Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)
Date: August 19, 2019
This video is a collection of fish trap camera footage recorded during my NOAA Teacher at Sea adventure aboard NOAA Ship Pisces. Very special thanks to the NOAA science team: Zeb Schobernd – chief scientist and especially Mike Bollinger and Brad Teer – camera and gear experts.
I know that I have already talked about how much science and technology there is on board, but I am amazed again and again by not only the quantity of it, but also the quality of it. I am also impressed by the specialized education and training that the scientists and rest of the crew have in their designed roles on this ship. They know how to utilize and make sense of it all. I keep trying to understand some of basics, but often I just find myself standing in the back of the room, taking it all in.
We brought in our first haul on Monday. I was given an orientation of each station, put on my fish gear, and got to work. I was shown how to identify the males from the females and shown how to find the fork length of the fish. Finally, I also practiced removing the otoliths from the fish. I finally felt like I was being useful.
I woke up on Tuesday (6/13) to start my 4:00 am shift. After some coffee and a blueberry muffin, I headed down to the “Chem lab.” We had arrived at the Islands of the Four Mountains in the night and were now heading back to start on the transect lines. The scientists had just dropped down the Drop Camera to get an idea of what was happening on the ocean floor. The camera went down to 220 meters to get an idea of what was happening down there. The video images that were being transmitted were mind-blowing. Though it was black and white footage, the resolution had great detail. We were able to see the bottom of the ocean floor and what was hanging out down there. The science crew was able to identity some fish and even some coral. One doesn’t really think of Alaska when one thinks of coral reefs. However, there are more species of coral in the Aleutians than in the Caribbean. That’s a strange thought. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are 50 species of coral in the Caribbean. Scientists believe that there are up to 100 species of coral in the coral gardens of Alaska that are 300 to 5,000 feet below the surface.
Monday, June 12
We have been making progress in getting to the Island of Four Mountains. We should be arriving around noon. At this point the scientists have still been getting everything ready for the first haul. The crew has been working hard to fine-tune the equipment ready for data gathering. I have been sitting in “The Cave” at various times, while they have been working around the clock, brainstorming, trouble-shooting, and sharing their in-depth knowledge with each other (and at times, even with me).
In the afternoon, I was asked to help a member of the Survey Crew sew a shark sling. I was not sure what that entailed, but was willing to help in any way possible. When I found Meredith, she was in the middle of sewing straps onto the shark sling. Ethan and I stepped in to help and spent the rest of the afternoon sewing the sling. The sling is intended to safely return any sharks that we catch (assuming we catch any) back to the water.
Tuesday, June 13
I woke up at 3am, grabbed a coffee and then made my way down to the Chem Lab. After downloading the footage from the DropCam and getting a few still pictures, we started identifying what we saw. Using identification key, we were able to identify the fish and some coral. We saw what we thought was an anemone. We spent about and hour to an hour and a half trying to identify the species. We had no luck. Finally, Abigail, with her scientific wisdom, decided to look into the coral species a bit deeper. And then, AHA!, there it was. It turned out to be a coral, rather than an anemone. It was a great moment to reflect on. It was a reminder that, even in science, there is a bit of trial and error involved. I have also observed that the science, actually everyone else on the ship, is always prepared to “trouble shoot” situations. In the moments where I have been observing in the back of the room, I have been able to take in many of the subtleties that take place on a research vessel like this. Here are some things that I have noticed.
1) Things will go wrong, 2) They always take longer than expected to fix, 3) Sometimes there are things that we don’t know (and that’s ok!) 4) Patience is important, 5) Tolerance is even more important, and 6) Clear communication is probably the most important of all. These have been good observations and reminders for me to apply in my own life.
Animals (And Other Cool Things) Seen Today
I feel very fortunate that I had a chance to participate in the DropCam process. We were able to identify:
Anthomastus mushroom coral
Did You Know?
In the NOAA Corps, an Ensign (ENS) is a junior commissioned officer. Ensigns are also part of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and other maritime services. It is equivalent to a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, the lowest commissioned officer, and ranking next below a lieutenant, junior grade.
Interview with ENS Caroline Wilkinson
What is your title aboard this ship?
I serve as a Junior Officer aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
How long have you been working with the NOAA Corps?
Since July 2015 when I entered Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC) at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. We train there for 5 months before heading out to our respective ship assignments. I arrived on the Dyson in December of 2015 and have been here ever since.
What sparked your interest in working for them?
I first learned of the NOAA Corps during a career fair my senior year of college at the University of Michigan. I was attracted by all of the traveling, the science mission of the organization, and the ability to serve my country.
What are some of the highlights of your job?
We see some incredible things out here! The Alaskan coastline is stunningly beautiful and there are more whales, sea birds, seals, otters, etc. than we can count. The crew and scientists are incredibly hardworking and supremely intelligent. They are a joy to work with and I love being able to contribute to highly meaningful science.
What are some of challenging parts of your job?
We spend over 200 days at sea each year and operate in remote areas. It is difficult to keep in touch with loved ones and most of us only see family and friends once or twice a year, if we are lucky. That is a huge sacrifice for most people and is absolutely challenging.
How much training did you go through?
The NOAA Corps Officers train for 5 months at the US Coast Guard Academy alongside the Coast Guard Officer Candidates. It is a rigorous training program focusing on discipline, officer bearing, and seamanship. Once deployed to the ship, we serve 6-8 months as a junior officer of the deck (JOOD) alongside a qualified Officer of the Deck (OOD). This allows us to become familiar with the ship, get more practice ship handling, and learn the intricacies of trawling.
What are your main job responsibilities?
Each Junior Office wears many hats. Each day I stand eight hours of bridge watch as OOD driving the ship and often instructing a JOOD. I also serve as the Medical Officer ensuring all crew and scientists are medically fit for duty and responding to any illness, injury, or emergency. I am the Environmental Compliance Officer and ensure the ship meets all environmental standards for operations with regards to things like water use and trash disposal. As the Navigation Officer, I work with the Captain and the Chief Scientist to determine where the ship will go and how we will get there. I then create track lines on nautical charts to ensure we are operating in safe waters. In my spare time I manage some small aspects of the ship’s budget and organize games, contests, outings, etc. as the morale officer.
Is there anything else that you would like to add or share about what you do?
I am really enjoying my time working for NOAA and in the NOAA Corps; I could not have asked for a better career. It is a challenging and exciting experience and I encourage anyone interested to reach out to a recruiting officer at https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-corps/join/applying.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Lesley Urasky Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces June 16 – June 29, 2012
Mission: SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands Date: June 22, 2012
Location: Latitude: 18.5472
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 28.6°C (83.5°F)
Wind Speed: 9 knots (10.5 mph), Beaufort scale: 3
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 77%
Barometric Pressure: 1,014.80 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28.1°C (82.6°F)
Science and Technology Log
Another aspect (much more technical) of the scientific research conducted on this cruise is the collection of acoustic data. This field is continually evolving as the detection resolution improves allowing scientists to more precisely identify fish. This has been used with more success in fisheries farther north because the schools of fish are more likely to be monospecific (a single species). However, the technique still needs improvement in warmer waters where the fish assemblages tend to be multi-specific (having a much greater variety of fish).
This field of study is called Hydroacoustics (hydro- means water, and acoustics refers to sound). It is the science of how sound moves through water. Leonardo da Vinci noticed how sound travels through water in 1490. He noticed that, “If you cause your ship to stop and place the head of a long tube in the water and place the outer extremity to your ear, you will hear ships at a great distance from you.” (Urick, Robert J. Principles of Underwater Sound, 3rd Edition. New York. McGraw-Hill, 1983.) World War I helped promote innovation in the field, especially with the need for anti-submarine detection devices (Wood, A. B., From the Board of Invention and Research to the Royal Naval Scientific Service, Journal of the Royal Naval Scientific Service Vol 20, No 4, pp 1-100 (185-284)).
The system used is a sonar beam that is split into quadrants. This instrument is used to assist in determining fish abundance and distribution. The premise is relatively simple: an echo sounder transmits a pulse of energy waves (sound), when the pulse strikes an object, it is reflected (bounced) back to the transducer. The echo sounder is then processed and sent to a video display. This is the same general process behind the recreationally available fishfinder.
A short burst of energy is focused into a narrow beam. When this beam encounters an object such as a fish, a school of fish, plankton, or other object, some of the energy bounces back up through the water to the transducer. It is the detection of these reflections that allow scientists to determine location, size, and abundance of fish. These reflections show up on our video monitor. These measurements are combined with groundtruthed data (for example, fish collected in the field, camera images).
One of the difficulties in data interpretation is that often, the signals that appear on the computer monitor have false readings. This is a result of the sound wave bouncing multiple times. It travels to the bottom from the transducer, strikes an object, returns to the ship, bounces off the ship back toward the bottom, strikes another object, and is detected yet again.
The Pisces is actually home to one of six multi-beam acoustic instruments in the world. Of the six in existence, NOAA has five of them. The benefit of running a multi-beam instrument is that each beam can be set to measure a different frequency (kHz), thus enabling detection of many more features (different species of fish, etc.)
Last night the crew of the Pisces carried out a task that they don’t normally perform. The Pisces was created for fisheries research projects – it focuses on collecting fish samples either by bandit reel, longline, or trawling. This particular operation was to deploy the anchor for a buoy that will be attached at a later date. When the buoy is ready to be attached, another vessel will bring it out to the site and divers will go down to the anchor to make the final attachment.
The anchor consists of a huge rebar-reinforced concrete block with a very long chain that has marker floats attached at the end. Logistically, this took some planning; the A-frame had to be raised and the anchor lifted with the Gilson winch with a 1″ spectra line (has an enormous tensile strength). The gate to the ship’s ramp was lowered and the A-frame (or as the deck hands call it, the “Tuna Tower”) repositioned so the anchor was hanging over the water. The rope holding the anchor, chain, and float was cut through, and the anchor plunged to the ocean bottom. Again, the crew made the operation go smoothly and demonstrated their ability to complete unexpectedly assigned tasks.
Today was a slow fishing day – no fish at all. Without any fish to “work up” (collect samples from), the day goes more slowly and we have more down time. With the extra time, I had a chance to interview Kevin Rademacher, the Chief Scientist on the cruise.
LU: What is your official job title and what are your job duties?
KR: I’m a Research Fisheries Biologist. I work for the Reef Fish Unit at the NOAA Fisheries Lab in Pascagoula, MS. I am the Senior Tape Reader/Reviewer, in charge of the readers that analyze the video data we collect from Reef Fish Surveys. I also help plan, organize, and run the surveys. Additionally, I participate in trawl surveys and anything else the lab needs done.
LU: When did you first become interested in the ocean and marine sciences?
KR: I guess that would have been when I was really young. There is a photo from the Panama City, Florida newspaper, two weeks after I was born with my parents pulling me in a homemade wagon along the beach! I knew in junior high school that I wanted to be a cross between Jacques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
LU: It’s such a broad field; how did you narrow your focus down to what you’re currently doing?
KR: I got lucky and kind of fell into reading underwater videos at the initial stages of the project and fell in love with being the proverbial “fly on the wall”! It has allowed me to see the fish in their natural habitat, different color phases, behavior, etc.
LU: If you were to go into another area of ocean research, what would it be?
KR: Marine Mammal Studies. After college I trained dolphins and sea lions and put on shows with them for a local Oceanarium on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
LU: What is the biggest challenge in your job?
KR: Communicating with people and writing papers.
LU: What do you think is the biggest issue of contention in your field?
KR: The impression that commercial fishermen have regarding the work we do to regulate the fisheries they work in.
LU: What are some effects of climate change that you’ve witnessed during your career in fisheries research?
KR: The decline of coral reefs and overfishing of some species.
LU: In what areas of marine science do you foresee a lot of career paths and job opportunities?
KR: Ecosystem management and data modelers. There has also been a decline in taxonomists over the past few decades.
LU: How would you explain your work to a layperson?
KR: I use underwater cameras to help assess populations of reef fish, especially snappers and groupers. The data collected is used to manage those fisheries.
LU: If a high school student wanted to go into your field of study/marine science in general, what kinds of courses would you recommend they take?
KR: Math, Biology, Chemistry, and any other science courses available.
LU: Do you recommend students interested in your field pursue original research as high school students or undergraduates? If so, what kind?
KR: Most definitely! Whatever they are interested in would be beneficial.
Well, only two more days left with the scientists before we pull into San Juan, Puerto Rico. We have 17 more daytime sites to sample and then this survey will be over. The scientific crew will be flying home on the 25th, and once home, their work will really begin. Back in the lab, they will be analyzing the data and reviewing the video. Some of them will be going back out on other cruises. Kevin Rademacher will be going out on another reef fish survey in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It is currently delayed because of the potential formation of tropical storm Debby. Joey Salisbury has a couple more; he will be going on a longline cruise and then another reef fish survey, both of which will be in the Gulf of Mexico. Arian Frappier will be heading off to begin a masters program in marine systems and coastal studies at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
After a day’s shore leave in San Juan, I’ll continue on to Mayport on the Pisces. During this time, I’ll focus on the crew members and their jobs. The cruise will definitely take on a different feel at this point, but it will give me an opportunity to explore other ocean related careers.