the lab.  Fortunately, for each fish, the FSCS screen automatically prompts us about which measurements need to be taken and samples need to be kept.  For some fish, we cut out and label a small piece of gonad or some scales.  We collect the otoliths, or ear bones from many fish.

It does not look this neat and tidy when we are working!
These are the work stations in the wet lab. The cutters stand on the left processing the fish, and the recorders stand on the right.These bones can be used to determine the age of each fish because they are made of rings of calcium carbonate that accumulate over time.

Most of the samples will got back to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center where they will be processed by NOAA scientists.  Some of them will go to other scientists from universities and other labs who have requested special sampling from the Bigelow.  It’s like we are working on a dozen different research projects all at once!

 

 

 

Something to Think About:

Below are two pictures that I took from the flying bridge as we departed from the Coast Guard Station in Boston. They were taken just moments apart from each other. Why do you think that the area in the first picture has been built up with beautiful skyscrapers while the area in the second picture is filled with shipping containers and industry? Which area do you think is more important to the city? Post your thoughts in the comment section below.

Rows of shipping containers. What do you think is inside them?

Downtown Boston.  Just a mile from the shipping containers.  Why do you think this area is so different from the previous picture?
Downtown Boston. Just a mile from the shipping containers. Why do you think this area is so different from the previous picture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Log

Believe it or not, I actually feel very relaxed on board the Bigelow!  The food is excellent, my stateroom is comfortable and all I have to do is follow the instructions of the crew and the FSCS.  The internet is fast enough to occasionally check my email, but not fast enough to stream music or obsessively read articles I find on Twitter.  The gentle rocking of the boat is relaxing, and there is a constant supply of coffee and yogurt.  I have already read one whole book (Paper Towns by John Greene) and later tonight I will go to the onboard library and choose another.  That said, I do miss my family and my dog and I’m sure that in a few days I will start to miss my students too!

If the description above doesn’t make you want to consider volunteering on a NOAA cruise, maybe the radical outfits will.  On the left, you can see me trying on my Mustang Suit, which is designed to keep me safe in the unlikely event that the ship sinks.  On the right, you can see me in my stylish yellow foul weather pants.  They look even better when they are covered in sparkling fish scales!

Seriously, they keep me totally dry!
Banana Yellow Pants: SO 2015! Photo taken by fellow volunteer Megan Plourde.

Seriously, do I look awesome, or what?
This is a Mustang Suit. If you owned one of these, where would you most like to wear it? Photo taken by IT Specialist Heidi Marotta.

That’s it for now!  What topics would you like to hear more about?  If you post your questions in the comment section below, I will try to answer them in my next blog post.

Mary Murrian: My First Days in Dutch Harbor, July 6, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea 

Mary Murrian

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 4 – 22, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Bering Sea North of Dutch Harbor

Date: Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Wind Speed: 6 kts

Air Temperature: 8.6 degrees Celsius

Weather conditions: Hazy

Barometric Pressure: 1009.9

Latitude: 5923.6198  N

Longitude: 17030.6395  W

 

Science and Technology Log

Part One of the Survey Trawl: Getting Ready to Fish

This is a picture of a pollock from our first trawl.
This is a picture of a pollock from our first trawl.

Today is my second day aboard the Oscar Dyson.  We are anxiously waiting for the echosounder (more information on echosounder follows) to send us a visual indication that a large abundance of fish is ready to be caught.  The point of the survey is to measure the abundance of Walleye Pollock throughout specific regions in the Bering Sea and manage the fisheries that harvest these fish for commercial use to process and sell across the world.  The Walleye Pollock are one of the largest populations of fish.  It is important to manage their populations due to over-fishing could cause a substantial decrease the species.  This would be detrimental to our ecosystem.  The food web [interconnecting food chains; i.e. Sun, plants or producers (algae), primary consumers, animals that eat plants (zooplankton), secondary consumers, animals that eat other animals (pollock), and decomposers, plants or animals that break down dead matter (bacteria)] could be altered and would cause a negative effect on other producers and consumers that depend on the pollock for food or maintain their population.

The main food source for young pollock is copepods, a very small marine animal (it looks like a grain of rice with handle bars).  They also eat zooplankton (animals in the plankton), crustaceans, and other bottom dwelling sea life.  On the weird side of the species, adult pollock are known to eat smaller pollock.  That’s right, they eat each other, otherwise known as cannibalism.  Pollock is one of the main food sources for young fur seal pups and other marine life in Alaskan waters.  Without the pollock, the food web would be greatly altered and not in a positive way.

How do we track the pollock?

Pollock
Pollock

Tracking begins in the acoustics lab.  Acoustics is the branch of science concerned with the properties of sound.  The acoustics lab on board the Oscar Dyson, is the main work room where scientists can monitor life in the ocean using an echosounder which measures how many fish there are with sound to track the walleye pollock’s location in the ocean.  They also use the ships’s GPS (Global Positioning System), a navigation system, to track the location of the NOAA vessel and trawl path.

Echo Sounder
Sonar Screen

What is sonar and how does it work? 

Sonar (sound ranging & navigation;  it’s a product of World War II) allows scientists to “see” things in the ocean using sound by measuring the amount of sound bouncing off of objects in the water.  On this survey, sonar images are displayed as colors on several computer monitors, which are used to see when fish are present and their abundance.  Strong echoes show up as red, and weak echoes are shown as white.  The greater the amount of sound reported by the sonar as red signals, the greater the amount of fish.

Echo Sonar Screen Showing the patterns of echos from the ocean.
Echo Sonar Screen Showing the patterns of echos from the ocean.

How does it work?  There is a piece of equipment attached to the bottom of the ship called the echosounder.  It sends pings (sound pulses) to the bottom of the ocean and measures how much sound bounces back to track possible fish locations.   The echo from the ocean floor shows up as a very strong red signal.   When echoes appear before the sound hits the ocean floor, this represents the ping colliding with an object in the water such as a fish.

The scientists monitor the echosounder signal so they can convey to the ships’s bridge and commanding officer to release the nets so that they can identify the animals reflecting the sound.  The net catches anything in its path such as jellyfish, star fish, crabs, snails, clams, and a variety of other fish species. Years of experience allows the NOAA scientists the ability to distinguish between the colors represented on the computer monitor and determine which markings represent pollock versus krill or other sea life.  We also measure the echoes at different frequencies and can tell whether we have located fish such as pollock, or smaller aquatic life (zooplankton). The red color shown on the sonar screen is also an indicator of pollock, which form dense schools.  The greater amount of red color shown on the sonar monitor, the better opportunity to we have to catch a larger sample of pollock.

The Science Team Wonderful group of people.

Once we have located the pollock and the net is ready, it is time to fish.  It is not as easy as you think, although the deck hands and surveyors make it look simple.  In order to survey the pollock, we have to trawl the ocean.  Depending on the sonar location of the pollock, the trawl can gather fish from the bottom of floor, middle level and/or surface of the ocean covering preplanned locations or coordinates. Note: Not all the fish caught are pollock.

The preplanned survey path is called transect lines with head due north for a certain distance. When the path turns at a 90 degree angle west (called cross-transect lines) and turns around another 90 degree angle heading back south again.  This is repeated numerous times over the course of each leg in order to cover a greater area of the ocean floor.  In my case we are navigating the Bering Sea.  My voyage, on the Oscar Dyson is actually the second leg of the survey, in which, scientists are trawling for walleye pollock.  There are a total of three legs planned covering a distance of approximately 6,200nmi (nautical miles, that is).

Trawling is where we release a large net into the sea located on the stern (the back of the boat).  Trawling is similar to herding sheep.  The fish swim into the net as the boat continues to move forward, eventually moving to the smaller end of the net.  Once the sonar screen (located on a computer monitor) shows that we have collected a large enough sample of pollock, the deck hands reel the net back on board the boat.

 

The crew are beginning to release the trawl net.
The crew are beginning to release the trawl net.

This is the stern of the boat where the trawl net gets released into the ocean.
This is the stern of the boat where the trawl net gets released into the ocean.

We have caught the fish, now what?  Stay tuned for my exciting experience in the wet lab handling the pollock and other marine wild life.  It is most certainly an opportunity of a lifetime.

Personal Log

What an adventure!

I was lucky enough to spend a day exploring Dutch Harbor, Alaska before departing on the pollock survey across the Bering Sea. It took me three plane rides, several short lay-overs and and a car ride to get here, a total of 16 hours. There is a four hour time difference between Dutch Harbor and Dover, Delaware. It takes some getting used to, but definitely worth it. The sun sets shortly after 12:00 midnight and appears again around 5:00 in the morning. Going to sleep when it’s still daylight can be tricky. Thank goodness I have a curtain surrounding my bed. Speaking of the bed, it is extremely comfortable. It is one of those soft pillow top beds. Getting in and out of the top bunk can be challenging. I haven’t fallen yet.

My bed is the top bunk.
My bed is the top bunk.

During my tour through the small town of Dutch Harbor, I have encountered very friendly residents and fishermen from around the world.  I was fortunate to see the U.S. Coast Guard ship Healy docked at the harbor. What a beautiful vessel.  Dutch Harbor has one full grocery store (Safeway) just like we have in Delaware, with the exception of some of the local Alaska food products like Alaska BBQ potato chips. They have a merchant store that sells a variety of items ranging from food, souvenirs, clothing, and hardware. They have three local restaurants and a mom and pop fast food establishment. One of the restaurants is located in the only local Inn the Aleutian hotel, which also includes a gift shop. Dutch Harbor is home to several major fisheries. Dutch Harbor is rich in history and is home to the native Aleutian tribe. I took a tour of their local museum. It was filled with the history and journey of the Aleutian people. While driving through town, I got a chance to see their elementary and high school. They both looked relatively new. Dutch Harbor is also home to our nation’s first Russian Orthodox Church. Alaska is our 50th state and was purchased from Russia in 1867.

Me and the Oscar Dyson
Mary Murian in front of the Oscar Dyson

A very funny photo of me in my survival suit.
A very funny photo of me in my survival suit.

One of the coolest parts of my tour was walking around the area known as the “spit”. The “spit” is located directly behind the airport. I’m told it is called the “spit” because the land and water are spitting distance in length and width. We walked along the shoreline and discovered hundreds of small snails gathered around the rocks. We also found hermit crabs, starfish, sea anemones, jellyfish, and red algae. We saw red colored water, which is a bloom or a population explosion of tiny algae that get so thick that they change the color of the water.

One of numerous amazing views in Dutch Harbor
One of numerous amazing views in Dutch Harbor

tas 2014 day 1 and perboarding july 2-4th 089
Starfish

Another animal in abundance in Dutch Harbor is the bald eagle. There is practically one on every light post or tall structure. Often the bald eagles are perched in small groups. Watch out: if you walk too close to a nesting mother, she will come after you. They are massive, regal animals. I never get tired of watching them.

We had to watch our step, the snails were everywhere along the shoreline of the Spit.
We had to watch our step, the snails were everywhere along the shoreline of the Spit.

A bald eagle hoping to find some lunch.
A bald eagle hoping to find some lunch.

Russian Orthodox Church in Dutch Harbor, AK
Russian Orthodox Church in Dutch Harbor, AK

Did You Know?

Did you know that Alaska’s United States Coast Guard vessel has the ability to break through sea ice? 

This is especially helpful if you want to study northern areas, which are often ice covered, in the winter, and to assist a smaller boat if it gets trapped in the ice.

U.S. Coast Guard Ship Healy docked at the Spit.
U.S. Coast Guard Ship Healy docked at the Spit.

Did you know that scientists set time to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) which is the time in a place in England?

This reduces confusion (e.g. related to daylight savings, time zones) when the measurements are analyzed.

Key Vocabulary:

Carnivore

Primary Consumer

Secondary Consumer

Nautical Miles

Trawling

Stern

Acoustics

Decomposers

Echosounder

Meet the Scientist:

Alex De Biologist
Alex De Robertis Chief Scientist

Leg II Chief Scientist Dr. Alex De Robertis

Title: NOAA Research Fishery Biologist (10 years)

Education:  UCLA Biology Undergraduate Degree

Scripps Institute Oceanography San Diego, CA PhD.

Newport, Oregon Post Doctorate work

Living Quarters:

Born in Argentina and moved to England when one-year old.

Lived in Switzerland and moved to Los Angeles,CA at the age of 13.

Currently lives in Seattle, Washington, and he has two kids aged one and five.

Job Responsibilities:

Responsible for acoustic trawl surveying at Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Was able to help with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill clean-up using the same echo sonar used on trawl surveys.

What is cool about his work:

He enjoys his work, especially the chance to travel to different geographic locations and meet new people.  “You never know what you are going to encounter; there is always a surprise or curve ball, when that occurs you adjust and just go with it”.

In the near future, he would love to see or be part of the design for an autonomous ocean robot that will simplify the surveying process.

He has been interested in oceans and biology since a small boy.  He remembers seeing two divers emerge from the sea and was amazed it was possible.

Kainoa Higgins: Preparing to Set Sail! June 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kainoa Higgins

(Almost) Aboard the R/V Ocean Starr

June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Coast

Date: June 15, 2014

Personal Log

Aloha from the great Pacific Northwest!  My name is Kainoa Higgins and although I was born and raised on the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i, I have spent the last 10 years calling Tacoma, Washington home.  I am incredibly excited to have been selected as a 2014 NOAA Teacher at Sea and can’t wait to climb aboard the R/V Ocean Starr in a matter of hours!  I will be participating in two legs of research during my two and half weeks on ship.

During the first leg, I will be assisting scientists with conducting a Juvenile Rockfish Survey as they examine groundfish populations off the coast of the Western Seaboard of the North America.  Though I have been attempting to get caught up to speed, I currently only understand the program at a general level.  There are many species of rockfish, all of which are commercially valuable, and keeping track of their populations and distributions is essential for conscious management.  Having spoken with my Chief Scientist for this leg, Ric Brodeur, on several occasions leading up to my departure, I understand that my job will entail any, some or all of the following: mammal/bird observational surveys and plankton analysis by day followed by sorting of trawled collections analysis of the catch in the wet lab by night.  I’ll be able to share more as the adventure unfolds.

In the second leg, I will connect with Laurie Weitkamp who will take over as chief scientist with a fresh research team and research focus.  In a recent e-mail Laurie explained that this leg will be “experimental”.  In short, we will be trying a variety of modifications to a marine mammal excluder device to see how it fishes and influences the catch.  I’m not sure, exactly, how the MMED is used, but I would be willing to take a guess at it’s purpose.  I imagine it has something to do with an attempt to maintain commercial fishing operations without the interruption of marine mammals (dolphins, porpoises, seals, whales, etc.) in close proximity.  Through some sort of “deflection”, its goal would also be reduce unintentional by-catch.  Once again, I’ll know more concretely a bit further down the road.  According to Laurie, in addition to help work up the catch, I will be helping with “marine mammal watch” before and during fishing.  Since we will use a surface trawl during the day, it is possible that we could catch a marine mammal (e.g., seals and dolphins). To minimize this risk, I will help serve as a lookout  before we set and when the trawl is out, and are required to immediately stop fishing if any are spotted nearby.  I look forward to spending some time on the bow scanning the horizon for marine mammals.

Plankton
One of my favorite pics of marine diatoms (phytoplankton) from the Puget Sound. Taken with iphone camera though microscope eyepiece.

A bit more about myself and the school I represent.  I grew up loving the ocean.  Much of my life as a child was spend in or around it.  Whether snorkeling, surfing or fishing my brother and I were raised to respect and appreciate all that the ocean had to offer.  After all, my name, Kainoa, means “free as the sea”.  There is a saying in the islands, Malama ‘aina, Malama i ke kai, meaning ‘to care for the land and care for the ocean’.  After graduating from Punahou School  in Honolulu, Hawaii I headed for the great Northwest to attend the University of Puget Sound.  I participated in Athletics, Lu’au, Senior Theatre Festival and even Greek Life.  I studied Biology and spent a semester abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Even though I took Marine Biology in one of the most amazing diverse systems in the world, my favorite class had to be “The Diversity of Algae”.  It opened my eyes up to the beauty and importance of micro life for the first time.  This led to my passion for – and borderline obsession with – plankton.

After earning a Master’s in the Arts of Teaching from UPS, I began my career at the Tacoma School of the Arts teaching entry level biology.  After my second year, I was asked to join our recently founded sister school, the Tacoma Science and Math Institute (SAMI) located in Point Defiance Park on the North Tacoma peninsula.  SAMI  is built around a particular vision: we believe that students make the most of their learning when they take ownership of their education—when students intentionally choose to take on the challenge real learning entails. We further believe that this ownership most naturally develops within a learning community, encouraged by others who share that commitment.  We theme our curriculum around the math and science and emphasis the integration of disciplines and staff collaboration all the while perpetuating the pillars on which the schools were founded: community, empathy, thinking and balance.  SAMI has allowed me to pursue my passion for marine science.  We are a two minute walk to the waterfront which makes the learning opportunities for myself as students invaluable.  Between this field resource and collaborations with the University of Washington in the High School program and the University’s School of Oceanography I am in a position to offer my students a world-class learning experience.

I think it is important that teachers are always looking for opportunities to improve their practice and better educate themselves in ways that will better prepare their students for the world ahead of them.  The Teacher at Sea opportunity is an incredible way to engage myself as a life-long learner and will help me to better engage and inspire my students.  I look forward to designing and offering lessons derived from real-time science and experiences.  I am very grateful for this opportunity and can’t wait to share it with you.

See you soon,

Kainoa

 

SAMI Students
SAMI Students reflecting on a trip to Dungeness Spit, WA.

Pups
The men of the house in my absence

Sandys
A relationship founded on respect

 

Amie Ell: Fireworks, Fish, and Flukes, July 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amie Ell
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson (NOAA Ship Tracker)
June 30 – July 21, 2013

Mission: Alaska Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 6th, 2013

Location Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 55.29.300 N
Longitude: 156.25.200 W
Ship speed:   10.7 kn

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 8.6 degrees Centigrade
Surface water temperature: 8.6 degrees Centigrade
Wind speed:  14 kn
Wind direction: 210 degrees
Barometric pressure: 1008.5 mb

Science and Technology Log:

The Oscar Dyson is equipped with several labs to accommodate the researchers on board.  In this blog post I will describe to you what is happening in the wet/fish lab.  This is where I have experienced quite a bit of hands-on data collection.

Pollock being separated on the conveyor belt.
Pollock being separated on the conveyor belt.

Basket full of pollock.
Basket full of pollock.

After a trawl, the crew dumps the load of  fish into a bin.  Inside the lab we can raise or lower this bin to control the amount of fish coming onto a conveyor belt.  Once the fish are on the belt the scientists decide how they will be separated.   We separate the pollock according to age into baskets.  They are categorized by size; under 20 cm (age 1), under 30 cm (age 2), and any larger than 30 cm

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A lumpsucker

A basket full of small squid
A basket full of small squid

At this time we also pull out any other sea creatures that are not pollock.  So far we have pulled up quite a few jelly fish, la lumpsucker, shrimp, squid, eulachon, and capelin.  These are also weighed, measured, and in some cases frozen per request of scientists not currently on board.

Larger squid.
Larger squid.

After organizing the pollock into appropriate age groups, we then measure and record their weight in bulk.  Scientists are using a scale attached to a touch screen computer with a program called CLAMS to record this information.  The pollock are then dumped into a stainless steel bin where their sex will be determined.  In order to do this the fish must be cut open to look for “boy parts, or girl parts”.   After the pollock are separated into female and male bins we begin to measure their length.

This is the tool used for measuring length of the fish.
This is the tool used for measuring length of the fish.

The tool used to measure length is called the Ichthystick.  This tool is connected to the CLAMS computer system.  The fish is placed on the Ichthystick and a pointer with a magnet in it is placed at the tail end of the fish.  There are three different types of length measurement that can be done: fork length, standard length, and total length.  When the magnetic pointer touches the Ichthystick it senses that length and sends the information to the CLAMS computer system.

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Northern shrimp

One of these bins of fish is placed aside for individual weighing, length measurements, and removal of otoliths.  You may recall that I mentioned otoliths in the last blog post.  These ear bones are sent to a lab and analyzed to determine the age of each of these individually measured fish.  The Alaska Fisheries Science Center has created a demonstration program where you can try to determine the age of different types of fish by looking at their otoliths. Click here to try it yourself! (I will add hyperlink to: http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/refm/age/interactive.htm)

Personal Log:

Ben and Brian in fire gear  with flares.
Ben and Brian in fire gear with flares.

One afternoon while waiting for the fishermen to bring up the trawl net, I watched a group of porpoises swimming behind the ship.  Another day I was able to see whales from up on the bridge.  These were pretty far out and required binoculars to see any detail.  I observed many spouts, saw one breach, and some flukes as well.

There is quite a bit of downtime for me on the ship while I am waiting in between trawls.  I get to read a lot and watch movies in my free time.  I have had the opportunity to talk with different members of the crew and learn about their roles a bit.  The chief engineer gave me a tour of the engine rooms (more about this with pictures in a future post.)

The 4th of July fireworks show on the Oscar Dyson was like no others I have ever experienced.  Two of our crew, Ben & Brian, dressed in official fire gear shot expired flares off the ship into the sea.  America themed music was played over the PA system.  I have attached a video of our fireworks display.  Happy Independence Day everyone!

Stacey Jambura: Not Your Average Fish Tail Tale July 16, 2012

Stacey Jambura
July 6 – 17, 2012
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Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
(You can view the NOAA ShipTracker here: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html)
Date: July 16, 2012
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Weather Details from Bridge: (at 15:45 GMT)
Air Temperature: 28.8 ◦C
Water Temperature: 28.80 ◦C
Relative Humidity: 70 %
Wind Speed: 8.56 kts
Barometric Pressure: 1,017.68 mb

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Science and Technology Log

The Trawling Net

Trawling Net
Trawling Net

The trawling net is used to collect groundfish samples. It is deployed from the stern of the ship and towed for 30 minutes. The net is towed back in and brought onboard to be emptied. During this process it is important that everyone at the stern of the ship is wearing a hard hat and a personal flotation device in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. Once the net is lifted over the side of the ship and brought on deck, it is untied and emptied into large baskets.

Hauling the trawling net back onboard.
Hauling the trawling net back onboard.

The baskets are weighed before they are brought inside and emptied onto a large conveyor belt. The fish are spread out on the belt so they are easier to sort. The fish are sorted into individual baskets by species. Once all of the fish are sorted, we count them and find their total weight. We then work through each basket and measure, weigh, and identify the sex of each specimen. Once we are done measuring the fish, some are bagged, labeled and frozen for scientists to examine back at their labs. The rest of the fish are thrown back into the ocean.

Emptying the trawling net into baskets
Alex & Reggie emptying the net into baskets.

We found many different species of vertebrates and invertebrates (fish with a spine, and those without a spine). Here are some of the fish we found:

Vertebrates

Invertebrates

It is important to document the length and weight of each fish collected in a trawl. We used special measuring boards and scales to collect this data. There are two boards, each is connected to one computer. When we measure the fish, we use a magnetic wand. When it touches the board, it sends a signal to the computer which records the length of the fish. Fish are measure at one of three lengths: fork length, standard length, and total length. Once the fish are measured, they are placed on a scale to be weighed. The scale is also connected to the computer and records the weight of the fish.

Scale
Scale

Boards
Measuring Boards

Fork length is measured from the inside of the tail of the fish.
Fork length is measured from the inside of the tail of the fish.

Standard length is measure from the base of the tail of the fish.
Standard length is measure from the base of the tail of the fish.

Total length is measured from the tip of tail of the fish.
Total length is measured from the tip of tail of the fish.

Personal Log

Day 12 – July 16th

Today is my last day at sea before we dock in Pascagoula,Mississippi. It has been quite a journey and I can’t believe it is already over. Though the work was hard and hot (and many times smelly), it was an amazing experience and I hope to one day have the opportunity to experience it again! I have met many wonderful people and hope to keep in touch with them! I have learned so much about our oceans and the life within them. I hope that my blogs have given you a glimpse into what life onboard the Oregon II is like and I hope that you have learned something about the work that takes place on the open seas.

Map of our Survey
Map of our Survey

Although this is my last day on the Oregon II, keep an eye out for one final blog. There will be interviews with the crew of the Oregon II, what their job is, why they chose this line of work, the steps they took to become a crew member of the Oregon II, and words of advice for students everywhere!

Becky Moylan: Acoustics and Trawling, July 5, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Becky Moylan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
July 1 — 14, 2011


Mission: IEA (Integrated Ecosystem Assessment)
Geographical Area: Kona Region of Hawaii
Captain: Kurt Dreflak
Science Director: Samuel G. Pooley, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist: Evan A. Howell
Date: July 5, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 1940.29N
Longitude 15602.84W
Speed 5 knots
Course 228.2
Wind Speed 9.5 knots
Wind Dir. 180.30
Surf. Water Temp. 25.5C
Surf. Water Sal. 34.85
Air Temperature 24.8 C
Relative Humidity 76.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1013.73 mb
 Water Depth 791.50 Meters

July 5, 2011

Science and Technology Log

Work is going on 24 hours here on the ship. The crew have different shifts, so nothing ever stops. It may be 3:00 in the morning, and you’ll see people sorting fish, filtering water, or working the acoustics table.


Acoustics Computer Screen
Acoustics Computer Screen

To improve the accuracy of identifying what organisms are seen on the acoustic system, Sette researchers collect samples from the scattering layers at night using a large trawl net towed from the ship.One important part of the research here is using the acoustic system to find where groups of fish and other organisms are located. This is done with a “ping”, or noise, sent down in the ocean. The sound waves bounce back when they find something, letting scientists know where, and sometimes what, is swimming underneath. Computers keep data on all the different sound waves showing patterns of fish movement. They have found that some groups move upward during the nighttime, and then move back down during the day.

Cookie Cutter Shark
Cookie Cutter Shark

Trawl Net
Trawl Net

Every night on the ship, there is at least one trawl. The method of trawling started back in the 1400’s. Some people use these nets to catch large amounts of fish to sell, and that has been an environmental concern. NOAA is using this method as a scientific sampling, or survey, method to try and help the environment. They are trawling in the Epipalagic Zone (mid to shallow) which is around 200 meters deep, depending on the total depth at location and where the acoustics pick up signals.

Scientists want to find out the status of the smaller life in order to try and predict the outcome of the larger life. Only a small amount is caught for sampling. They weigh, sort, count, and study them. The goal is to be aware of what is happening in this area of the ocean. Some of the species they have found are different types of shrimp, squid, Myctopids, small crabs, and jellies. Last night they wound up with two Cookie Cutter Sharks. These results will then be combined with the measured acoustic data in order to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of acoustic monitoring.

Examining a Trawl Catch
Examining a Trawl Catch

Puffer Fish
Puffer Fish

One scientist from New York, Johnathan, is looking for specific species of Myctopids. He studies them under the microscope and records detailed data found. The Myctopids are sometimes called Lantern Fish. This is because they have organs that produce light. The lights are thought to be a way of communicating with other fish and also as a camouflage. As mentioned earlier, some fish rise to shallower waters at night and the Myctopid is one of these. The reason might be to avoid predators, yet also to follow zooplankton which they feed upon.


Personal Log

Abandon Ship Suits
Abandon Ship Suits

Last night some of us went out on deck to watch the Kona fireworks. I didn’t realize how far out we were until I saw how tiny the little ball of colors appeared. You could see three different areas along the coast where they were shooting off fireworks. As a fourth of July treat, the cooks barbecued on deck and made special deserts. I especially liked the sweet potato pie.

This morning I was out at 6am preparing the CTD for deployment. It is getting easier each time. There are many precautions and steps to make sure the procedure is done correctly and safely. We could only drop it to 200 meters today because this area is shallower here. I watched and learned how to control the computer from the inside. Very impressive!

CTD Screens
CTD Screens

I’m wondering when the ship is going to have another “abandon ship drill”. That’s when we all carry our floatation suits to the upstairs deck and put them on, and it is not easy to do. You lay the suit down, sit on it, and put your legs in first. Then you stand up, pull the suit hood on, then lastly the arms. This is because the hands don’t have fingers. It is quite a funny sight.

I found out today that the 3am trawl ended up with only one fish because a Cookie Cutter Shark had eaten a round hole in the net. This is where they get their name. They always bite a round hole. Some have even eaten a hole out of humans!

Jacob Tanenbaum, October 12, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacob Tanenbaum
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
October 5 – 16, 2008

Mission: Survey
Geographic Region: Northeast U.S.
Date: October 12, 2008

Science Log

Here is a sample of what has come up in the nets overnight.

Sea stars and baby invertebrates
Sea stars and baby invertebrates

Here are several different types of sea-stars. I am always amazed by the wide variety of these creatures that exist in the ocean.

a brachiopod
a brachiopod

This little fellow might not look like much, but it has an interesting history. This creature is called a brachiopod. It belongs to one of the oldest family of creatures on earth. There have been brachiopods in the sea for at least 550 million years. That is long before there were even plants on land, let alone animals and dinosaurs. It is a simple shelled animal that has a single stalk that helps is stay attached to the rocks around it. Click here to learn more about this amazing creature.

a brachiopod
a sea cucumber

Here is a sea cucumber. They live at the bottom of the sea and can be found all over the world. They are used to make medicine in some countries in Asia.

Sargassum up close
Sargassum up close

Remember that large raft of sargassum weed we saw yesterday? Some came up in the nets today. Here is what it looks like close up. She the little pockets that hold air? They help the sargassum stay afloat.

This is a sea spider.
This is a sea spider.

And of course, there is always garbage. We keep getting bits and pieces each time the nets come up. Here is a sampling. We found one entire Butterfinger candy bar with the chocolate still inside (no, we did not eat it), as well as some rope. How do you think it got here?

Let take a closer look at a sensor called a CTD. That stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. Remember the drifter buoy that we released a few days ago? It measures temperature on the top of the water and it can drift all over the ocean taking readings. A CTD takes its measurements as it descends through the water column and can go all the way to the bottom.

Trash pulled up with the rest of it
Trash pulled up with the rest of it

Have you ever seen barnicles move? They do. We found these huge barnicles in our net and we put them in water to encourage them to come out. Check out this video!

A lot of people have asked me about sea-sickness. Sea Sickness happens when your brain and body, which are constantly working to keep you balanced, get confused by the rocking of the ship. It is a terrible feeling, and I’m glad I have not been sea-sick at all on this trip. Some people do better than others on boats. I do not tend to get sea-sick unless the waves are very high, and I am used to the rocking of the ship now. The other night I was working on deck and I caught sight of the moon moving quickly across the sky. I wondered why it was moving so fast until I realized it was my ship that was moving in the sea and me with it. The moon only seemed to move. I guess that means I’m used to the rocking back and forth and hardly notice it now.

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More marine debris
More marine debris

MLL, SPL and MCL, Snuggy and Zee are having a great time and none of us are sea-sick. I put more information about it in the upper part of the blog entry. Thanks for writing.

SQ, CS, KM and VM: It is nice fall weather. Not too hot, not too cold. I love it. I have not felt uncomfortable even when I am working out on the wet deck of the ship.

GG: It is not hard to sleep at all most nights. There was only one night where the waves were high and I bounced around too much to sleep well. The rest of the nights were fine. The ship rocks me to bed at night. I do miss WOS. See you soon.

Jacob Tanenbaum, June 17, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacob Tanenbaum
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman
June 1 – 30, 2006

Mission: Bering Sea Fisheries Research
Geographic Region: Bering Sea
Date: June 17, 2006

Smooth Lumpsucker fish.
Smooth Lumpsucker fish.

Weather Data from the Bridge

Visibility: 14 miles
Wind Speed: 25 miles per hour
Sea Wave Height 7: feet
Water Temperature: 44.06 degrees
Air Temperature: 44.96 degrees
Pressure: 1009 Millibars

Personal Log

NOTE: We will arrive in the port of Dutch Harbor, Alaska on June 20. As the project draws to a close, I would like to evaluate how effective it was. There is a link to an electronic survey. I would like to ask students, teachers, parents, and other visitors to the site to take a few moments to let me know what you think of this idea. The survey is all electronic and only takes a minute or two to complete. Thank you in advance for your time. Click here to access the survey.

Well, we had pea soup for lunch today, also called storm soup by sailors. Legend is that when you serve pea soup, the weather will turn stormy, and sure enough, a gale is blowing nearby and the waves are picking up. The soup was great, though. As the ship rocks and rolls to the rhythm of the waves, lets take a closer look at how it moves. Sailors have lots of different terms for ships movement:

Pitch – refers to the up and down movement of the front, and back, or bow and stern of the ship

Yaw — when the ship spins from side to side.

Heave — When the entire ship moves up and down.

Roll — When the ship rocks from side to side.

Surge – When the ship jumps forward or backward.

Sway – When the ship jumps sideways.

Happy Father’s Day to all. A special hello to my own father, Elias, and my two son’s Nicky and Simon. I miss you, guys.

Science Log

Our trawl nets picked up the smooth lumpsucker fish near the bottom last night. This fish tends to say near the bottom and can inflate itself with water as a defense against predators. A good defense, I would say. Would you want to eat it?

Our survey continues. We brought in two hauls of fish this morning. Tamara is having less time on the bridge looking for birds in the last day or so. Her time is limited because we are fishing more and a large group of birds following a fishing net is not considered a natural occurrence, so she does not count them in her study. If the waves are too high, she cannot see the small birds in the troughs of the waves, so she can’t count during heavy seas, and right now, the seas are fairly heavy.

Question of the Day:

Look at the movements of the ship described above. When the ship drives into the wind and waves, sailors call it a corkscrew motion. Can you think why?

Answer to Yesterday’s Question

It is about 8:00 AM on Saturday morning. If the ship uses 2100 gallons of fuel a day, how many gallons of fuel will we need to get to Dutch Harbor on Tuesday Morning at about 8:00 AM?

It will take 3 days to reach Dutch Harbor. Since the ship uses 2100 gallons of fuel a day, we have to multiply 2100 x 3 which equals 6300 gallons of fuel. Enough for my car to drive 157500 miles. Wow.

Answers to Your Questions

Hello to James H from yesterday.

Thanks for writing