Phil Moorhouse: We’re At Sea! September 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 2, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57 35.35 N
Longitude: 153 57.71 W
Sea wave height: 1 ft
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Wind Direction: 208 degrees
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 15.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1002.58 mBar
SkyOvercast

After a series of unfortunate events, we finally got underway!  It turns out arriving several days before the ship departure ended up being very helpful.  My checked bag did not arrive with me and the morning of departure it still had not arrived.  I had given up on seeing it before we pulled out and gone shopping for replacement “essentials”.  Then, an hour before our scheduled departure I got a call from my airline hero saying that my bag had finally made it to Kodiak.  A quick trip to the airport and back to the ship and I was ready to go. That’s when the waiting game really started. Repairs to the Bongo apparatus caused a several hour delay as we waited on repairs, then after moving out into open water to test it, we found that it still wasn’t working properly.  The ship crew worked to make adjustments and finally, we were off!  


Science and Technology Log

We departed for the stations where the previous group had left off.  The first couple of stations were methodical as everyone was becoming accustomed to what to expect. I have been asked by multiple people what kinds of things are going on during these expeditions and what the day-to-day life of a scientist is on this ship.  There are several projects going on. The primary focus is on assessing the walleye pollock population, but there is also data being collected simultaneously for scientists working on other projects.

Each station starts with a bongo tow in which the bongo nets are lowered over the side and pulled along collecting plankton.  Once the bongo is pulled back onto the ship, the flowmeters are read to record the amount of water that went through the net, and the nets are then carefully washed down to concentrate the plankton sample into the cod end.  This end piece can then be removed and taken into the lab area to prepare the sample for shipping back to the NOAA labs. As this process is being completed, our ship’s crew is already working to bring the ship back around to complete a trawling operation in the same area. 

Trawling operations
Trawling operations off the ship’s stern. During an average trawl, the net will extend up to 540 meters behind the boat and up to 200 meters deep.
at work on the bridge
A good example of scientists and crew working together during a trolling operation. Ensign Lexee Andonian is manning the helm and watching the trawling operations on the monitor while scientist, Annette Dougherty is recording data off the monitors.

It is preferable to complete both operations from the same location since the plankton are the primary food source and a comparison can then be made between the amount of producers and consumers. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.  During one of the trials yesterday, a pod of humpback whales decided they wanted to hang out just where we wanted to trawl.  Because of this, it was decided to attempt to move away from the whales before starting the trawl.  When all goes well, the trawling nets should bring in a nice variety of species and in our case, a large number of pollock!  For the first two trials, we found mostly jellyfish with only a few other fish samples.  Later trials, though, have been much more successful in finding a better mix of species.  Below is a list of species caught during the last Station.

As the catch is spread onto the table, all other sea life is separated from the jellyfish and sorted for measurement and recorded.  The jellyfish are weighed as a mixed sample, then re-sorted by species and weighed again.  The fish are all measured, recorded, and bagged and frozen for future use by scientists back in the lab in Seattle that are working on special projects.

Species caught during the last Station:

Common NameScientific Name
Sockeye SalmonO. nerka
Northern SmoothtongueL. schmidti
Walleye PollockG. chalcogrammus
unidentified juvenile GunnelsPholidae family
Eulachon, or CandlefishT. pacificus
Isopods
Shrimp
Sunrise JellyfishC. melanaster
Lion’s Mane JellyfishC. capillata
Moon JellyfishA. labiata
Bubble JellyfishAequorea sp.


Personal Log

Drills were the word of the day the first day as we went through fire drills and abandon ship drills.  It is always nice to know where to go if something goes wrong while out at sea.  I now know where the lifeboats are, how to get into my immersion suit, and what to do in case of a fire on the ship.

*** Of course, just when we really start to get into the swing of things, a weather front comes through that forces us to find a place to “hide” until the waves calm down.

On another note, I have seriously been geeking out enjoying talking to the NOAA scientists about their research and experiences. There is a wealth of information in the minds of the scientists and crew on this ship.  I have initially focused on getting to know the scientists I am working with and slowly branching out to get to know the crew.  Hopefully I will be able to translate some of my admiration here in the coming posts.

Did You Know?

Did you know, there are approximately 1800 thunderstorm events going on in Earth’s atmosphere at any one time?

Question of the Day:

What type of fish can be found in McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich, Arby’s Classic Fish Sandwich, Long John Silver’s Baja Fish Taco, Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen, and Birds Eye’s Fish Fingers in Crispy Batter?


Answer: Pollock

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.

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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):

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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

 

Justin Garritt: What is NOAA and Why Are We Sailing? September 3, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Garritt
(Almost) aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
September 3, 2018

Geographical area of cruise: Seattle, Washington to Newport, Oregon
Date: September 3, 2018

Today was day two and my first full day on-board. I learned so much about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I learned about what our ship, Bell M. Shimada’s, mission was this cruise. I started to get acquainted with all the impressive things the ship has to offer. However, what I enjoyed most was meeting all the wonderful people who spend their lives on-board for months (or even years) serving us. Every single professional was warm and welcome and answered the thousand questions I asked today with a smile. It was an amazing day because of the crew and scientists who already made me feel at home.

I was unaware of what NOAA did before joining the Teacher at Sea Program. Today’s post is all about NOAA, the ship I am sailing on, and the mission ahead the next two weeks.

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My home for the next two weeks. . . NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

What is NOAA? Before I can get in to details about my journey, here is some information about the governmental agency that welcomes Teacher At Sea applicants with open arms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an American scientific agency that focuses on the conditions of the oceans, major waterways, and the atmosphere. It was formed in 1970 and as of last year had over 11,000 employees. NOAA exists to monitor earth systems through research and analysis. It uses the research to assess and predict future changes of these earth systems and manage our precious resources for the betterment of society, the economy, and environment.

One component of NOAA studies our oceans. They ensure ocean and coastal areas are safe, healthy, and productive. One of the many ships that are used to study the oceanic environment (which I am fortunate to sail on these next two weeks) is NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. This ship is stationed on the west coast with forty-plus crew who work endlessly to make this ship run so NOAA scientists can perform important environmental studies. Every person I have met the past two days has been remarkable and you will hear more about them throughout my future blogs.

 

Why Are We Sailing? NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada is one of dozens of NOAA ships that sail the ocean every day in order to research vital information about our environment. Every sailing has clear objectives that help achieve the goals that the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association sets. On NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada, hake fish surveys are completed every other year and research is done during off years. Fish surveys determine estimates of certain fish species. This vessel sails the entire west coast of the United States and then works with their Canadian counterparts to provide an estimate of a variety of species. NOAA uses this information to provide the fisherman with rules governing the amount of species that can be fished. During research years, like the one I currently am on, the vessels have different objectives that support their work.

For this leg, the ship has three main objectives:

#1: Pair trawling to determine net size impact: Evaluate the differences between the US 32mm nets and the CANADIAN 7mm nets. The questions being asked are does the differences in size of the two nets affect the size, characteristics, or species of fish being caught during surveys.

The reason this research is needed is because currently the Canadians and the United States have always used different size liners on the far tip of the net while surveying. The purpose of this experiment is to eliminate the possibility that there is bias in the data between the two countries when surveying their respective territories with slightly different net sizes.The hope is that the different liners do not affect the  size, characteristics, or species of fish being caught during surveys.

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#2: Comparing old acoustic equipment with new equipment: An acoustic transducer is a highly technological piece of equipment used on board scientific and commercial fishing vessels around the word. It emits a brief, focused pulse of sound into the water. If the sound encounters objects that are of different density than the surrounding medium, such as fish, they reflect some sound back toward the source. On-board N

OAA Ship Bell M. Shimada these echoes provide information on fish size, location, and abundance. NOAA is modernizing all of their acoustic equipment to a higher range of frequency. This is equivalent to when televisions went from black and white to color. This will hopefully allow scientists to collect more precise and accurate data.

The second goal of this cruise is to determine the differences in the frequency levels of both the new and the old technology. The goal in the long run is to reduce the number of surveying trolls needed to determine the population of fish, and instead, use this highly advanced acoustics equipment instead. It would be a more efficient and environmentally smarter option for the future.

Multibeam Sonar
An illustration of a ship using multi-beam sonar. Image courtesy of NOAA

#3: Using oceanography to predict fish presence: During the night time, scientific studies continue. The ship never sleeps. Depending on where we saw and caught fish during the day time experiments, the captain will bring the boat back to that same area to determine what water characteristics were present. The goal is to find the correlation between increased hake presence and certain water characteristics.

Throughout the next two weeks I will take you behind the scenes on how the ship is collecting data and using the data to create a hypothesis for each goal.

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A beautiful view while calibrating today

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Immersion suit practice during drills

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The beautiful Seattle skyline

Upcoming Blogs through Sept 14:

Life on-board these beautiful ships

The galley is a work of art

Tour of the ship

Careers on-board

Daily tasks and updates on our ship leg’s mission and goals

Angela Hung: Flexibility, June 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22-July 5, 2018

June 19-July 5, 2018

June 23-July 5, 2018

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 22, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

(Actually from weather.gov, the program in the bridge is off)

Conditions at 1454

Latitude: 30.46° N

Longitude: 88.53° W

Temperature: 34° C

Wind Speed: SW 12 mph

Science and Technology Log

Taniya Wallace-Chief Scientist, Fisheries Biologist

If you enjoy a good seafood steam pot or boil—overflowing with shrimp, crabs, clams and corn and potatoes mixed in, rounded out with fish filets blackened/broiled/fried to your preference—then you have to thank hardworking scientists like Taniya Wallace. Taniya is a fisheries biologist and is the Chief Scientist aboard Oregon II for this leg of the 2018 SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey. On top of assessing the health of the Gulf fisheries that feeds Americans across the country, she is busy coordinating the group of scientists that form the research party on the boat. The specifics of the research will follow in upcoming posts, but today, I’d like you to meet a scientist.

Taniya Wallace
Taniya entering data into the computer.

Taniya was certain of becoming a nurse. Her high school offered vocational coursework in nursing to give students an early start into college degree programs. She was on track, until it came to clinicals. Nursing clinicals are the part of the program where students begin their training in real work settings to apply what is learned in the classroom. More importantly, clinicals introduces students to the realities of the job.

Nurses are among the ranks of hard working, underappreciated sectors of the health field because much of what they do goes unseen. For many in pre-nursing and nursing programs, clinicals ensures that students are experiencing what they are signing up for. For Taniya Wallace, her experience during this class compelled her to make the difficult decision to pursue a different program of study.

Taniya was accepted in Mississippi Valley State University, a historically black university, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. She began a position as a laboratory scientist until the 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig that caused 11 deaths and the largest oil spill in history. Four million barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico over three months before the underwater well was finally capped.

Taniya has always loved the water, and had previously shadowed her cousin who is also a marine scientist. Her aunt builds boats for Austal Shipyard in Alabama and her father works at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, MS, the very company that built Oregon II. With an urgent need to study the critical impacts of crude petroleum oil on the Gulf ecosystems, an opportunity on Oregon II was a natural fit. Taniya signed a three month contract–she’s been here ever since.

Plaque aboard Oregon II
Plaque aboard Oregon II

What has kept her going for eight years? As a scientist on a ship, she sees “something new every day” on the boat and on land when they stop at different ports. With a love of water, working in a lab at sea is a win-win.

Personal Log

The Teacher at Sea Program emphasizes to applicants that “flexibility and the ability to cope with the uncertain is crucial to the character of those who go to sea.” Taniya Wallace demonstrates this quality by shifting to a research program in college, joining NOAA Ship Oregon II, and by working at sea.

It is no exaggeration that flexibility is a requirement for working on a boat. In fact, I was scheduled to participate in the second leg of the SEAMAP summer groundfish survey on June 21, departing from Galveston, TX on the 22nd. Unfortunately, the trawl winch broke during the first leg (the first time ever for Oregon II which has been sailing for 50 years!), cutting their trip short. To try to make up the time, it was decided that the second leg would get an early start from Mississippi as soon as repairs were completed in Pascagoula, MS.

What originally was a week to get packed, find a plant sitter and cuddle with my cats became a last minute scramble to find rain boots and mow the lawn in the middle of a heat wave—I boarded a plane to Gulfport, MS on June 18 instead. (It was explained that this was not the typical direction in scheduling shifts.) I got to meet some of the fantastic crew members of Oregon II, as well as from neighboring Gordon Gunter, who invited me to play corn hole for the first time. This is the game where you are trying to throw bean bags through a hole cut in a plywood board that’s set on an incline.  I spent the night on the boat in port.

 

 

 

The boat bustled the next morning as everyone arrived: crew, scientists and a couple of interns. [Find your internship here! https://coastalscience.noaa.gov/about/internship/  ] At 1400, we were off!

There’s the requisite training and safety information for the ship in general. Taniya took over the interns and me for science brief. I learn that I’m assigned to the day shift which begins at 1200 noon the next day. Night shift starts at 2400 midnight that same day. The operations of the ship are 24 hours. It’s a long wait to get started and I’m looking forward to it.

We spend a night out at sea and I’m up and ready to sort some fish and shrimp. When I get to the galley, I find out that we are in fact, returning to Pascagoula because the trawl winch wasn’t fully repaired.

While issues like this are rare on Oregon II, a vessel that is widely regarded as extremely reliable, the process of science frequently hits stumbling blocks. TV shows like CSI and Bones and movies like Jurassic Park feature futuristic laboratories with state-of-the-art, if wildly impractical, equipment with colorful liquids, holograms, and scientists in lab coats and goggles who complete experiments in mere minutes. In reality, science is a lot messier and SLOWER. While wiling away the time today, I learned about a new hashtag for scientists full of internet examples: #badstockphotosofmyjob.

Real labs tend to have old equipment, space is limited so rooms are often crowded with large machines and many computers, and most liquids are colorless, stored in small, like the size of your pinky, tubes in a refrigerator or freezer. Particularly if you work outside, aka “the field”, and even if you don’t, a lot of equipment might be jerry-rigged from things picked up at Wal-Mart or Home Depot. Not to say that science is unreliable or not credible, but that projects are unique and a lot of times, you have to be creative and build what you specifically need. Then modify it until it works.

 

 

 

 

So here we are in a typical day of a scientist. A piece of equipment isn’t working, we’re losing data collection by the minute, but remember, we’re going to be flexible.

Did You Know?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which is tasked with promoting job creation and economic growth by providing tools and programs for the scientific collection and analysis of data. NOAA is one of these scientific research agencies employing scientists to study the atmosphere to provide us with weather and climate data, and the oceans, providing information for the operation of fisheries, for example. Good policies are informed by basic research, making the work of these agencies invaluable to the US economy.

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?

Dawn White: Finally Fishing! June 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dawn White

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 19 – July 1, 2017

 

Mission: West Coast Sardine Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean; U.S. West Coast

Date: June 27, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: June 27, 2017                                                         Wind Speed: 28.9 kts with gusts
Time: 9:15 p.m.                                                                 Latitude: 4828.20N
Temperature: 13.4oC                                                      Longitude: 12634.66W

Science and Technology Log

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The red line indicates the route of NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker transiting along the coast of Vancouver Island

We finally reached the tip of Vancouver Island on Sunday evening, June 25. It would be our first night of fishing.  The red line indicates the route taken by the Reuben Lasker as we transited along the coast to the northernmost tip of the island.  The blue lines indicate the path to be taken for regular interval acoustic monitoring for schools of fish.  Based on the acoustics results, a decision would be made as to where the fishing would occur at night.

 

 

 

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Crew deploying the fishing net

The photo at left shows the crew completing the deployment of the fishing net.  You can see the large winch that will release and retrieve the main body of the net.  The net will be set out for about 45 minutes.  During this time there are many variables that will be monitored.  Sensors attached to the net will collect data on time spent at each depth.  Other factors being monitored include temperature, wind speed, swell size,  and lat/long of trawl. In addition, there are four water-activated “pingers” attached to the net that emit sounds at frequencies known to disturb larger mammals in an effort to reduce accidental captures.

Once the net has been retrieved, the scientists collect the catch in large baskets and begin the process of weighing and sorting.  The first night’s catch was primarily made up of a very unique colonial type of organism called a pyrosome. The side nets and codend (mesh covered end of the main net where most of the catch is collected) were packed with these the first couple of trawls.

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Many pyrosomes were mixed in with the catch.

You can see many pyrosomes mixed in with the rest of the catch here.  They are the pink colored cylindrical organisms.  They have been increasing in population over the past couple of years as well as appearing further north than ever observed before.  A nice overview of the pyrosome influx and volumes observed was recently reported in an article published by Environment entitled “Jellied sea creatures confound scientists, fishermen on U.S. Pacific Coast”. You can review the article here.

The trawl net being used was part of the research project, as it possessed modifications aimed at capturing and quantifying organisms that made it through an apparatus called the extruder door.  The purpose for this opening is to allow for larger mammals and non-target organisms to pass through the net relatively unharmed should they get caught.  Two additional pocket nets had been added to the main net for the specific purpose of monitoring what made it through the mesh.

This far north, the researchers were expecting to find mostly juvenile herring and salmon.  On our second night of fishing we actually had several species of fish and other marine animalia to i.d. The amount and type of data collected depended on the species of organism.  In some cases, we collected just the mass of the group of organisms as a whole.  For other species, we collected mass, lengths, presence/absence of an adipose fin, DNA samples from a fin clip, and more.  Certain species were tagged, bagged, and frozen for further study in a land-based lab.  It’s so interesting to see the variety we pull out of the net each trawl!

Some of the species collected can be seen below:

Extension question for my students reading this:

What traits could you use to differentiate between the juvenile salmon and Pacific herring?

 

Personal Log:

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Here are some of the scientists making sure the correct data is collected and recorded from one of our catches.

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Here I am (in yellow) with some of the scientists (L to R: Emily, Amy, and Angela) getting ready to receive the evening’s catch.

First trawl starts as close to sunset as possible, which for this latitude has been somewhere between 9:30-10:00 p.m. There is always this air of anticipation as we wait for the net to be emptied.  It has been enlightening to work with the science staff as they evaluate each sample.  The number of reference sheets and data recording forms is incredible.  It seems like you would need to take a course in data management just to ensure you were familiar enough with the requirements to not overlook some detail of importance.

The photo of the group above was taken about 11:00 p.m.  I was worried initially that I would not be able to flip my sleep schedule to match the work schedule, but it has been much more doable than I thought it would be.  Our staterooms are dark and quiet, so going to bed in the morning really doesn’t feel any different that at night.  Thanks to the extensive movie collection and my ability to keep downloading books to read on Kindle, I have had plenty of filler for downtime and that “reading before bed” I always do.

Time to go to work…..

 

Did You Know?

There are 36 species of dolphin worldwide, including 4 species of river dolphins.  Quite a few of the Common Bottlenose Dolphin followed the ship out of the harbor in San Diego, riding along on the wake produced by the ship.  On the way up the coast of California I saw a couple of Dall’s Porpoises (not in the dolphin family, but quite similar in appearance).  Then as we traveled south along Victoria Island there were a couple of Pacific White-Sided dolphins enjoying games along-side the ship. It is so exciting to see these animals out in their native habitat!

Every night before the ship drops the fishing net, a member of the science team is sent to the bridge to perform a 30-minute mammal watch.  The surrounding waters are observed closely for any signs of these and other larger species.  The investigators do their best to ensure that only the small fish species intended for capture are what enters the net.  Should there be a sighting, the ship moves on another 5 miles in an effort to avoid any accidental captures.  The scientists and crew work very hard to minimize the impact of their studies on the surrounding ecosystems.

Melissa Barker: Going Fishing, June 25, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

 

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 25, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 28 30.0 N

Longitude: 94 00.4 W

Air temp: 26.7 C

Water temp: 28.8 C

Wind direction: 130 degrees

Wind speed: 14 knots

Sky: rain squall

Science and Technology Log

We left port Friday evening and by 10:00pm we were fishing. We move from stations to station, often in a zig zag pattern to retrieve our samples. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the stations we will visit are randomly generated for us. I will use this post to give you an idea of what we do at each station.

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CTD instrument ready for deployment

As we come upon a station, we first deploy a scientific instrument called the CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth which it measures. Additionally, this instrument measures dissolved oxygen. During day light hours, we also take additional environmental data including water color, percent cloud cover and wave height. At least once per day, we take a water sample which will be titrated using the Winkler method to double check our dissolved oxygen readings. The CTD is first calibrated at the surface for three minutes, then lowered to approximately two meters above the bottom, with a maximum depth of 200 meters. Teamwork is critical here as the officers in the bridge announce that we have arrived at a station. The Science Field Party Chief (FPC), Andre, tells the fisherman the depth and watches the data come into a computer in the dry lab near the stern. They are all in radio communication to make sure everything goes smoothly.

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Trawl headed into the water

Then the fishermen prepare to deploy a 40-foot trawl within a 2.5 mile radius of the station coordinates. Again, with communication from the fisherman, bridge and the FPC, the trawl is lowered into the ocean and moves along the bottom collecting organisms for exactly 30 minutes after which the trawl is raised and the net is brought onto the boat. The organisms caught in the net are then released into baskets,which are weighed on deck to get a total mass for the catch.

 

 

Then the fun begins! The full catch is poured out into the trough or if big enough, brought in via a conveyor belt. If the catch is 24 kg or under, we will log the entire catch.

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Catch poured out into the trough

If it is over 24 kg, then we will split the catch and log a representative sample. When splitting the catch, we first place all the organisms in the trough and roughly divide the catch in half. Before we send the half that we will not log back to the ocean, we must pull out commercial species, such as shrimp and snapper, and any individual species not found in the half we will log. Then we take the half of the catch that we will log and start the sorting.

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Splitting the catch

We sort all organisms that are the same species into one basket, then count and take a total mass for each species group. You can see images below of a sorted catch.

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Sorted fish

For most species, we will sample up to 20 random individuals. We record length for all 20 and then take a mass and sex every fifth organism. Logging is a bit different for shrimp, we will record length, mass and sex for all organisms up to 200 individuals. We will do the same for any other commercial species.

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Measuring a fish with the Limnoterra board

We use a Limnoterra measuring board with a magnetic wand which gives an accurate length by connecting to a magnetic strip on the board. This tool saves a lot of time and allow us to get accurate measurements.

In future posts, I’ll talk more about what we are finding and learning from our data.

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Trying to sex a fish which can be sometimes be challenging

Personal Log

I am starting to find my sea legs. The seas were a bit rough as we left port after the storm. It was touch and go for the first 24-36 hours, but with the help of Meclizine (a motion sickness medication) and sea bands (wrist bands that push on a pressure point in your wrist) I am now feeling pretty good. I’m also getting used to the constant movement of the Oregon II which makes everyday activities like walking, showering and sleeping quite interesting. When I lay down in bed and close my eyes, I can feel the troughs of the waves push me down into my mattress and then I spring up at the tops of the waves. It is very relaxing and helps lull me to sleep. When showering, I frequently need to hold on so as to not fall over. As some of you know, I have a habit of moving pretty fast around school. Often in a rush to check items off my to-do list or get to my classes. On the boat, we need to move slowly due to the constant motion. You also never know when someone is going to open a door into the hallway or come around the corner. There is not much space, so you must move slowly and cautiously.

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Day shift crew from left to right: David, Tyler, Field Party Chief Andre, Sarah and Melissa

I am also getting use to the fish smell in the wet lab where I spend most of time when working. I’m on the day shift, which runs from noon to midnight. I’ve tried to soak up as much information as I can over the last couple days and have really enjoyed the learning. The hardest part for me is trying to learn scientific names for the 30-40 species we find in each catch. The Latin names go in one ear and out the other. Having never worked with fish, this part pretty challenging, but luckily Andre is very patient and always willing to answer my questions. My day-shift teammates, Tyler, David and Sarah, are terrific, keep the atmosphere fun and teach me each day. It has been really interesting to see the increase and decrease of certain species from different stations.

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Melissa and Tyler measuring fish in the wet lab

Did You Know?

The Texas shrimp fishery closed on May 15, 2017 and will re-open on a yet to be determined date in July. This is what is referred to as the “Texas Closure”. The shrimp data that we are collecting will be sent to the state to help them determine the health of the fishery and when to open it back up. According to the Coastal Fisheries Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), “The closure is designed to allow escapement of shrimp out to the gulf where they can grow to a larger, more valuable size before they are vulnerable to harvest. The goal is to provide shrimp of a size that are more valuable for the shrimping industry while ensuring sustainable stocks in the future.”

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A large Brown Shrimp: Penaeus aztecus

 

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

How many different species did you find? (Owen, Sylvia, Tyler, Maylei, Ben)

The number of species we find varies with each trawl, but recently we have been finding about 35-40 species per trawl. The picture below show the diversity a typical catch.

 What organisms other than fish did you find? (Badri, Tyler, Alexa, Lorena, Wanda)

We find many other species besides fish. Some of the more common groups of organisms we find are squid, jelly fish, shrimp, sea stars, scallops, crabs, and vacated shells. Occasionally we catch a small shark or sting ray.

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Example catch diversity

David Amidon: Back to Work, June 10, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Amidon

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 2 – 13, 2017

Mission: Pelagic Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the California Coast

Date: June 10, 2017

Weather Data: 

Latitude: 33 degrees, 43 min North;  Longitude: 119 degrees, 32 min West

Air Temp: 16.7 C    Water Temp: 16.9 C     Wind Speed: 27 knots

 

 

 

Science Log

After our quick stop into port, we were back to the sorting last night.

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Sorting tables ready for the night

I will take you though a step-by-step account of the sort.

  • A science crew member reports to the Bridge for the 30 min Marine Mammal Watch. The fishermen ready the net.
  • We arrive at the Station. Science crew goes on deck for the Outdoor Marine Mammal Watch. The fishermen put the net in the ocean and begin trawling.
  • After a 15 minute trawl, the net is hauled in and the Marine Mammal Watch ends.
  • The crew brings the sample collected in a bucket into the Science Lab.
  • Based on the size of the catch and the organisms present, the crew determines an appropriate sample size. This time we went with a 250 ml sample as there were a TON of small pyrosomes. 

  • We sort based on visual identification. 

  • People sorting will call out their counts of each species and record the numbers collected.
  • Isolate a sample of krill to be specifically analyzed. They determine the species in the sample and number of each. 

  • Determine a second sample size to analyze. At each subsequent sample, we will stop counting specific organisms, such as tonight when we stopped counting the pyrosomes because we had enough data to extrapolate a value for the number collected. Then we stopped counting anchovies, etc. until we are just looking for outliers, or creatures in such low abundance an estimate would not be acceptable.

 

  • Repeat the steps until we have gone through the entire catch.
  • Afterwards, information is logged into the database and representative samples are measured and recorded.

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    Sorting the catch
  • The last step is to prepare samples for onshore analysis. Many labs have a standing request if samples are available, such as 5 Hake or a sample of anchovies. Specifically, the juvenile rockfish will undergo DNA analysis as well as having otoliths removed for further analysis. Basically, fish grow these little ear bones with rings like a tree. The more rings, the longer a fish has been alive. Therefore, the researchers can determine the age and growth rates of the fish based on these features. 

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An Argonaut – basically an octopus with a shell

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A Pyrosome under the microscope. This is really a COLONIAL organism, not truly multicellular.

 

Personal Log

Thursday, June 8th

We arrived in port today, so nothing on the science end to report. As we conducted the trawls the night before, I was still on the night schedule and missed out on a chance to explore San Diego. However, we did go to dinner with the other science personnel that work the daytime shifts, which was nice.

Friday, June 9th

The repairs went well and we returned to the ocean. We arrived at a station just after midnight and worked on 3 trawls. Waves started picking up during the shift. It is supposed to be windy again, which means the waves action will increase too.

Saturday, June 10th

Did I mention the winds were going to pick up? Wow. They were right – and tomorrow won’t be any better. I put the patch back on, which is unfortunate because my major side effect is that it really makes me tired. Or it could be that I have a tendency to visit the Flying Bridge to watch the sun come up.

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View of sunrise from the Flying Bridge

Tonight we caught adult anchovies – and a lot of them. We ended saving a lot of the catch for other labs and for bait.

 

DID YOU KNOW?

At night, the officers piloting the ship keep all the lights off on the bridge. All displays are illuminated with red lights. In this way, the people on the bridge will keep their eyes adjusted to the dark and they will be better prepared to spot potential problems on the water.

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At night, bridge displays are illuminated with only red light, which keeps officers’ eyes better adjusted to the dark.

 

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

NOAA Teacher at Sea 

Mary Murrian

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 4 – 22, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Bering Sea North of Dutch Harbor

Date: Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Wind Speed: 6 kts

Air Temperature: 8.6 degrees Celsius

Weather conditions: Hazy

Barometric Pressure: 1009.9

Latitude: 5923.6198  N

Longitude: 17030.6395  W

 

Science and Technology Log

Part One of the Survey Trawl: Getting Ready to Fish

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

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

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

How do we track the pollock?

Pollock
Pollock

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

Echo Sounder
Sonar Screen

What is sonar and how does it work? 

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

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

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

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

The Science Team Wonderful group of people.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Personal Log

What an adventure!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Starfish

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

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

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

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

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

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

Key Vocabulary:

Carnivore

Primary Consumer

Secondary Consumer

Nautical Miles

Trawling

Stern

Acoustics

Decomposers

Echosounder

Meet the Scientist:

Alex De Biologist
Alex De Robertis Chief Scientist

Leg II Chief Scientist Dr. Alex De Robertis

Title: NOAA Research Fishery Biologist (10 years)

Education:  UCLA Biology Undergraduate Degree

Scripps Institute Oceanography San Diego, CA PhD.

Newport, Oregon Post Doctorate work

Living Quarters:

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

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

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

Job Responsibilities:

Responsible for acoustic trawl surveying at Alaska Fisheries Science Center

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

What is cool about his work:

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

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

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

Chris Henricksen: Doing Science at Sea, May 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Henricksen

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

May 6 – May 16, 2014

Geographical area of cruise: Georges Bank
Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl & Acoustic Survey
Date: May 11, 2014
Air Temp: 11.2°C (52.16°F)
Relative Humidity: 100%
Wind Speed: 21.9mph
Barometer: 1010.5mb

Science and Technology Log

Here’s what a typical watch aboard the Henry B. Bigelow looks like.  Upon assuming the watch, which in my case means beginning work at midnight, the science team gets a rundown of what happened during the previous watch.  When the ship nears its next station (where it will drop the net and begin trawling), the area is surveyed to ensure that it is clear of lobster traps and large rocks before readying the nets for trawling.  Think of the trawl nets in terms of really large butterfly nets, except these nets also contain a set of sensors that tell the science team and the Officer of the Deck (the officer in charge of driving the ship) information about how deep the net is, how fast it’s traveling, etc..  The ship’s deckhands lower the nets from the aft (rear) deck of the ship into the water and then closely monitor them until reaching a specified depth.  With the trawl nets in place, the ship steams at 3 knots for about twenty minutes, pulling the nets along and catching fish and other marine life.  Once the trawl is complete, the net is hauled aboard and it’s time for the scientists to get involved.

picture of trawl net
Hauling the trawl net aboard the Henry B. bigelow

checker
Chris Henricksen

Using a crane, the net is swung over a large stainless steel hopper called the checker.  A scientist working the checker, then pushes the captured organisms onto a conveyor belt, which moves them inside the ship to the wet lab.  In the wet lab, scientists and volunteers (like me) stand along a long conveyor, sorting the catch by species and, sometimes, by sex or size, into a set of buckets.  After the catch is sorted, the buckets are consolidated and placed on another conveyor belt, which moves the buckets to the Watch Chief’s station.  The Watch Chief scans a barcode on the side of each bucket, and uses a computer to assign a species to that barcode.  The barcoded buckets are each filled with a different organism then moved to any one of three cutter stations for processing. The Cutter scans the barcode of an available bucket, which tells the computer at his or her station some basic information about the organism, such as its scientific and common names, and how much the bucket weighs.  The computer also tells the Cutter what sorts of protocols need to occur on that organisms (weighing, measuring, checking stomach contents, determining sex).  As the Cutter processes the organism, the Recorder, standing at a computer screen next to the Cutter,  assists the Cutter by inputting measurement and other data into the computer system.  Often, extra instructions pop up on the screen, instructing the Cutter that a scientist has requested that we collect specimens from an organism.  Otoliths (ear bones from fish) are collected frequently, but sometimes a request is made to freeze or preserve an organism.  Some organisms even go in a live holding tank so the scientist can have a living specimen when the ship returns to port.  This entire process can take anywhere from one hour to several, depending on the amount fish and the types of processing required.

pic of sorting line
Scientists sorting organisms for survey

Personal Log

Well, yesterday (Saturday) was a rough one for yours truly.  We ran into some higher seas, and the ship’s rocking and rolling made me sick as a dog.  So much for that Navy experience helping me in this regard…  Oh, well, that’s part of life at sea.  Everyone was very kind about it. one of my watchmates even fetched some crackers for me, which helped.  Feeling much better today. Here are a few pictures representing life aboard the Henry B. Bigelow (at least as I live it):

pic of galley
The Galley

pic of menu
Dinner menu – good food!

pic of stateroom
My stateroom. I sleep in the bunk with the open curtains

pic of head
The Head (bathroom) in my stateroom

Suzanne Acord: Learning the Ropes off the Kona Coast, March 24, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Suzanne Acord
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
March 17 – 28, 2014

Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: March 24, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge at 14:00
Wind: 7 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Weather: Hazy
Temperature: 24.3˚ Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Trawl Operations on the Sette

Monitoring the acoustics station during our trawl operations.
Monitoring the acoustics station during our trawl operations.

Trawling allows scientists to collect marine life at prescribed depths. Our highly anticipated first trawl begins at 21:06 on March 23rd. Hard hats, safety vests, and extremely concerned crew members flock to the stern to prepare and deploy the trawl net. Melanie is our fearless trawl lead. Once we bring in our catch, she will coordinate the following tasks: Place our catch in a bucket; strain the catch; weigh the total catch; separate the catch into five groups (deep water fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, gelatinous life, and miscellaneous small life); count the items in each group; weigh each group; measure the volume of each group; take photos of our catch; send the entire catch to the freezer.

Our trawling depth for this evening is 600 meters. This is unusually deep for one of our trawls and may very well be a hallmark of our cruise. We are able to deploy the net with ease over our target location, which is located within the layers of micronekton discussed in an earlier blog. The depth of the net is recorded in the eLab every 15 minutes during the descent and ascent. Once the trawl is brought back up to the stern, we essentially have a sea life sorting party in the wet lab that ends around 05:00. Our specimens will be examined more thoroughly once we are back in Honolulu at the NOAA labs. Throughout this cruise, it is becoming clearer every day that a better understanding of the ocean and its inhabitants can allow us to improve ocean management and protection. Our oceans impact our food sources, economies, health, weather, and ultimately human survival.

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Science Party Interview with Gadea Perez-Andujar

Ali and Gadea anticipate the raising of the HARP.
Ali and Gadea anticipate the raising of the HARP.

The University of Hawaii and NOAA are lucky to have Gadea, a native of Spain, on board the Sette during the 2014 IEA cruise. She initially came to Hawaii to complete a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology with Hawaii Pacific University. While a HPU student, she studied abroad in Australia where she received hands-on experience in her field. Coursework in Australia included fish ecology and evolution and coral reef ecology, among other high interest courses. Between her BA and MA, Gadea returned to Spain to work on her family’s goat farm. She couldn’t resist the urge to return to Hawaii, so she left her native land yet again to continue her studies in Hawaii. Gadea is now earning her master’s degree in marine biology with the University of Hawaii. In addition to her rigorous course schedule, she is carrying out a teaching assistantship. To top off her spring schedule, she volunteered to assist with Marine Mammal Operations (MMO) for the 2014 IEA cruise. She assists Ali Bayless, our MMO lead, during small boat deployments, HARP operations, and flying bridge operations.

Gadea’s master’s studies have increased her interest in deep water sharks. More specifically, Gadea is exploring sharks with six gills that migrate vertically to oxygen minimum zones, or OMZs. This rare act is what interests Gadea. During our IEA cruise, she is expanding her knowledge of the crocodile shark, which has been known to migrate down to 600-700 meters.

Once her studies are complete in 2015, Gadea yearns to educate teachers on the importance of our oceans. She envisions the creation of hands-on activities that will provide teachers with skills and knowledge they can utilize in their classrooms. She believes teacher and student outreach is key. When asked what she appreciates most about her field of study, Gadea states that she enjoys the moment when people “realize what they’re studying can make the world a better place.”

Personal Log

Morale in the Mess 

Jay displays a cake just baked by Miss Parker. I can't wait to try this tonight at dinner.
Jay displays a cake just baked by Miss Parker. I can’t wait to try this tonight at dinner. We will also be eating Vietnamese soup, salad, and macaroni and cheese with scallops.

The mess brings all hands together three times a day and is without a doubt a morale booster. Hungry crew members can be found nibbling in the mess 24/7 thanks to the tasty treats provided by Jay and Miss Parker. Jay and Miss Parker never hesitate to ensure we are fed, happy, and humored. It is impossible to leave the galley without a warm feeling. A few of my favorite meal items include steak, twice baked potatoes, a daily fresh salad bar, red velvet cookies, and Eggs Benedict. Fresh coffee, juice, and tea can be found 24/7 along with snacks and leftovers. At the moment, my shift spans from 15:00 to 00:00, which is my dream shift. If we need to miss a meal, Jay ensures that a plate is set aside for us or we can set aside a plate for ourselves ahead of time.

Did you know?

Merlin Clark-Mahoney gives me a tour of the engineering floor.
Merlin Clark-Mahoney gives me a tour of the engineering floor.

Did you know that NOAA engineers are able to create potable water using sea water? The temperature of the water influences the amount of potable water that we create. If the sea water temperature does not agree with our water filtration system, the laundry room is sometimes closed. This has happened only once for a very short period of time on our cruise. NOAA engineers maintain a variety of ship operations. Their efforts allow us to drink water, shower, do laundry, enjoy air conditioning, and use the restroom on board–all with ease.

Paul Ritter: Teamwork, July 20, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 20, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

7-20-13 ship data

Science and Technology Log

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEach day the fish traps aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces are baited and prepared with cameras, and sent to the ocean floor where they must sit for ninety minutes.  It is necessary to keep this time consistent for all locations and traps so we can compare apples to apples.  We call this a “control variable”.  The particular parameter that someone measures that is a constant and non-changing point of comparison in an experiment or scientific observation is a controlled variable for consistency.

After being on the bottom for the time allotted, the officers on the bridge drive the ship back to the number one trap and drives alongside the trap’s buoys.  Approximately, half way down the ship is the side sampling deck.  From the side sampling station, approximately halfway down the ship, we take a grappling tied to a long rope and hurl it over the side, aiming between the two buoys. It is important that we hit it on the first attempt.

If we miss, the ship has to take vital time to maneuver around to make another attempt at the buoys.  Have we missed?  Honestly, yes but only a couple of times.  If we have done our job correctly, we pull in the grappling hook and with it the buoys, and rope.  The buoys are then unhooked from the rope and the rope is threaded into a pot hauler, which is a large tapered wheel that grabs onto the rope without slipping.  The pot hauler then hydraulically pulls the rope and trap up to the surface.  Once at the surface, another hook and winch is connected to the trap and the entire rig is pulled up on the side sampling deck.  It is at this time that our team attacks the trap by taking off the cameras and unloading its cargo of fish.  If we have fish, they are taken to the wet lab and all the measurements are taken.  Once empty, the trap is carried to the main aft deck and prepared for the next round of trapping.  It really is a lot of heavy work but it is all worth it to understand the ecology of our ocean reefs.

Personal Log

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Patrick and I Working on a Red Snapper

7-20-13

Today started around 12:30 am.  It was not something that I intended to do.  The night before we went to bed around 10:00 pm.  I was sore and very tired from the long and hard day we had fishing.  For some reason I woke up and looked out the window and saw that it was very bright outside.  I thought it was daybreak and it was time to get up.  I looked at my clock and it said it was 12:30.  But that could not be.  It was too light outside for just pass midnight.  I actually thought my clock was broke so I fired up my computer to check the time.  Sure enough, it was 12:30.

The moon was so bright and reflecting off of the water in a way that the light was coming right into my room.  Crazy.  After the confusion, I finally made it back to sleep.  Around 5:30 my internal alarm clock went off.  I actually never need an alarm clock to wake up, ever.  For some reason I always have been able to just think about when I want to get up and I do.  Anyway, I got up, brushed my teeth and headed to work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Our Team in the Wet Lab

At 6:15, I met up with my brothers and sisters of the trap setting team which consists of Doug Devries – NOAA Scientist; Patrick Raley – NOAA Scientist; Jenny Ragland – NOAA Scientist; Julie Vecchio – volunteer Scientist; Zach Gillum – graduate student / Scientist, and me – the new guy scientist.  Have you ever watched Star Trek?  Usually each show’s scientific mission consists of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Bones, Lt. Uhura, who are all in one color uniform, and a new guy who is in the red shirt.  The mission goes something like this.  Captain Kirk will say “Mr. Spock go check out the nondescript rock.  Bones see if you can get some readings on that green flower over there, Uhura please open up a channel to the ship, and New Guy, go check out that purple pulsating blob over next to the cliff.”  I really hope these guys don’t watch Star Trek…..

To be completely honest, it is nothing like Star Trek at all.  Our team is amazing.  I am very humble that they have accepted me into their family.  They are so fun to be around and I could not be more thankful for their friendship and guidance.  Each of us has to play many vital roles in the mission. This expedition would not work if we did not have each other to rely on.  I don’t want to let my teammates down, and I will do anything to make sure that does not happen.

Anyway, back to the traps…..  We set our first set of traps of the day and ninety minutes later we discovered that our return was not very good.  Our second set of traps, on the other hand, were much better and netted many fish.  Some of the fish included Black Sea Bass, Grey Trigger, Tomtate, White Grunt, and one of the most desirable fish on the market, the Red Snapper.  Red Snapper is a fish that can grow upwards of 40 lbs. and live as long as 50 years if it can escape being caught.  This amazingly beautiful red fish has had much pressure from commercial and sport fishermen and as a result their numbers have dwindled.  After speaking with Zeb Schobernd, our mission’s Chief Scientist, it is his hope that due to strict regulation of the harvest of the species, we will see an increase of the population.  The data we are collecting will help develop a better survey for reef fish populations in the future, especially grouper and red snapper..  Lunch was at 11:00 and what a lunch it was.  Crab legs, and prime rib.  Man, the crew of the Pisces eats very well and I am thankful.  My wife is a great cook, and I would say that the ship’s chief steward is a close second.  After lunch, we quickly we set our third series of traps and were able to increase our catch exponentially.  Dinner consisted of Jamaican jerk chicken, pork roast, green beans, lettuce salad, and cheese cake.  After dinner I took a little time to visit the team in the acoustics lab.  The acoustics lab is responsible for mapping out the ocean floor to determine where we should put traps out the next day.  I will probably touch more on them in my next blog.

Swabbing the deck
Swabbing the deck

Did you know?

Did you know that NOAA ships do not just stay in one particular location of the world?

The Pisces has sailed from Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico, and down to Venezuela and back.  Not to mention the Pisces is one of the fastest ships in the NOAA fleet capable of reaching speeds greater than 17 knots with a following current.

Patty McGinnis: Fishing for Science, May 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: May 9, 2013

Personal Log

Hi everyone! I’m thrilled to have been selected for this opportunity of a lifetime! As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I’m looking forward to learning about the oceans and to sharing that knowledge with you. I’ll be aboard R/V Ocean Star assisting scientists with their work in conducting a Juvenile Rockfish Survey. You can learn more about this important scientific work by clicking here. In my reading, I have found out that there are many species of rockfish, all of which are a commercially valuable groundfish. Since fisheries are a renewable resource, keeping track of the rockfish population is important for managing it wisely. This will involve trawling at night and then analyzing the catch–as my adventure unfolds I will be able to provide you with more details.

I currently work as a gifted support specialist at Arcola Intermediate School in Eagleville, Pennsylvania. I have also taught science (mostly biology) for over 20 years. My favorite part of teaching is watching a student’s face light up with excitement over a new idea. I’m passionate about my work–especially when it involves educating students about ecology and the role man plays in protecting natural resources. I also enjoy traveling and learning about how local people utilize the land–last summer I had an opportunity to go to Kenya. In the picture I am listening to a transmitter that is picking up signals from a radio-collared lion.

I know my experience as a Teacher at Sea will help me to better understand the type of work that a fishery biologist conducts and that I’ll also gain insight into the various careers that are necessary for supporting this research. I’ll be posting to this blog as often as I can–I hope you follow along!

Here I am listening for lions
Here I am listening for lions

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

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

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Science and Technology Log

The Trawling Net

Trawling Net
Trawling Net

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

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

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

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

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

Vertebrates

Invertebrates

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

Scale
Scale

Boards
Measuring Boards

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

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

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

Personal Log

Day 12 – July 16th

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

Map of our Survey
Map of our Survey

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

Tammy Orilio, Trawl Gear, June 24, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 24 June 2011


Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 54.14 N
Longitude: -164.16
Wind Speed: 9.73 knots
Surface Water Temp: 7.0 degrees C
Water Depth: 92.75 m
Air Temp: 7.2 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 101%

Science & Technology Log:
I’ve been talking a lot about trawling for fish, and I realize that some of you may not know exactly what I’m talking about, so let me explain. Trawling is a fishing method that pulls a long mesh net behind a boat in order to collect fish. Trawling is used to collect fish for both scientific purposes (like we’re doing) and also in commercial fishing operations. We have two types of fish trawls onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson– a mid-water trawl net and a bottom trawl net. We’ve used both types throughout our cruise, so let me tell you a little about each.

The mid-water trawl net is just as it sounds- it collects fish from the middle of the water column- not those that live on the seafloor, not those that live at the surface. The technical name for the net we have is an Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT)- it’s commonly used by the commercial fishing industry. The end of the net where the fish first enter has very large mesh, which is used to corral the fish and push them towards the bag at the end. The mesh gets progressively smaller and smaller the further into it you go, and at the very end (where the collecting bag is), the mesh size is 0.5 inches. The end (where the bag is, or where the fish are actually collected) is called the codend. This is the kind of net we use when we want to collect a pollock sample, because pollock are found in the water column, as opposed to right on the seafloor (in other words, pollock aren’tbenthic animals). Our particular net is also modified a little from a “normal” AWT. Our trawl has three codends (collecting bags) on it- each of which can be opened and closed with a switch that is controlled onboard the ship. The mechanism that opens and closes each of the 3 codends is called the Multiple Opening and Closing Codend (MOCC) device. Using the MOCC gives us the ability to obtain 3 discrete samples of fish, which can then be processed in the fish lab. One other modification we have on our mid-water trawl net is the attachment of a video camera to the net, so we can actually see the fish that are going into the codends.

The MOCC apparatus, with the 3 nets extending off.
The MOCC apparatus, with the 3 nets extending off.

Part of the mid-water trawl net as it's being deployed.
Part of the mid-water trawl net as it’s being deployed.

The camera apparatus hooked up to the trawl.
The camera apparatus hooked up to the trawl.

When we spot a school of fish on the acoustic displays, we then radio the bridge (where the captain is) and the deck (where the fishermen are) to let them know that we’d like to fish in a certain spot. The fishermen that are in charge of deploying the net can mechanically control how deep the net goes using hydraulic gears, and the depth that we fish at varies at each sampling location. Once the gear is deployed, it stays in the water for an amount of time determined by the amount of fish in the area, and then the fishermen begin to reel in the net. See the videos below to get an idea of how long the trawl nets are- they’re being reeled in in the videos. Once all of the net (it’s VERY long- over 500 ft) is reeled back in, the fish in the codends are unloaded onto a big table on the deck using a crane. From there, the fish move into the lab and we begin processing them.

The end of the trawl net. These are the lines that basically hold on to the net!
The end of the trawl net. These are the lines that basically hold on to the net!

The mid-water trawl net all reeled in.
The mid-water trawl net all reeled in.

One of the codends before being opened up.
One of the codends before being opened up.

The other type of trawl gear that we use is a bottom trawl, and again, it’s just as it sounds. The bottom trawl is outfitted with roller-type wheels that sort of roll and/or bounce over the seafloor. We use this trawl to collect benthic organisms like rockfish, Pacific ocean perch, and invertebrates. There’s usually a random pollock or cod in there, too. As I mentioned in my last post (“Today’s Catch”), the net can sometimes get snagged on rocks on the bottom, resulting in a hole being ripped in the net. Obviously, we try to avoid bottom trawling in rocky areas, but we can never be 100% sure that there aren’t any rogue rocks sitting on the bottom 🙂

The mesh and the wheels of the bottom trawl.
The mesh and the wheels of the bottom trawl.

More of the bottom trawl.
More of the bottom trawl.

The bottom trawl all reeled in.
The bottom trawl all reeled in.

Personal Log:
It’s been a quiet couple of days. On Wednesday, we didn’t see any fish until late in my shift, then we did a mid-water trawl. We ended up actually busting the bag- that’s how many fish we ended up collecting!! Once the codends were opened, we immediately began processing- first separating the pollock from everything else we caught. After sorting, I got to work on sexing the fish- it’s a kind of gruesome job, because you have to take a scalpel and cut them open (while they’re still alive!), exposing their innards- definitely NOT like the preserved organisms we dissect in class. I’m not a huge fan of cutting them open, so I moved on to measuring the length of the male fish- there were so many males in our catch, I was the last one working! After I cleaned up, that was the end of my shift. We were near some islands at the end of my shift, and the bridge called down to the lab to tell us that there some whales off the starboard side of the ship. I grabbed my camera and ran up to the deck, scanning the water for whales. Finally, I spotted a pod waaaay off the starboard side- they were too far off to get a good picture, and I couldn’t even tell what kind they were, but I was able to see them spouting water out of their blowholes, and it looked like one of them breached. The officers up on the bridge said they thought they were minke whales.

Thursday we didn’t see any fish (well, not enough to put our gear in the water) all day, so no fishing for me. Right now, it’s about 9:30 a.m. on Friday, and we’re just cruising to begin our next set of transects. I just read that there was an earthquake in the western Aleutian Islands last night- magnitude 7.2! Holy moly, I was just there! Apparently, people felt the earthquake as far east as Dutch Harbor on the island of Unalaska, and they had a tsunami warning go off. It’s crazy to think that I was in that area a couple days ago!

Question of the Day:

  • Speaking of tsunamis…What would cause the East Coast of the U.S. to be hit by a megatsunami?

Tammy Orilio, We are Underway!, June 13, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 13 June 2011

Three Saints Bay, Alaska
Three Saints Bay, Alaska
This is what the window in my stateroom looks out to. It's a waterfall!
This is what the window in my stateroom looks out to. It’s a waterfall!

After being in Alaska since Friday June 10th, our ship has finally set sail!  The last of the crew and science team arrived this evening, and we immediately left port.  Our first stop is a calm bay so we can calibrate the acoustic equipment to establish some baseline data.  Once we got underway, we had a meeting with the science team, and I found out that I’d be working the 4 a.m. – 4 p.m. shift.  I’ll take that over the night shift any time!  I don’t have much to do for the next day or two, since we will not be trawling for fish yet, so I’m doing a lot of reading and napping.  Rough work.  I know the easy life will be over soon enough, so I have to take advantage while I can!My goal as we’re making way to our first sampling station is to not get seasick.  I’ve been out on two other research cruises, but they were on much smaller ships (R/V Bellows and R/V Suncoaster), and I was fine on those trips, so hopefully the same can be said for this excursion.  However, the Gulf of Alaska is a little more foreboding than the Atlantic Ocean between Florida and the Bahamas, so that’s definitely something to consider!  I just took one of my pills and put on some special wristbands that are supposed to help.  I have no idea what these wristbands actually do- my guess is that it’s all psychological and I just paid $10 for a placebo 🙂
I almost forgot to mention- my bags are here!  The science team checked them when they finally got their flight over to Kodiak from Anchorage.  It will be so nice to have real clean clothes- not new from the store clothes- to change into!

QUESTION OF THE DAY:

Penguins and alcids (a group of birds that includes auks, murres, and puffins) live in similar habitats and ecological conditions, but are found in two completely separate geographic areas.  Both groups of birds evolved to have similar characteristics.  What is this phenomenon called?I’m asking because I saw some murres today…but didn’t get any good pictures 😦

We've been anchored here all day Tuesday 6/14/11.
We’ve been anchored here all day Tuesday 6/14/11.