Christopher Tait: Suburban Wilderness, March 27, 2017

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Tait

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

March 21, 2017 to April 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from San Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA

Date: March 27, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 3:35 PDT,

Current Location: near San Nicolas Island, Latitude 33.3 N Longitude -119.2 W

Air Temperature 16.0 oC  (59.5 oF)

Water Temperature 14.9 oC  (58.6 oF)

Wind Speed 19 kts

Barometric pressure 1014.64 hPa

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San Nicolas Island from the Reuben Lasker

Science and Technology Log

Acoustic Trawl

There is a lot of advanced equipment that is used to do a survey of fish that spans the coast of California. The Reuben Lasker has been fitted with state of the art echo-sounders (Figure 1), which send out pulses of sound that bounce off objects and return to the ship in the form of backscatter.  Looking at the backscatter data you can create a profile of the water column and see a variety of organisms swimming beneath the ship.  The target species for the research is the Northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax) and Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax).  The schools of fish are detected using a range of frequencies.  Looking at graphical representations of these data, or echograms, you can see the bottom as an area with strong echoes and, at times, you can see an area of high-intensity back scatter higher in the water column such as a school of fish or an aggregation of krill or plankton (figure 2).  This would be a school of fish, krill or other organisms.  The geographic location of the school is marked for a return by the ship at night for collection using a trawl.  To conduct a thorough survey, the ship travels back and forth between the coast and a predetermined distance out to sea across the predicted habitat of the target species (Figure 3.)  Scientists referred to this as “mowing the lawn.”

 Figure 1: Reuben Lasker Acoustic-Sampling Beams

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©2014 Oceanography, Volume 27, number 4, Zwolinski et al.

Figure 2: An example echogram, showing the seabed and various sound scatterers in the water column.

Echogram

Figure 3 : Survey Map of the Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey 2017

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Scientist Profile:

The Cruise Leader, Kevin Stierhoff, is a fisheries scientist who works for the Advanced Survey Technologies group at NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) in San Diego, CA.  Not only has he been effectively managing this complex science expedition, he has gone out of his way to make me feel welcome and a part of this scientific endeavor.

 

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

I earned a B.S. in Biology, a Ph.D. in Marine Studies, and completed several postdoctoral research appointments prior to getting hired by NOAA. The work that my colleagues and I do at the SWFSC is very interdisciplinary, and the variety of educational and research experiences that I’ve had prepared me become a researcher at NOAA.

What do you like best about your career?

I consider myself lucky to have a job with a variety of duties. Not only do I spend time in the office analyzing data, but I also get to spend time at sea conducting survey and collecting data. When I’m not using acoustics to study pelagic fishes that migrate between Canada and Mexico, I use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs, or undersea robots) to survey endangered abalone that live on rocky reefs in the deep sea. When I’m not at sea, I’m analyzing the data that we collected at sea to communicate the results of our work.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

Increasingly, a research career in marine biology requires a graduate degree to allow for maximal career advancement. If possible, take some time after undergrad to work in a job related to your career goals. This will allow you to focus your interests before choosing a graduate program, or perhaps discover that you don’t actually like that career path (better to find out sooner than later!) or that you don’t require a graduate degree to do the job that really interests you (which will save you lots of time and money). Most importantly, choose a job that you look forward to going to every day.

 

Personal Log

It is dark out, but as I look down from high atop the ship through an open window from the bridge, the lights of Long Beach reflect on the placid expanse of ocean and I come to a great moment of reflection.  One of the busiest ports in the world is just off in the distance and I am looking for marine mammals in this suburban wilderness.  Beside the glow of humanity, nature continues on.

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Long Beach, California

I have been mostly helping with analyzing organisms that came up in the trawl at night, so my work schedule has moved to a 6 pm to 6 am.  I am struck by how hardworking, dedicated, and driven all members of this expedition are.  The crew, scientists, and NOAA Corps collaborate to continuously run surveys 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  I am enjoying working at night now even though it took me a few days to get use to all of the adjustments in my schedule.  I particularly enjoy doing the marine mammal watch from the bridge.  It gives you this aerial point of view of all the action the NOAA Corps expertly navigating the ship and coordinating operations, the deck crew masterfully deploying nets and equipment, and the scientists excitedly exploring the organisms we collect.

Catch of the Day!

Haliphron atlanticusThis strange creature is a gelatinous octopus, whose body resembles a jellyfish, but when you look close, you see eyes looking at you!

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Haliphron atlanticus

Boreal Clubhook Squid (Onychoteuthis borealijaponicus)

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Boreal Clubhook Squid (Onychoteuthis borealijaponicus)

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) is the strangest fish I have ever seen! It is one of the heaviest bony fish, surprisingly from a diet high in jellyfish and salps. We caught a small and large sunfish.

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TAS Chris Tait holds an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)

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Measuring the ocean sunfish…

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Slide to Freedom!

Pacific Saury (Cololabis saira): This fast looking fish hunts plankton at night near the surface.

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Pacific Saury (Cololabis saira)

Curlfin Turbot (Pleuronichthys decurrens): This juvenile flatfish rises to the water surface at night to hunt zooplankton.  Flatfish have an eye that migrates from one side of their body to the other as they develop.

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Curlfin Turbot (Pleuronichthys decurrens)

Christopher Tait: Catch of the Day, March 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Tait

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

March 21 – April 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from San Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA

Date: March 21, 2017

 

The Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey will be conducted in 2 legs between San Diego and Cape Mendocino, CA.  The ship will have a port call in San Francisco, CA between survey legs.

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Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 4:38 PDT,

Current Location: near San Clemente Island, Latitude 32.9 N Longitude -118.96 W

Air Temperature 15.3 oC  (59.5 oF)

Water Temperature 14.8 oC  (58.6 oF)

Wind Speed 13 kts

Barometric pressure 1021.15 hPa

Science and Technology Log

Trawling

                The ship trawls for schooling coastal pelagic fish from sundown to sunrise. This is because, under the protection of darkness, the zooplankton come up toward the surface to feed on phytoplankton and the planktivorous fish, in turn, follow the zooplankton.  Before the trawl net can be deployed, you have to go to the bridge, or the upper floor on the ship where all navigation and operations occur, to do a marine mammal watch for 30 minutes.  A marine mammal watch is a lookout for dolphins or other marine mammals that might be in the vicinity of the ship to avoid catching them in the trawl.  It is difficult to see any dolphins or sea lions in the inky blackness of the night ocean, but this is important to prevent incidental catch.  My first time up to the bridge at night was a surprise.  Walking up the lit stairs, you open the door to the bridge and the whole area is in darkness with just faint red lights so you can see.   After a while your eyes adjust and you make you way to the port or starboard sides of the bridge to start the watch. After you determine that the coast is clear, it is time for the deck crew to start deploying the net.  There is big overhead rigging with winches to help lift the net, ropes, chains, and buoys up to lower them down into the water.  We drag the net behind the boat for 45 minutes and then haul it in, hopefully full of fish!  When the fish are on the boat there is an elaborate process to gather information about the catch.

 Catch of the Day

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Pelagic Red Crab (Pleuroncodes planipes)

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Sorting buckets filled with Pelagic Red Crab

 

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Market Squid (Doryteuthis opalescens)

 

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Pyrosome (colonial tunicate)

 

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Greater Argonaut (Argonauta argo)

 

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King of the Salmon (Trachipterus altivelis)

 

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The Wet Lab where the catch is sorted.

Personal Log

3/21/17

Today is the first day at sea and everyone is busy setting up their labs and calibrating their equipment.  The goal of the research is to survey the distributions and abundances of the coastal pelagic fish stocks, their prey, and their biotic and abiotic environment in the California Current Ecosystem.  The Reuben Lasker is a state of the art research vessel with many specialized research laboratories.

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NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

Coronado Bridge out my window.                                                      My State Room

3/22/17

I’m getting used to the 24 hour nature of the expedition. Everyone is assigned a 12 hour shift and I’m working 12 pm to 12 am.  During the day I am currently observing the methods and trying to assist where I can.  At night there are multiple trawls.  2 to 5 trawl are planned each night.  We caught a variety of different organisms, which are weighted, measured for length, and some saved for further studies such as genetic analysis.

 

3/23/17

Today I woke up to rough seas with waves about 8 feet, which made it very difficult to get moving!  As I moved around the ship everyone smiled because we know how each other are feeling.  The seas calmed later in the day and everyone felt much better.  Looking forward to doing our trawl tonight!

 

Did You Know?

The King of the Salmon got their name from the Makah people who believed the fish lead salmon to their spawning rivers.

The Argonaut looks like a nautilus, but they are really an octopus in which the female creates an egg case that wraps around the body.

 

Cathrine Prenot: A Fish Tale, Too Big to Fail. July 18, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cathrine Prenot
Aboard the Bell M. Shimada
July 17-July 30, 2016

 

Mission: 2016 California Current Ecosystem: Investigations of hake survey methods, life history, and associated ecosystem

Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast from Newport, OR to Seattle, WA

Date: July 18, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Lat: 45º19.7 N
Lon: 124º21.6 W
COG: 11.2
Speed: 17.1 knots
Air Temp: 16.4 degrees Celsius
Barometer (mBars): 1019.54
Relative Humidity: 84%

Science and Technology Log

It is exciting to be out to sea on “Leg 2” of this cruise! The official title of our research is “2016 California Current Ecosystem: Investigations of hake survey methods, life history, and associated ecosystem.” One of the key portions of this leg of the trip is to collect data on whether or not a piece of equipment called the “Marine Mammal Excluder Device” (MMED) makes any difference in the fish lengths or the species we catch. Here is how it works (all images from Evaluation of a marine mammal excluder device (MMED) for a Nordic 264 midwater rope trawl):

The catch swims towards the codend of the net and encounters the MMED

The catch swim towards the codend of the net and encounter the MMED

The catch encounters the grate; some go through the grate while others escape the net through the hatch (shown by the orange buoy).

Some of the catch go through the grate (to the codend) while others escape the net through the hatch (shown by the orange buoy).

Why is this important?  For example, if all of one type of fish in a trawl escape through this MMED, we would be getting a different type of sample than we would if the equipment was off the nets.  Our lead scientist, Dr. Sandy Parker-Stetter explained: “If all the rockfish go out the top escape panel, how will we know they were there?”   To collect data on this, we will be doing a lot of trawls—or fishing, for those non-sea faring folk—some with the MMED and others without it. These will be small catches, we need about 300-400 fish, but enough to be able to make a determination if the equipment effect the data in any way.

We have done a few trawls already, and here are some of the photos from them:

'Young of the Year' Hake

‘Young of the Year’ Hake

Pacific Hake sample

Pacific Hake sample

Wanted: must love fish. And science.

Wanted: must love fish. And science.

All of this reminds me of why we are so concerned with accurately estimating the population of a little fish. To illustrate, let me tell you a story—a story of a fishery thought too big to fail—the Great Banks Atlantic Cod fishery. Why don’t you click on Issue 2 of Adventures in a Blue World: A Fish Tale, Too Big to Fail.

Adventures in a Blue World, CNP. A Fish Tale: Too Big to Fail

Adventures in a Blue World, CNP. A Fish Tale: Too Big to Fail

Cod populations decreased to such a degree (1% of previous numbers), that the Canadian Government issued a moratorium on Cod fishing in 1992.  Our mission—to investigate of hake survey methods, life history, and associated ecosystem—is designed to prevent such a devastating result. We don’t want Hake or other species to go the same route.

Atlantic Cod circa 1920s: from here

Personal Log

We left the left the dock on Sunday at 1145, and made our way under the Newport Bridge and out to sea. It was really wonderful to watch the ship leave the harbor from way up on the Flying Bridge—the top-most deck of the ship. There are four tall chairs (bolted to the deck) at the forward end of the deck, an awning, and someone even rigged a hammock between two iron poles. It is rather festive, although again, there were no drinks with umbrellas being brought to us.

View of Newport, OR from the flying bridge of the Shimada

View of Newport, OR from the flying bridge of the Shimada

I didn’t have any problems with seasickness on my last voyage, but I did take some meds just in case. One of the researchers said that he doesn’t take any meds any more, he just gets sick once or twice and then feels much better. If you are interested, here is a link to my previous cartoon about why we are sea-sick, and how and why ginger actually works just as well as other OTC drugs. All I can say now is that I’m typing this blog in the acoustics lab, and the ship does seem to be moving rather alarmingly from fore to aft–called pitching.  Maybe I should find a nice porthole. In the meanwhile, you can read “Why are we seasick.”

 

Did You Know?

The end of the fishing net is called the codend.  Who knew?  This and many more things can be learned about fishing from reading this handy reference guide.

Andrea Schmuttermair, Pollock Processing Gone Wild, July 12, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 6 – 25, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 12, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 55 25.5N
Longitude: 155 44.2W
Sea wave height: 2ft
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wind Direction: 244 degrees
Visibility: 10nm
Air Temperature: 11.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1002.4 mbar
Sky:  Overcast

Science and Technology Log

I’m sure you’re all wondering what the day-to-day life of a scientist is on this ship. As I said before, there are several projects going on, with the focus being on assessing the walleye pollock population. In my last post I talked about the transducers we have on the ship that help us detect fish and other ocean life beneath the surface of the ocean. So what happens with all these fish we are detecting?

The echogram that shows data from the transducers.

The echogram that shows data from the transducers.

The transducers are running constantly as the ship runs, and the information is received through the software on the computers we see in the acoustics lab. The officers running the ship, who are positioned on the bridge, also have access to this information. The scientists and officers are in constant  communication, as the officers are responsible for driving the ship to specific locations along a pre-determined track. The echograms (type of graph) that are displayed on the computers show scientists where the bottom of the ocean floor is, and also show them where there are various concentrations of fish.

This is a picture of pollock entering the net taken  from the CamTrawl.

This is a picture of pollock entering the net taken from the CamTrawl.

When there is a significant concentration of pollock, or when the data show something unique, scientists might decide to “go fishing”. Here they collect a sample in order to see if what they are seeing on the echogram matches what comes up in the catch. Typically we use the Aleutian wing trawl (AWT) to conduct a mid-water trawl. The AWT is 140 m long and can descend anywhere from 30-1,000 meters into the ocean. A net sounder is mounted at the top of the net opening. It transmits acoustic images of fish inside and outside of the net in real time and is displayed on a bridge computer to aide the fishing operation. At the entrance to the codend (at the end of the net) a CamTrawl takes images of what is entering the net.

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Once the AWT is deployed to the pre-determined depth, the scientists carefully monitor acoustic images to catch an appropriate sample. Deploying the net is quite a process, and requires careful communication between the bridge officers and the deck crew. It takes about an hour for the net to go from its home on deck to its desired depth, and sometimes longer if it is heading into deeper waters. They aim to collect roughly 500 fish in order to take a subsample of about 300 fish. Sometimes the trawl net will be down for less than 5 minutes, and other times it will be down longer. Scientists are very meticulous about monitoring the amount of fish that goes into the net because they do not want to take a larger sample than needed. Once they have determined they have the appropriate amount, the net is hauled back onto the back deck and lowered to a table that leads into the wet lab for processing.

Here the scientists, LT Rhodes, and ENS Kaiser assess the catch.

Here the scientists, LT Rhodes, and ENS Kaiser assess the catch.

We begin by sorting through the catch and pulling out anything that is not pollock. We don’t typically have too much variety in our catches, as pollock is the main fish that we are after. We have, however, pulled in a few squid, isopods, cod, and several jellies. All of the pollock in the catch gets weighed, and then a sub-sample of the catch is processed further. A subsample of 30 pollock is taken to measure, weigh, collect otoliths from, and occasionally we will also take ovaries from the females. There are some scientists back in the lab in Seattle that are working on special projects related to pollock, and we also help these scientists in the lab collect their data.

The rest of the sub-sample (roughly 300 pollock) is sexed and divided into a male (blokes) and female (sheilas) section of the table. From there, the males and females are measured for their length. The icthystick, the tool we use to measure the length of each fish, is pretty neat because it uses a magnet to send the length of the fish directly to the computer system we use to collect the data, CLAMS. CLAMS stands for Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Survey. In the CLAMS system, a histogram is made, and we post the graphs in the acoustics lab for review. The majority of our pollock so far have been year 3. Scientists know this based on the length of pollock in our catch. Once all of the fish have been processed, we have to make sure to clean up the lab too. This is a time I am definitely thankful we have foul weather gear, which consists of rubber boots, pants, jackets and gloves. Fish scales and guts can get everywhere!

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Personal Log

Here is one of many jellies that we caught. .

Here is one of many jellies that we caught. .

I am finally adjusting to my nighttime shift schedule, which took a few days to get used to. Luckily, we do have a few hours of darkness (from about midnight until 6am), which makes it easier to fall asleep. My shift runs from 4pm-4am, and I usually head to bed not long after my shift is over, and get up around noontime to begin my day. It’s a little strange to be waking up so late in the day, and while it is clearly afternoon time when I emerge from my room, I still greet everyone with a good morning. The eating schedule has taken some getting used to- I find that I still want to have breakfast when I get up. Dinner is served at 5pm, but since I eat breakfast around 1 or 2pm, I typically make myself a plate and set it aside for later in the evening when I’m hungry again. I’ll admit it’s a little strange to be eating dinner at midnight. There is no shortage of food on board, and our stewards make sure there are plenty of snacks available around the clock. Salad and fruit are always options, as well as some less healthy but equally tasty snacks. It’s hard to resist some of the goodies we have!

Luckily, we are equipped with some exercise equipment on board to battle those snacks, which is helpful as you can only walk so far around the ship. I’m a fan of the rowing machine, and you feel like you’re on the water when the boat is rocking heavily. We have some free weights, an exercise bike and even a punching bag. I typically work out during some of my free time, which keeps me from going too crazy when we’re sitting for long periods of time in the lab.

Up on the bridge making the turn for our next transect.

Up on the bridge making the turn for our next transect.

During the rest of my free time, you might find me hanging out in the lounge watching a movie (occasionally), but most of the time you’ll find me up on the bridge watching for whales or other sea life. The bridge is probably one of my favorite places on the ship, as it is equipped with windows all around, and binoculars for checking out the wildlife. When the weather is nice, it is a great place to sit outside and soak in a little vitamin D. I love the fact that even the crew members that have been on this ship for several years love seeing the wildlife, and never tire of looking out for whales. So far, we’ve seen orcas, humpbacks, fin whales, and Dall’s porpoises.

 

 

 

Did you know? Otoliths, which are made of calcium carbonate, are unique to each species of fish.

Where on the ship is Wilson?

Wilson the ring tail camo shark is at it again! He has been exploring the ship even more and made his way here. Can you guess where he is now?

Where's Wilson?

Where’s Wilson?

Where's Wilson?

Where’s Wilson?

David Walker: Crossing the Mississippi River Delta (Days 10-12), July 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Walker
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 24 – July 9, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 5, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather Log 7/5/15

NOAA Ship Oregon II Weather Log 7/5/15

This has been some of the smoothest water I’ve seen yet on the ocean.  At times, you can’t even see wave motion on the surface of the ocean, and it looks more like a lake.  On July 5, 2015, waves were estimated to be 1 ft. in height, at most (see above weather log from the bridge).  Sky condition on July 5 began as scattered (SCT, 3-4 oktas), moved to broken (BKN, 5-7 oktas) and overcast (OVC, 8 oktas) by the afternoon and evening, and then returned to FEW (1-2 oktas) by 11 PM.  There was rain observed in the vicinity (VC/RA) at 4 PM, and some lightning (LTG) was observed in the late evening.

Science and Technology Log

The survey is still progressing smoothly.  We have just crossed the Mississippi River delta, and I have observed a much greater human presence in the water — many ships, mostly commercial shrimping vessels, and even more oil rigs than usual.

Of particular interest to me, we have caught many new species over the past couple of days.  One notable new catch on Day 11 was a giant hermit crab (Petrochirus diogenes), the largest species in the Gulf of Mexico.  In most cases, hermit crabs need to be removed from their shells in order to be successfully identified.  This process was much more difficult than I had imagined, and I ended up having to use a hammer to crack the shell.  The crab contained within was indeed large – it amazed me that such a large species could occupy such a moderately-sized shell.  After analyzing the crab in the laboratory, we quickly returned it to the ocean, in the hope that it would find another shell in which to occupy and survive.

Another interesting catch on Day 11 was a seabiscuit (Brissopsis alta).  This organism was caught at a station overlying a sandy/muddy bottom, this type of seafloor environment providing a habitat for these unique creatures.  We were able to prep the seabiscuit with bleach in the same manner in which we prepped the sand dollars a couple of days ago.  The product was a purely white – a very delicate, yet quite beautiful specimen for my classroom.  Much thanks to fisheries biologist Kevin Rademacher for his help in preparing these organisms.

On Days 11 and 12, we caught some particularly large individuals, which made for great photo opportunities.  On Day 11, we caught the largest roundel skate (Raja texana) that we’ve seen yet, and on Day 12, we netted a large gulf smoothhound (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), a shark species that interestingly has no teeth.  The rest of the night shift was encouraging me to take a photo with my hand down the shark’s mouth, but I settled for the typical catch photo.  This shark was swiftly returned to the water (head first) after laboratory analysis was conducted, and it survived the catch.

As we have to open up fish in order to sex them, it is a natural investigative temptation to look at the other anatomy inside the fish.  A usual focal point is the stomach, as many times, fish stomachs are very disproportionately bloated.  Many times, enlargement of organisms such as the air bladder, stomach, and eyes of caught fish is due to barotrauma.  When a fish is quickly taken from deep waters to the surface, the pressure rapidly decreases, causing internal gases to expand.  In certain cases, we have discovered very recently eaten fish inside organisms’ stomachs.  One particularly interesting example was the stomach of a threadtail conger (Uroconger syringinus), in which we found a yellow conger (Rhynchoconger flavus) of equal size!

Uroconger Ate Rhyncoconger

We found the yellow conger on the right inside the stomach of the threadtail conger on the left! Photo credit to Kevin Rademacher.

I have started to realize the very subtle differences between some species.  One great example of such subtle variance is found in two similar sole species – the fringed sole (Gymnachirus texae) and the naked sole (Gymnachirus melas).  The naked sole contains a faint secondary stripe in between each of the bold stripes on its back; the fringed sole does not have this stripe.  During our initial sorting of species, I unwittingly threw both of these species into the same basket.  Fortunately, fisheries biologist Kevin Rademacher noticed what I was doing and identified the distinguishing phenotypic difference.  I have adjusted the brightness, contrast, and shadowing of the below photos to make the difference in striping more apparent.

Flatfish, such as the soles above, have a very interesting developmental pattern from juvenile to adult.  Fisheries biologists Kevin Rademacher and Alonzo Hamilton were able to nicely summarize it for me.  As juveniles, they start off with eyes on both sides of their heads and swim in the same manner as normal fish.  However, once they get large enough to swim out of the current, they “settle out” onto the seafloor.  At this time, a very interesting series of morphological changes takes place.  Notably, the eyes of the fish migrate such that they are both on one side of the fish’s body.  This morphological change has clearly been evolutionary favored over generations, as it allows the fish to see with both of its eyes while slithering along the seafloor.  The side of the fish on which the eyes end up depends on the particular species of fish.  Flatfish are accordingly categorically defined as “right-eyed” or “left-eyed,” based on the side of the fish containing the eyes.  The procedure is fairly simple to define a flatfish a right-eyed or left-eyed.

  1. Look down at the side of the fish containing both of the eyes.
  2. Orient the fish such that the eye that migrated from the opposite side is on top.
  3. If the head faces left, the flatfish is defined as left-eyed.
  4. Otherwise, it is defined as right-eyed.

On many occasions, we have been able to keep some of our catch to later eat.  I have had fresh white shrimp, brown shrimp, red snapper, lane snapper, vermillion snapper, hogfish, and even paper scallops.  I have obtained lots of practice heading shrimp and fileting fish, as well as shucking scallops.  It has been very interesting to visualize the entire process, from catch to table.  It is true what they say, incredibly fresh seafood tastes much better.  Most of the credit here goes to Chief Steward (CS) Mike Sapien and Second Cook (2C) Lydell Reed, the chefs on the ship.

Also after my shift, I was able to visit the ship’s bridge for the first time during the day.  The environment at night is quite different on the bridge, as the NOAA Corps Officers driving the ship need to keep their eyes adjusted to the dark.  Accordingly, the only lights used in the bridge at night are red, reminding me of the lights used by the scientists I observed on a recent night trip to the UT McDonald Observatory.  My trip to the bridge during the day allowed me to observe the operation of the ship and many instruments clearly for the first time.  It was honestly quite intimidating — so many instruments, controls, and dials, and I had no clue what any of them did.  I was very scared to touch anything – the only instrument with which I braved to interact was a very nice pair of binoculars.  The ship is always driven by NOAA Corps Commissioned Officers.  During the time of my observation, Ensign (ENS) Laura Dwyer, a Junior Officer, and Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTRG) Larry Thomas, the ship’s Operations Officer, were on the bridge.  The Captain (Commanding Officer) of the ship, Master David Nelson, entered and exited periodically.  ENS Dwyer was very kind to point out to me different instruments on the bridge and discuss the operating of the ship.  Interestingly, the NOAA Ship Oregon II operates on a system similar to that of a car with a manual transmission – while the ship has two engines instead of one, each engine has a clutch.  There is also a controllable pitch system that allows the operator of the ship to change the angle of the propeller.  There are two RADAR devices, as well multiple GPS navigational systems, on which the stations of the survey are plotted.  The are multiples of each of these important ship systems as a safety measure.  Despite the GPS systems, the ship still has a chart table on the bridge, and even a chart room, where routes are plotted out in more detail.  The helm, which controls the rudder, is still a large, prominent wheel, just as it was in the pirate stories I read as a child.  ENS Dwyer told me, however, that helms are much more abbreviated in appearance in more modern ships.  She indicated that many members of the NOAA Corps appreciate the “vintage” feel of the bridge of the NOAA Ship Oregon II — the ship will be 50 years old in 2017!

We have more or less finished the intended stations for Leg 2 of this survey, but as we still have time left before we are due back in port, we have received orders to proceed through to Leg 3 stations.  These stations are entirely across the Gulf of Mexico, along the western coast of Florida.  The traveling time there is over 14 hours by boat, and we will be traveling more or less as the crow flies.  I am really looking forward to these new stations, as I have heard the biodiversity is vastly different.

Survey Locations

Sections of the 2015 SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey

Personal Log

Ever since my shift on Day 11, in which I felt particularly fatigued and engorged, I have been completing cardio workouts daily.  There is quite a bit of workout equipment stored in various places throughout the ship, and I have finally found an enjoyable cardio workout.  I am using a rowing machine that I found on the top deck of the ship, and I set it up to face the direction of the ship’s movement.  In this way, when I row, I feel as though I am actually pushing the boat through the water.  The wave motion and periodic jostling of the ship makes the rowing machine feel even more like the real thing, and I am forced to recall my days rowing at the crack of dawn on Lake Dunmore near Middlebury, Vermont while in college.

Workout Setup

My workout setup on the top deck of the ship

The Fourth of July on the boat was free of any special pomp and circumstance.  It was, more than anything, just another work day.  Fortunately, all of the employees on the boat get paid overtime for working this day, as well as weekend days.  I definitely missed the Zilker fireworks celebration in Austin (TX), but it was meaningful to be on a boat with members of the NOAA Corps, a Commissioned Service of the United States, on this important day for America.

I have made significant progress in Tender is the Night and am almost finished.  I have also spent free time watching the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Wimbledon Championships on the satellite television upstairs.

Regarding my sleep, I have finally stopped taking Dramamine®.  Lo and behold, I have had no more nightmares, this lending further support to my theory that Dramamine® was the cause.

The days are still very exciting, and I have yet to encounter a day without a great deal of fresh learning.  On to Florida!

Did You Know?

The Navy Motion Picture Service provides encrypted DVDs for use on deployed ships.  In the upstairs lounge, there are well over 700 DVDs, from classics to quite new releases, organized for anyone to watch in their free time.

DVD Binder

On of the many DVD binders on the ship, courtesy of the Navy Motion Picture Service

Notable Species Seen

David Walker: Equilibrium at Sea (Days 6-9), July 3, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Walker
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 24 – July 9, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 3, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather Log 7/2/15

NOAA Ship Oregon II Weather Log 7/2/15

Weather has fortunately continued to be calm.  The only main deviation from clear skies has been haziness (symbolized “HZ” on the above weather log from 7/2/15).  On 7/2/15, sky condition varied from FEW (3-4 octas) in the very early morning, to SCT (3-4 octas) and BKN (5-7 octas) at midday and afternoon, to SCT (3-4 octas) in the evening and night.  Swell waves have varied throughout the past couple of days, from less that 1 meter to around 3 meters in height.

Science and Technology Log

The past few days honestly blend completely together in my mind.  I feel as though I have reached an equilibrium of sorts on the boat.  The night shift has proceeded normally – station to station, trawl to trawl, CTD data collection at each station, plankton collected periodically throughout the shift.  Certain trawl catches have been exceptionally muddy, which poses a further task, as the organisms must first be separated from all of the mud and cleaned, before they can be identified.

In addition, on Day 6, the trawl net was damaged on a couple of occasions.  I’ve realized that a trawl rig is quite the complicated setup.  The trawling we are doing is formally called “otter trawling”.  Two boards are attached at the top of the rig to aid in spreading out the net underwater.  To allow the net to open underwater, one of the two lead lines of the net contains floats to elevate it in the water column.  A “tickler chain” precedes the lead lines to stir fish from the sea floor and into the net.  The fish collected by the net are funneled into the terminating portion of the net, called the “cod end”.  FMES Warren Brown is an expert when it comes to this entire rig, and he is in charge of fixing problems when they arise.  On Day 6, Warren had to fix breaks in the net twice.  With help from Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols and Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin, new brummel hooks were attached to the head rope for one of the door lifting lines, and a new tickler chain was installed.

I also learned a lot more of the specifics involved in the workup of the plankton catch.  The dual bongo contains two collection nets in parallel.  Plankton is removed from the cod ends of these nets, but not combined.  The plankton from the left bongo is transferred to a mixture of formaldehyde (10% v/v) and sea water for preservation.  The plankton from the right bongo is transferred to 95% ethanol.  The reason for this is that different solvent mixtures are needed to best preserve different parts of the plankton in the sample.  The formaldehyde solution is best for fixing tissue, yet it tends to dissolve hard parts (for example, otoliths, discussed below).  The ethanol solution is better for preserving hard parts (bones, cartilage, etc.).  This explains the need for two bongos.  Workup of collected plankton from the Neuston net is similar, except many non-plankton species are often collected, which have to be removed from the sample.  Highlight non-plankton species from the past couple days have been sailfin flyingfish (Parexocoetus brachypterus) and a juvenile billfish (Istiophoridae).  Neuston-collected plankton is transferred to 95% ethanol.  This solvent is the only one needed here, as only DNA analysis and stock assessment are conducted on Neuston-collected plankton.  All plankton is shipped to Poland, where a lab working in collaboration with NOAA will analyze it.  Samples are broken down according to a priority species list sent by NOAA.

The CTD survey is coming along nicely.  Progress through July 1 is shown on the below bottom dissolved oxygen contour.  Similar trends to those commented on in my last blog post continue to be observed, as a further area of hypoxia has been exposed near the coastline.  You can see that our survey is progressing east toward Mississippi (we will finish this leg in Pascagoula, MI, though the survey will continue on to the Florida coast during Leg 3).

A couple of other distinct memories stand out in my mind from the past couple of days:

  • Sexing “ripe” fish. Sometimes, certain species of fish are so fertile over the summer that certain individuals are deemed “ripe”.  Instead of cutting into these fish, they can be more easily sexed by applying pressure toward that anus and looking for the expression of semen or eggs.  One of the species for which this technique is most often applied this time of year is the Atlantic cutlassfish (Trichiurus lepturus).  One must be careful, however, for as I found out, the gametes sometimes emit from the anus with much force, shooting across the room.  It only takes wiping fish semen off of your face once to remember this forever.
  • Flying fish. I saw my first flyingfish (Exocoetidae) during a plankton collection with the neuston net.  The net would scatter the fish, and they would fly for cover, sometimes 10-15 meters in distance.  Amazing.
  • Preparing sand dollars. Interestingly, the sand dollars we caught (Clypeaster ravenelii) looked brown/green when they came out of the ocean.  Sand dollars are naturally brownish, and in the ocean, they are most often covered in algae.  We kept a couple of these organisms to prepare.  To prepare, we first placed the sand dollars in a dilute bleach solution for awhile.  We then removed them and shook out the sand and internal organs.  We then placed them back in the bleach for a little longer, until they looked white, with no blemishes.  The contrast between the sand dollar, as removed from the ocean, and this pure white is quite remarkable.
  • Otoliths.  Fisheries biologist Kevin Rademacher showed me a nifty way to remove the otoliths from fish.  Otoliths, “commonly known as ‘earstones,’ are hard calcium carbonate structures located behind the brain of bony fishes,” which “aid fish in balance and hearing” (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).  When viewed under microscope and refracted light, otoliths show a pattern of dark translucent zones (representing period of quick growth) and white opaque zone (representing periods of slower growth).  By counting the white opaque zones (called “annuli”), fisheries biologists can estimate the age of the fish.  Granted, this process differs for different fish, as different fish species have different otolith size.  Accordingly, a species standard is always prepared (usually a fish raised from spawn, from which the otoliths are taken at a known age) to estimate the growth time associated with one whole annulus for the particular species.  Sample otoliths are compared to the standard to estimate age.  Otolith analysis also allows scientists to estimate “growth rates,…age at maturity, and trends of future generations” (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).  On this survey, we only take otoliths from fish that are wanted for further laboratory analysis, but are too large to store in the freezer.  On some surveys, however, otoliths are removed from all fish caught.  I got to remove the otoliths from a large red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).  The first step is to make an incision to separate the tongue and throat from the lower jaw.  The hand is then inserted into the hole created, and using a fair bit of force, the throat and gills are ripped away from the head to expose the vertebrae.  The gills are then cut from the base of the vertebrae, to expose the bony bulb containing the sagittal otoliths.  Diagonal cutters are then used to crack open the boney bulb containing the sagittal otoliths, and the otoliths are removed using forceps.

Personal Log

I am still feeling great on the boat.  The work is quite tiring, and I usually go straight to the shower and the bed after my shift ends.  Interestingly, I think I’m actually gaining quite a bit of weight.  The work is hard and the food is excellent, so I’ve been eating a bunch. I’ve been getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, which is more than I normally get when I am at home, especially during the school year.  One thing I have been noticing ever since the trip started is that I have been having quite nightmarish dreams every night.  This is rare for me, as I usually either don’t have dreams or can’t remember the ones that occur.  I initially thought that this might be due to the rocking of the boat, or maybe to the slight change in my diet, but I think I’ve finally found the culprit – Dramamine®.  Research has indicated that this anti-motion sickness drug can cause “disturbing dreams” (Wood, et al., 1966), and I have been taking this medication since the trip started.  This hypothesis is consistent with the observation that my nightmares lessened when I reduced my daily Dramamine® dose from 2 pills to one. I finished Everything is Illuminated and have begun a new novel (Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald). I am now well into the second week of my trip!

Did You Know?

Earrings can be made from fish otoliths (ear stones).  These seem to be quite popular in many port cities.  Check out this article from the Juneau (Alaska) Empire Newspaper.

Notable Species Seen

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.