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.

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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.