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

White_Lasker route 6-27

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

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

Starfish

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

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

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

A bald eagle hoping to find some lunch.

A bald eagle hoping to find some lunch.

Russian Orthodox Church in Dutch Harbor, AK

Russian Orthodox Church in Dutch Harbor, AK

Did You Know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Vocabulary:

Carnivore

Primary Consumer

Secondary Consumer

Nautical Miles

Trawling

Stern

Acoustics

Decomposers

Echosounder

Meet the Scientist:

Alex De Biologist

Alex De Robertis Chief Scientist

Leg II Chief Scientist Dr. Alex De Robertis

Title: NOAA Research Fishery Biologist (10 years)

Education:  UCLA Biology Undergraduate Degree

Scripps Institute Oceanography San Diego, CA PhD.

Newport, Oregon Post Doctorate work

Living Quarters:

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

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

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

Job Responsibilities:

Responsible for acoustic trawl surveying at Alaska Fisheries Science Center

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

What is cool about his work:

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

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

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

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.