NOAA Teacher at Sea Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow May 19 – June 3, 2015
Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast Date: May 23, 2015, Day 6 of Voyage
Brad Toms at his station at the bridge. He is documenting a bird sighting with his voice activated computer system that records through his head set. Photo by: DJ Kast
Interview with Brad Toms, Wildlife Biologist contracted through Environment Canada (guests of NOAA) as bird observer from Nova Scotia, Canada.
Tell me a little bit about your background:
I started working with seabirds in 2005 – terns and gulls specifically, counting the breeding colonies – and helped recover an endangered tern called a Roseate Tern. Then I started doing shipboard surveys in 2011 in Canada, and these two experiences brought me here.
What is your exact job on this research cruise?
How do you get trained to be a marine bird observer?
Trained by experienced observers; they make sure you have the skills to identify things properly and meticulously document them.
What are the most common birds you have seen on this cruise?
The most common type of birds on this trip are two types of Storm Petrels which are the Wilsons and Leach’s. These are very small birds, and have approximately a 1.5 ft wingspan.
Bookmarked page of the most common birds seen so far on this trip. Photo by DJ Kast
Did you know?
The petrels are a taxonomic order of birds called tube noses or Procellariiformes. Procellariiformes drink seawater, so they have to have an adaptation to get rid of the excess salt. The salt gland at the base of their beak removes salt from the circulatory system and forms a 5 percent saline solution that either drips from or is forcibly ejected from their nostrils.
Sooty shearwaters are 40–51 cm in length with a 94–110 cm wingspan. Most seabirds have a large wingspan according to their body size so they can glide and not waste energy.
Photo of the head and wingspan of the Sooty Shearwater. Photo by: DJ Kast
Herring Gulls: Adults have light-gray backs, black wingtips, and white heads. They have a Red spot near tip of lower bill of their beak.
Did you know?
Dutch scientist Niko Tinbergen studied nesting Herring Gulls and he noticed that newly hatched gull chicks were fed by their parents only after they pecked at the red spot at the adults’ bills (beaks).
Herring Gull. Photo by: Brad Toms
What are some unusual birds you have seen on this trip?
White faced storm petrel
Summer Tanager sighted on the NOAA Henry B. Bigelow. Photo by Brad Toms
What do you enjoy about your job?
The variety and challenges of each survey and transect make my job very interesting.
What do you do when you site a bird?
I have to keep my eyes on it, until I have all of the features of the bird for identification. These features include general color, distinctive plumage, and size.
Photo of the distinctive tail identifiers of petrels. Wilsons and Leach’s are the most common. Photo by DJ Kast
I then enter into the system that is voice activated and try to make sure that it is in my transect. I really have to keep track of it to make sure it doesn’t re-enter the transect.
Method measuring the transect of the side of the bridge. Photo by: DJ Kast
The reason I need to keep track of it is because it has been shown that certain species of birds exhibit this weird behavior where they will circle the ship in a radius of about a half a mile and/ or they will follow the ship.
My transect is on the port (left) side of the boat, and from the time that I start it’s 300 meters out and the length is however far the boat travels in 5 minutes. So if the boat is going slow then the transect is short, and is the boat is going fast then it is a longer transect and this is called a standardized unit of effort, which enables me to compare data and protocols to other studies.
How does your voice activated system work? What does it record?
The voice activated system records what I say to it, but it has to be in code. The basic five things that have to be in for it to be considered a recording are: species, number of birds, location (on the water or flying), inside or outside of the transect, and how far away from the boat it is. I speak in codes, short acronyms for the five basic things above, and I have to make sure to say the five things in a row, in the same order, same thing every time.
Optional things that I can add to the recording include: behavior, age, sex, molt patterns.
What is the greatest number of birds recorded at once on a vessel?
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 18, 2012
Location: Latitude: 17.6568
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 28.5°C (83.3°F)
Wind Speed: 17.1 knots (19.7 mph), Beaufort scale: 5
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 75%
Barometric Pressure: 1,014.80 mb
Surface Water Temperature:28.97 °C (84.1°F)
Science and Technology Log
Alright, so I’ve promised to talk about the fish. Throughout the science portions of the cruise, the scientists have not been catching the anticipated quantities of fish. There are several lines of thought as to why: maybe the region has experienced overfishing; possibly the sampling sites are too shallow and deeper water fish may be more likely to bite; or they might not like the bait (North Atlantic mackerel) since it is not an endemic species/prey they would normally eat.
So far, the night shift has caught more fish than the day shift that I’m on. Today, we have caught five and a half fish. The half fish was exactly that – we retrieved only the head and it looked like the rest of the body had been consumed by a barracuda! These fish were in the grouper family and the snapper family.
Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus)
Blackfin snapper (Lutjanus buccanella). This little guy was wily enough to sneak into the camera array and steal some squid out of the bait bag! The contents of his stomach – cut up squid – can be seen to the left between the forceps and his head.
Once the fish have been caught, there are several measurements that must be made. To begin, the fish is weighed to the nearest thousandth (three decimal places) of a kilogram. In order to make sure the weight of the fish is accurate, the scale must be periodically calibrated.
Then there are several length measurements that are made: standard length (SL), total length (TL) and depending on the type of fish, fork length (FL). To make these measurements, the fish is laid so that it facing toward the left and placed on a fish board. The board is simply a long plank with a tape measure running down the center. It insures that the fish is laid out flat and allows for consistent measurement.
Standard length does not measure the caudal fin, or tail. It is measured from the tip of the fish’s head and stops at the end of the last vertebra; in other words, if the fish is laying on its side, and you were to lift the tail up slightly, a crease will form at the base of the backbone. This is where the standard length measurement would end. Total length is just as it sounds – it is a measurement of the entire length (straight line) of the fish. Fork length is only measured if the type of fish caught has a forked tail. If it does, the measurement begins at the fish’s snout and ends at the v-notch in the tail.
How to measure the three types of lengths: standard, fork, and total. (Source: Australian Government: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population, and Communities)
Red hind (Epinephelus guttatus) on the fish board being measured for standard length. Ariane’s thumb is on the crease marking the end of its backbone.
Once the physical measurements are made, the otoliths must be extracted and the fish sexed. You’re probably anxious to learn if you selected the right answer on the previous post’s poll – “What do you think an otolith is?” An otolith can be thought of as a fish’s “ear bone”. It is actually a structure composed of calcium carbonate and located within the inner ear. All vertebrates (organisms with backbones) have similar structures. They function as gravity, balance, movement, and directional indicators. Their presence helps a fish sense changes in horizontal motion and acceleration.
In order to extract the otoliths, the fish must be killed. Once the fish has been killed, the brain case is exposed and peeled back. The otoliths are in little slits located in the underside of the brain. It takes a delicate touch to remove them with a pair of forceps (tweezers) because they can easily break or slip beyond the “point of no return” (drop into the brain cavity where they cannot be extracted).
Otoliths are important scientifically because they can tell many important things about a fish’s life. Their age and growth throughout the first year of life can be determined. Otoliths record this information just like tree ring record summer/winter cycles. More complex measurements can be used to determine the date of hatch, once there are a collected series of measurements, spawning times can be calculated.
A cross-section of an otolith under a microscope. The rings are used to determine age and other life events. Source: Otolith Research Laboratory, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Because they are composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), the oxygen component of the chemical compound can be used to measure stable oxygen isotopes; this is useful for reconstructing temperatures of the waters the fish has lived in. Scientists are also able to look at other trace elements and isotopes to determine various environmental factors.
Extracted otoliths. Often they are around 1 cm long, although the larger the fish, the slightly larger the otolith.
The final step we take in measurement/data collection is determining the sex and maturity of the fish. To do this, the fish is slit open just as if you were going to clean the fish to filet and eat it. The air bladder must be deflated if it isn’t already and the intestines moved out of the way. Then we begin to search for the gonads (ovaries and testes). Once the gonads are found, we know if it is female or male and the next step is to determine its stage or maturity. This is quite a process, especially since groupers can be hermaphroditic. The maturity can be classified with a series of codes:
U = undetermined
1 = immature virgin (gonads are barely visible)
2 = resting (empty gonads – in between reproductive events)
3 = enlarging/developing (eggs/sperm are beginning to be produced)
4 = running ripe (gonads are full of eggs/sperm and are ready to spawn)
5 = spent (spawning has already occurred)
Ovaries of a coney (grouper family). These are the pair of flesh colored tubular structures running down the center of the fish.
Today is my birthday, and I can’t think of a better place to spend it! What a treat to be having such an adventure in the Caribbean! This morning, we were on our first bandit reel survey of the day, and the captain came on over the radio system, announced my birthday and sang Happy Birthday to me. Unbeknownst to me, my husband, Dave, had emailed the CO of the Pisces asking him to wish me a happy birthday.
We’ve had a very successful day (compared to the past two days) and have caught many more fish – 5 1/2 to be exact. The most exciting part was that I caught two fish on my bandit reel! They were a red hind and blackfin snapper (see the photos above). What a great birthday present!
Father’s Day surf and turf dinner
My birthday fish! The blackfin snapper is on the left and the red hind on the right.
I even got a birthday kiss from the red hind!
Last night (6/17) for Father’s Day, we had an amazing dinner: filet mignon, lobster, asparagus, sweet plantains, and sweet potato pie for dessert! Since it was my birthday the following day (6/18), and one of the scientists doesn’t like lobster, I had two tails! What a treat!
Our best catch of the day came on the last bandit reel cast. Joey Salisbury (one of the scientists) caught 5 fish: 4 blackfin snapper and 1 almaco jack; while Ariane Frappier (another scientist) caught 3 – 2 blackfin and 1 almaco jack. This happened right before dinner, so we developed a pretty good assembly line system to work them up in time to eat.
Dinner was a nice Chinese meal, but between the ship beginning to travel to the South coast of St. Thomas and working on the computer, I began to feel a touch seasick (not the best feeling after a large meal!). I took a couple of meclazine (motion sickness medication) and still felt unwell (most likely because you’re supposed to take it before the motion begins). My roommate, Kelly Schill, the Operations Officer, made me go to bed (I’m in the top bunk – yikes!), gave me a plastic bag (just in case!), and some saltine crackers. After 10 hours of sleep, I felt much, much better!
I had some time in between running bandit reels, baiting the hooks, and entering data into the computers,to interview a member of the science team that joined us at the last-minute from St. Croix. Roy Pemberton, Jr. is the Director of Fish and Wildlife for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The following is a snippet of our conversation:
LU: What are your job duties as the Director of Fish and Wildlife?
RP: I manage fisheries/wildlife resources and try to educate the population on how to better manage these resources to preserve them for future generations of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
LU: When did you first become interested in oceanography?
RP: I’m not really an oceanographer, but more of a marine scientist and wildlife biologist. I got interested in this around 5-6 years old when I learned to swim and then snorkel for the first time. I really enjoyed observing the marine environment and my interest prompted me to want to see and learn more about it.
LU: It’s such a broad field, how did you narrow your focus down to what you’re currently doing?
RP: I took a marine science class in high school and I enjoyed it tremendously. It made me seek it out as a career by pursuing a degree in Marine Science at Hampton University.
LU: If you were to go into another area of ocean research, what would it be?
RP: Oceanography – Marine Spatial Planning
Roy Pemberton holding a recently caught coney.
LU: What is the biggest challenge in your job?
RP: It is a challenge to manage fisheries and wildlife resources with respect to the socioeconomic and cultural nuances of the people.
LU: What do you think is the biggest issue of contention in your field, and how do you imagine it will resolve?
RP: Fisheries and coral reef management. We need to have enough time to see if the federal management efforts work to ensure healthier ecosystems for future generations.
LU: What are some effects of climate change that you’ve witnessed in the reef systems of the U.S. Virgin Islands?
RP: Temperatures have become warmer and the prevalence of disease among corals has increased.
LU: In what areas of Marine Science do you foresee a lot of a career paths and job opportunities?
RP: Fisheries management, ecosystem management, coral reef diseases, and the study of coral reef restoration.
LU: Is there an area of Marine Science that you think is currently being overlooked, and why?
RP: Marine Science management that takes into account cultural and economic issues.
LU: What are some ideas a layperson could take from your work?
RP: One tries to balance resource protection and management with the cultural and heritage needs of the population in the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
LU: If a high school student wanted to go into the fish/wildlife division of planning and natural resources, what kinds of courses would you recommend they take?
RP: Biology, Marine Science, History, Botany, and Math
LU: Do you recommend students interested in your field pursue original research as high school students or undergraduate students? If so, what kind?
RP: I would suggest they study a variety of life sciences so they can see what they want to pursue. Then they can do an internship in a particular life science they find interesting to determine if they would like to pursue it as a career.
Too many interesting people on the ship and so little time! I’m going to interview scientists as we continue on to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Once they leave, I’m continuing on to Mayport, Florida with the ship. During this time, I’ll explore other careers with NOAA.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Kristy Weaver Aboard The R/V Savannah May 23 – June 1, 2012
Mission: Reef Fish Survey Location: Back in Jersey Date: June 7, 2012
You can be anything you want to be when you grow up! While I was on the R/V Savannah there were two main types of jobs that people were doing. There were the scientists and the crew of the ship. If you think you might like to be a biologist or work on a ship someday these videos may help you to learn more about these jobs.
I would like to introduce you to some of the new friends I made on the ship:
Meet Dan- Marine Biology College Student
Meet David- Fisheries Biologist with NOAA
Meet Warren- Fisheries Biologist with NOAA
Meet Zeb- Fisheries Biologist with NOAA
Meet Stephen- Wildlife Biologist with South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources
Meet Jennifer: Recent Graduate of The College of Charleston and new full time employee at South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources