Denise Harrington: Let Kids Be Kids, October 18, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Denise Harrington

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 16-30, 2016

Mission: Longline Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Location: 45 27’19″ N  123o 50’33″ W, Tillamook, Oregon

Weather: Rainy, windy, cloudy, and cold (nothing like the Gulf of Mexico).

Meet a Scientist: Dr. William “Trey” Driggers

Trey Drigger’s passion for aquatic predators was born in a lake at his grandparents’ house in Florida, while his dad, a jet pilot, was off fighting in the war in Vietnam.  When his dad left, Trey’s mom loaded the two boys and two dogs into the car and headed north to her parents’ lakefront home in Florida.  Soon thereafter, one of the dogs, used to swimming in safer waters, got eaten by an alligator that lived in the lake.  Trey feared the gators but also must have been fascinated by the life and death struggle between two animals.

With thoughts of fighter pilots and alligators, Trey was one of those students teachers might find challenging. He had trouble focusing on the mundane.  But through books, he could get a little bit of the thrill he sought.


He knew he was destined to do something cool, just like his dad. Yet by the end of college Trey was still unsure of what he wanted to become.  One day, he was in the library when the spine of a book caught his eye: Sharks Attack.  After reading this book his childhood fascination with aquatic predators was reinvigorated. During a trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Trey purchased a book entitled “Sharks in Question.” The last chapter was about how to become a shark specialist.  What, he thought, I can make a living studying sharks?!


Trey quickly finished up his history degree and began two years of science classes he had missed.  In Marine Science 101, the professor said “If you are here for sharks, whales, or dolphins, you can leave right now.”  Trey took the warning as a challenge, and began his now spectacular career with sharks.


Trey and Chief Boatswain Tim Martin measure a sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus) shark while fisheries biologist, Paul Felts, records data.  Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

His attraction to the mysteries of the deep and the written word has resulted in many discoveries, including a critical role in the discovery of a new species, the Carolina hammerhead (Sphryna gilberti). Recently, Trey’s research has focused on, among other things, examining the movement patterns of sharks. However, understanding the movement patterns of sharks is tricky.  Many have large ranges and occupy numerous habitats under the surface of the ocean that covers over 70% of our planet.  Most sharks can’t be kept in captivity.  For all these reasons and more, sharks are mysterious and fascinating creatures.

So which sharks are currently catching Trey’s attention? One of his many interests is a group of bonnethead  (Sphyrna tiburo) sharks that have been recaptured over multiple summers in specific estuaries in South Carolina.

Like other hammerhead sharks, the bonnethead shark has a cephalofoil.  Why do hammerheads look like that?


The photo of this bonnethead shark was taken in 2010 by a fellow TAS, Bruce Taterka, also aboard the Oregon II.

Theories abound about the funny looking hammerheads, whose heads look more like wings than hammers.  As Trey says, many people have speculated “the hammerhead has a cephalofoil because ….” giving a single reason.  Some say the cephalofoil acts as a dive plane, pulling the shark up or down as it swims, others say the distance between the nostrils allows it to smell better, honing in on prey, some say it is to compensate for their blind spot, and still others hypothesize that the shark uses its head to pin down prey.


Many people have asked this question, but very few get to work like Trey does, collecting data, making observations, and analyzing the data. He says the best part of his job is “when I figure something out that no one else knows.” One day, looking at data a friend collected in Bull’s Bay estuary, near Charleston, South Carolina, he noticed a pattern of the same sharks getting recaptured there year after year.  A small group of different aged, different size friends going to enjoy their summer together to Bull’s Bay while another group always going to the North Edisto estuary every year?  Why?

Trey hypothesizes that in the summer, blue crab abound in that spot, and are thick with eggs. The bonnetheads have the shortest gestation period of all sharks, four months, and need a lot of nutrients.  Their heads, shaped just right for holding down a blue crab, and their convergence at Bull’s Bay on the fertile female crabs, may just be the elements necessary to get a shark pup from embryo to viability.  Pretty cool!


Here, a juvenile bonnethead shark is being measured.  Photo: NOAA Fisheries

With all this evidence supporting a hypotheses that the bonnethead shark cephalofoil is used for holding down prey, one might predict that Trey’s next publication on the topic will make that conclusion.

“People want to pick one answer,” Trey says, but “there is a lot more that we don’t know than we do.”   There is often more than one right answer, he continues, more than one solution to a problem.  Speaking about fishing regulation, conservationists and fishermen, Trey suggests that both sides need to understand that the other side has positive things to contribute.  He lives his life this way, moving fluidly among the deck crew, officers, stewards, and scientists looking for commonalities.  Together, all the members of the team play an essential role in keeping the ship and survey moving forward.


Kevin, Matt Ellis, NOAA Science Writer, Paul, and Trey were the four other members of the day shift science team.  I took my christened baiting gloves home with me as a souvenir.

Personal Log

Each member of the crew shared insights and skills that I will take back to my classroom and incorporate into my life

My work as a NOAA Teacher at Sea was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I knew very little about fish before stepping aboard the Oregon II, and from the crew have gained understanding of and appreciation for fish, other marine species, and the diversity of life on our planet.  I’ve learned that while the Gulf of Mexico is home to the world’s largest fisheries, the human impact from industries, watershed runoff, development, and other sources is unbelievable.

When the time for science arrives, or weaves its way into the other subjects as it always does, students’ eyes light up.  I know I am far from a professional scientist, but through NOAA,  I can now speak authentically and accurately about what happens in the field and why.  My students have become mini-scientists, speaking among themselves about collecting data as if it were a playground game.

As I listened to NOAA Corps Officer David Reymore share memories of a Make a Wish trip with his son to Disneyland, I learned to take each moment with a child as a gift and was also reminded of the sacrifice crew members and their families make in support of science during their weeks, months, and years at sea. Thank you, each and every NOAA crew member aboard the NOAA fleet, for your service.  With the time away from family as the only negative, I learned that the many different careers available through NOAA provide great learning opportunities, adventure, and inspiration to those who are ready for some very hard work.

What advice can you give me as a teacher, I ask Trey.  “Quote me on this,” he says with a smile, “don’t give kids so much —- homework.  Let them be kids.”


NOAA Corps Officer Brian Yannutz wears his lucky shark hat as we bring in the long line.

Laughing, shaking my head in amazement, leafing through my journals, I have enough inspiration from these two weeks to last a lifetime.  How did I get so fortunate?



Barney Peterson: Who Works on NOAA Ship OREGON II? Part 2

NOAA Teacher a Sea

Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13 – 28, 2016

Mission: Long Line Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Sunday, August 28, 2016

Weather Data is not available for this post because I am writing from the Biloxi/Gulfport Airport.


Meet Lisa Jones, a career marine scientist who came to her present position as a Research Fisheries Biologist for NOAA from a life of working with animals.  Born in Memphis and raised in the mountains of east Tennessee, she did her undergraduate work at Emory University, and then earned her Master of Science at East Tennessee State.

Lisa has lived and worked in Colorado where she trained horses for a while.  She moved to California and worked for the Department of Fish and Game to earn money for grad school and eventually ended up in at the National Marine Fisheries lab in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  She started there as a student intern and 19 years later is working as a research scientist for NOAA.  Her schedule of being out on the water during the summer and home during the winter months suits her well.

Ten years ago Lisa got interested in doing agility training with a rescue dog she kept, an Australian Shepherd.  Since then she has acquired 3 more Aussies through rescue and adoption (one dog left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.)  Lisa’s interest in dog training and agility trial competition helps her recharge her energy and enthusiasm each winter so she is ready to go back to sea in the spring.  Her big goal is to make it to the national agility dog competition trial with her Aussies.

Lisa’s advice for students interested in a marine science career is to do well in math and science, but do not neglect developing good research and communication skills: reading, writing and speaking.  In a science career you will need to be able to work as a team member, report on your work and develop applications for grant funding.  While you are young, get out and volunteer to get experience.  Take internships, volunteer at an aquarium, a science camp or as a field work helper.  Getting good field work experience is important even if you don’t plan a research career.  It is hard to run support for researchers and set policy for others if you don’t have a fairly deep understanding of their jobs.  “Always ask questions.  Demonstrate your interest.  The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.”

Lisa has been my go-to person for everything I needed to know about living and working on the OREGON II.  From making sure I met everyone, to teaching me to use and care for our equipment, to teaching me to cut mackerel and bait hooks, she has been right there.  The success of this experience for me has been mostly due to having good teachers and being with a group of people willing to share their experience and expertise.

Kevin Rademacher, Fisheries Research Biologist, started out riding dolphins at Marine Life in Gulfport, Mississippi!  He spent several years doing dive shows and working with performing marine mammals before he got into research work.  Kevin was graduated from University of Southern Mississippi with major emphasis in biology and fisheries science and a minor in chemistry.  After graduation he worked restoring antiques with his father while he applied for jobs in the marine science industry.

Kevin started out on NOAA Ship CHAPMAN, a 127’ stern trawler.  In 1988 he spent 240 days at sea as a survey technician while earning certifications with survey equipment, deck equipment, as a diver, an EMT, worked the helm watch and corrected charts.  Then he moved into the lab working with the marine mammal group, ground fish and reef surveys.  He has chosen to continue working on reef fish surveys because it gives him the opportunity to work with cutting edge equipment like underwater cameras as they have evolved from simple video to using sophisticated arrays of four sets of camera groups, each cluster including a stereo black and white set and one color camera to give the fullest possible depth and detail 360⁰ images.  Underwater work is Kevin’s main interest, but there are only so many research biologists so his job assignments have been varied.  It was fortunate for me that he was assigned to work on the long-line survey this trip so I could learn from him.

During my time on the OREGON II Kevin has been a willing source of any information I request about the marine life we are seeing.  He has a copious memory for facts and an encyclopedic knowledge of the appearance, habits, and names of the animals in the ocean.  No matter what we brought up on our hooks, bony fish, sharks, algae, coral or shellfish, he knew them by common and scientific name and provided interesting facts to help me remember them.  Kevin’s passion for his job is obvious in the way he attends to details and shares his knowledge.  His irrepressible sense of humor made the afternoons baiting hooks with smelly fish in the hot sun an adventure instead of a chore.


The Day Shift Science Crew – Kevin Rademacher, TAS Barney Peterson, Lisa Jones, Mike Cyrana, and Kasea Price

Trey Driggers, Research Fisheries Biologist, first got interested in aquatic animals because of alligators.  Growing up on a lake in Florida he was constantly warned to stay away from the water because there were alligators…the kind of warning guaranteed to intrigue any curious youngster.  About then, the movie “Jaws” was released and the media blitz that accompanied it drew his imagination toward an even scarier predator.  His interest grew and he remembers two books in particular that kept it alive: “The Dictionary of Sharks” and “Shark Attack.”  From that point on his career path seemed to point straight toward marine biology.

Trey put in four years studying a basic liberal arts program at Clemson University.  He remembers a Smithsonian presentation called “Shark in Question,” which had a chapter addressing the question “How can people become shark experts.”  He entered the University of South Carolina and spent 2 years taking nothing but science courses to get enough credits and background knowledge to enter a Master’s program in Marine Science. He began working as a volunteer in labs and on commercial fishing boats to gain experience.   Trey completed his thesis on yellowfin tuna and was ready to move on.  Advisors warned him away from focusing on charismatic marine fauna, but his father had taught him to push back against barriers and pursue his goals.  He began working as a volunteer in labs and on commercial fishing boats to gain experience.  He spent 3 years earning his Ph.D. and worked in a post-doctoral position while looking for a research job.  His previous volunteer work on surveys gathering information on blacknose sharks helped him get a foot in the door to get a contract position at the NOAA Fisheries Research Lab in Pascagoula.  He continues research to add to our understanding of sharks and enjoys his job because he loves the challenge of not knowing all the answers.

Trey’s advice to young people is to get involved in volunteering in a variety of ways so you can discover where your interests lie.  That volunteer experience can demonstrate interest that will set you apart from other applicants when it comes to applying for the limited number of positions that may be available in your chosen field.


Trey Driggers, head of the Night Shift Science Team, working in the dry lab


There were six unpaid volunteers aboard the ship this cruise.  They provide important manpower to get the research done while gaining knowledge and experience to transfer to other areas of their lives.  Most often they are students who are gathering data to use for research projects, working toward advanced degrees.  Sometimes there will be a volunteer like me, a very lucky Teacher at Sea who has been chosen by NOAA…….. to participate in the cruise to learn about the work and careers in NOAA to take that knowledge back and share it with our students and the general public.

Mike Cyrana is a Post-Doctoral Student at Tulane University, working toward his PhD in Marine Biology.  This is the second year he has worked with fisheries crews in the Gulf as he compiles data for his research.  Mike was on my watch so we worked together 12 hours each day and got to swap stories and share information.  He shows a passion for his work that lets you know he has chosen a career he loves.  Mike is to blame for introducing me to chocolate tacos….my newest vice!


Mike showing off the catch

Lydia Crawford is also a Post-Doctoral Student at Tulane University.  She is doing research about sharks for her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  Lydia was on the midnight to noon shift so our paths crossed very seldom.  She is knowledgeable and willingly shared what she knows to help make our jobs easier.  She also has been out on research cruises as a volunteer before and helped us newbies learn the ropes.


The Night Shift at work – Trey, Chrissy, Lydia, and Toni

Kasea Price, working for her MS at University of Southern Mississippi was on day shift with me and helped me wrangle sharks, dissect for otoliths and collect any number of specimens to bring home to my class.  On one of our last days working together she found out that she has been hired to work for one of her professors at school, a job that will make it possible for her to complete her degree without piling up huge loans.  We all celebrated for Kasea.


Kasea Price showing off a large Red Grouper

Toni Mancinelli is the youngest of the volunteers.  She is an undergraduate, just starting her junior year at The University of Tampa.  She felt very fortunate to be accepted for this cruise and worked hard to learn and contribute while she participated.  Her happy attitude and willingness to help made her a pleasure to know and work with.