Nicolle von der Heyde, June 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Monday, June 21

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 0800 hours (8 am)
Position: Latitude: 28º 09.6 minutes N
Longitude: 094º 18.2 min. W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: variable
Water Temperature: 30.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius
Ship’s Speed: 5 knots

Science Technology Log

Atlantic Spotted dolphins are the graceful ballerinas of the sea. They are just incredible! The Gulf of Mexico is one of the habitats of the dolphin because they live in warm tropical waters. The body of a spotted dolphin is covered with spots and as they get older their spots become greater in number.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Here you can see the spots on an older Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. To read more about dolphins go to http://www.dolphindreamteam.com/dolphins/dolphins.html

Because Dolphins are mammals they breathe air through a single blowhole much like whales. Dolphins live together in pods and can grow to be 8 feet long and weigh 200-255 pounds. Like whales, dolphins swim by moving their tails (flukes) up and down. The dolphin’s beak is long and slim and its lips and the tip of its beak are white. They eat a variety of fish and squid found at the surface of the water. Since dolphins like to swim with yellow fin tuna, some dolphins die by getting tangled in the nets of tuna fishermen.

Newborn calves are grey with white bellies. They do not have spots. Calves mature around the age of 6-8 years or when the dolphin reaches a length of 6.5 feet. Calving takes place every two years. Gestation (or pregnancy) lasts for 11 1/2 months and babies are nursed for 11 months.

While watching the dolphins ride the bow wave, Nicolle and I wondered, “How do dolphins sleep and not drown?” Actually, we found that there are two basic methods of sleeping: they float and rest vertically or horizontally at the surface of the water. The other method is sleeping while swimming slowly next to another dolphin. Dolphins shut down half of their brains and close the opposite eye. That lets the other half of the brain stay “awake.” This way they can rest and also watch for predators. After two hours they reverse this process. This pattern of sleep is called “cat-napping.”

Dolphins maintain a deeper sleep at night and usually only sleep for two hours at a time. This method is called “logging” because in this state dolphins look like a log floating in the ocean.

The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the hunting, capturing, killing or collecting of marine mammals without a proper permit. Permits are granted for the Spotted Dolphins to be taken if it is for scientific research, public display, conservation, or in the case of a dolphin stranding. The maximum ffor violating the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Personal Log

The best part of this trip is all the marine life I see in the Gulf. In the past few days, dolphins have been swimming up to the boat and riding the bow wave of the ship. They are so graceful and playful in the water. In addition to the Tiger Shark seen feasting on the dead Sperm Whale, I have seen quite a few sharks swimming in the water near our ship. One, called a Silky Shark, took the bait as some of the crew was fishing from the stern of the boat (shown to the left). It was hauled up so the hook could be taken out and released back into the water. The second was a baby shark swimming near the bow of the ship as I watched the dolphins in the distance. I also saw a shark swimming near the starboard side of our ship while the deckhands were hauling up one of the camera arrays.

The fourth shark was the most exciting. As the crew was working at the stern of the ship to release a line that was caught in the rudder, I looked over the stern to see a large shark very near the surface swimming toward the starboard (right) side of the ship. I hurried to look and to my surprise it was a giant Hammerhead! I never expected to see one of these in its natural habitat. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out, the Hammerhead was too far away and too deep to get a clear shot, but what a sight to see!

Hammerhead shark

Hammerhead shark

The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

I often mistake the fish shown on the left for sharks. Actually they are Cobia, also known as Lemonfish. Once in a while thefish approach the boat as we are hauling fishup on the bandit reel. I have also seen bojellyfish in the water as we are working on the starboard side of the ship and I spotted a brief glimpse of an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) from the bridge of the ship as I was talking to our Commanding Officer (CO). I wish I could have seen this fish up close. They are the largest bony fish in the oceans and as someone on the ship described, they resemble a giant Chiclet swimming in the water.

The smallest living things I have seen while at sea are the tiny creatures that live in the Sargassum, a type of seaweed that floats freely within and on the surface of the Gulf waters. The Sargassum provides a habitat for tiny creatures that are the foundation of the food web, even providing food for some of the largest animals in the sea like whales. The picture below on the left shows a giant patch of Sargassum, while the picture on the right shows some of the creatures that live within it including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs.

Sargassum

Sargassum

Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs

Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs

Seeing all this life has been reassuring as the oil continues to gush into Gulf waters off the coast of Louisiana, however I can’t help but think what the overall impact of this spill will be for the future of the Gulf. Will we see the negative environmental impact spread to the Eastern Gulf? Are microscopic droplets of oil and chemical dispersants infecting the food chain beyond the area that we visibly see being impacted? These questions will be answered as NOAA scientists continue to collect and analyze the type of data that I am helping gather on this SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this scientific endeavor.

Animals Seen

Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)

Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)

Cobia (Rachycentron canadum)

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)

Krill, Shrimp, Crab (species unidentified)

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 28, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 28, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 0700 hours (7 am)
Position: latitude = 28° N longitude = 089º W
Present Weather: storm clouds, thunder, lightning, rain
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: E Wind Speed: 29 knots
Wave Height: 3-5 foot
Sea Water Temp: 30.6°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 27°C, wet bulb = 26°C

Science and Technology Log

Tropical Storm Alex, which is a very strong tropical storm, has moved over the Yucatan Peninsula and continues to show signs of strengthening and organization. It was headed straight for us before we started steaming eastward to get out of its path. Our CO has monitored this progression carefully so he can make the decision to go into home port or not. Yesterday evening we started steaming east at 13 knots so we could be closer to Pascagoula if indeed he decided it was unsafe to stay at sea. When we woke this morning we found that Tropical Storm Alex had intensified overnight maintaining wind speed of 50-60 mph. An Air Force Reserve reconnaissance plane found that the atmospheric pressure was decreasing thus creating a very dangerous situation for the Pisces. The CO said that 12 foot waves crashing over the bow would not be fun so he made the decision to head back to Pascagoula today.

Track of Tropical Storm Alex

Track of Tropical Storm Alex

We’ve been traveling at 14 knots all night long. Since that is as fast as we can go, we know that the CO is anxious to get us safely in port. He told us that he has to make a decision to return to home port early enough to get a berth at the dock. With all ships in the area heading to shore, he needs to make a decision within 72 hours of the storm hitting so we can get a berth. If you do not get back before the port closes, you have to ride out the storm on water.

The swells have gotten much larger and deeper causing the ship to rock and roll. Walking down the halls is like being a ping pong ball bouncing everywhere. Taking a shower this morning and cleaning up was quite a challenge. When we came down to the lab, they were packing it in. The ship’s crew is busy cleaning the rooms, deck, and ladders (stairs). No more science.

View of Deepwater Horizon

View of Deepwater Horizon

View of Deepwater Horizon

View of Deepwater Horizon

On our way back to Pascagoula, we passed within 6 miles of the Deepwater Horizon/BP disaster site. We saw 40 ships – pipeline boats, supply boats, a research vessel, tugs and barges that collect the oil, and the Stemstar, which is the ship that injects mud, steam, and concrete into damaged wells. On board the Stemstar are geologists and engineers who are working on solutions to stop the oil leakage of the well. We also saw a fire boat sending water toward a flame that was burning off oil from a rig. The CO thought this might be to keep the heat from damaging the rigs and ships. When oil is burned off the surface of the water, oil crystallizes and hardens much like obsidian rock. It then sinks to the bottom of the ocean and is much easier to collect and dispose of.

Personal Log

For most of the time on board Pisces I have not felt much rocking and rolling from sea swells, but that began to change two nights ago as winds from Tropical Storm Alex added energy to the surface waters off the coast of Mexico and made its way into the Northern Gulf. There had been talk of the cruise ending early but when I woke up this morning I did not expect to be headed back to port, putting an end to this amazing adventure and learning experience at sea. Since this will be my last log, I have a few more tales to tell before summing up how I feel about stepping onto solid ground and leaving my sea legs behind.

Two nights ago I was taken by surprise when our Commanding Officer (CO) Jeremy Adams invited us to come up to the bridge after our scientific work was complete to pilot the ship. That’s right – he was actually willing to hand over the reins of the Pisces to me! When we walked up to the bridge it was really dark and it took a minute for our eyes to adjust. The officers on watch need to maintain their night vision and use dim red light to see. They constantly watch the waters, even though the radar picks up most objects like oil rigs and other ships. The CO showed us the compass and how to turn the rudders to steer the ship, including making a complete 360° circle!

Melinda went first and it was so great to see her reaction as she piloted the ship in circles, probably knocking a few crew members off their feet! When it was my turn, I opted for a straighter path and attempted to steer the ship in specific directions that the CO commanded. Feeling the 208 foot steel ship turn on my command was a thrill. It was fairly easy to turn but not so easy to stay on course, fighting with surface currents and smashing into waves. We couldn’t take pictures because the flash would be too bright, but the picture below shows all the NOAA Corps Officers on the bridge as they steered through the channel that took us home to the port of Pascagoula. In addition to the scientists on board, I learned a tremendous amount from the officers on the ship.

NOAA Corps Officers on the Bridge

NOAA Corps Officers on the Bridge

Melinda made me laugh one evening when she was determined to “catch a shark”. She took a fish that we did not need to keep for Seafood Inspection, tied it to a thick rope, and dangled it in the water trying to lure a shark or a fish to the boat. She had no success, even trying again the next day. That evening, Melinda turned in after our work was done and some of the crew decided to go fishing off the stern. After waiting around for a while (remember, it’s called “fishing” not “catching”) one of the deckhands, Clint, got a bite and began reeling the fish up to the surface from the depths. You really have no choice in what decides to take the bait and usually hope for a decent sized fish rather than something with large teeth and a bad temper. It was obvious that Clint had caught something big because the fishing rod was bent down pretty far and the catch was putting up quite a fight. I watched the surface in anticipation of seeing what was on the line and eventually, I began to see the ghostly underwater image of what appeared to be a shark! The next task was to reel the shark close enough to remove the hook and release it back into the water – I did not volunteer for that task. This was a job for the experts.

Fishing from the deck fo the Pisces

Fishing from the deck fo the Pisces

Smooth Dogfish Shark

Smooth Dogfish Shark

On closer look at the shark, it was identified as a Smooth Dogfish (Mustelus canis), with a distinguishing feature being low, flat teeth rather than pointy, triangular teeth associated with most other sharks. This did not make removal of the hook any easier as another deckhand, Victor, handled the shark and threw it back into its water habitat. Believe it or not, after releasing the shark, Clint tried again to catch something a little tamer and found himself once more reeling a powerful fish to the surface. It was another Smooth Dogfish! Probably not the same one, but if it was, didn’t it learn its lesson? This one snapped the line before making it on deck. Boy was Melinda disappointed when she found out the next morning all the excitement she had missed. Fortunately I was there with my camera to capture the moment.

So now I have to say good-bye to the Pisces and all the scientists and crew who helped make this an experience of a lifetime. There are so many science concepts, skills, and life lessons that I will be able to show my students through the pictures, discussions, and resources that all of you contributed to. I can’t wait to share these with my students and help them see how valuable the oceans are to the health of our planet. I feel very fortunate that our cruise had so many unique and interesting qualities like sighting a dead sperm whale and seeing the food chain in action, catching a diversity of reeffish including a yellowmouth grouper, and experiencing a small fire that was quickly under control by a prepared crew. And let’s not forget the perfect weather with most rainstorms staying far enough in the distance to capture them on camera in entirety. Even Alex who cut our trip short can be used as a teachable moment on hurricane season.

Certainly the most significant event is still gushing into the Gulf waters and the effects are largely unknown and will be felt for quite a while. I wasn’t expecting to see the actual Deepwater Horizon sight during this trip and was surprised when I walked up to the bridge and saw it looming on the horizon. Appropriately, a cloud was hanging over the sight and rain poured down obscuring the view for a while. When the clouds cleared and we got within 6 miles of the sight, I was struck by having the opportunity to see this environmental tragedy up close. It was sad to see, but I know that we will learn from this tragedy and if anything, it draws attention to a serious debate in our society: the pros and cons of our dependence and use of oil based products. The countless working and abandoned oil rigs that consistently dot the horizon also provide habitat for numerous fish species and the corals that support them. My students will be able to analyze and discuss this problem from the unique perspective that I have been given while on board the Pisces. I also believe this tragedy emphasizes the importance of the scientific work that NOAA does and will continue to do in the Gulf of Mexico.

A final thanks to Chief Scientist Paul Felts, Dr. Christopher Gledhill, Joey Salisbury, Jeneane Davis, and the officers and crew of Pisces for being so patient with our questions and making us feel so welcome on board. And thanks to Melinda, my fellow Teacher at Sea, for experiencing this amazing adventure with me.

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 25, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, June 25, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10 am)
Position: latitude = 27°53.9 N longitude = 093º 51.1 W
Present Weather: 5/8 cloudy (cumulonimbus/cumulus clouds)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: E Wind Speed: 4 knots
Wave Height: 1 foot
Sea Water Temp: 30.5°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.2°C, wet bulb = 26.3°C

Science and Technology Log

Video from the camera array

Video from the camera array

Echo Sounder

Echo Sounder

The technology on this ship is amazing! The picture on the left is video of what the camera array filmed yesterday. The fish just swim around and sometimes they even come right up to the camera like they are “kissing” it. Then they back away and swim off. It’s beautiful to watch. The picture on the right is the EK60 Echo Sounder. The red line that you see shows the bottom of the seafloor. The blue above the red line is the water itself and the white specks that you see are fish. The most recent reading is located on the right side of the screen. The echo sounder sends a “ping” to the computer and that “ping” is a fish. Sometimes we can see definite shark outlines in the images below our ship. If you look at the bottom right hand corner of the echo sounder photo, you will see a large white speck along the red line. This indicates a large fish (possibly a shark) trolling the bottom of the ocean. When we came upon the dead sperm whale, the Electronics Technician (ET) came to the lab and told us there were a lot of “large fish,” most likely Mahi Mahi or even sharks, swimming under the ship.

Techonology on the Pisces

Techonology on the Pisces

The Pisces would not be able to operate without the engineers who make sure that everything onboard is functioning properly, including the 4 massive diesel generators that power the ship, the freshwater generators that convert seawater into fresh drinking water, and the hydraulics that power the cranes to lift the cameras in and out of the water. Chief Engineer Garet Urban leads the team of engineers, oilers, and electrical experts who take care of all the mechanical issues on board the ship.

First Engineer, Brent Jones, took us on a tour of the very impressive engine room on the lower deck of the Pisces. He showed us the incinerator which burns all the trash, oil filters, and other waste at a temperature of 1200°C (2192°F). Paper, plastic, and aluminum is brought back to shore and recycled. Before entering the engine room, we were told to put in earplugs because the sound can damage your eardrums. In addition to not being able to hear a thing inside the engine room, the heat is incredible! The engineers need to be careful to stay hydrated while working in these conditions.

Engine Room

Engine Room

Generators in the Engine Room

Generators in the Engine Room

The Pisces is powered by 4 diesel fuel generators which generate electricity that drives two large electric motors. The photo above on the right shows one of the generators in yellow. The engineers are constantly monitoring the mechanics of the ship to make sure everyone on board has a safe and productive voyage while conducting scientific research on board.

Personal Log

Every week the ship is required to conduct emergency drills. Yesterday after dinner, the alarm sounded 6 short bursts and an announcement came on saying, “This is a drill…abandon ship, proceed to your muster stations…this is a drill.” We had to go to our rooms and grab our PFD’s (personal flotation devices), survival suits, a long sleeve shirt, long pants, and a hat. We then proceeded to the 0-1 deck where two officers were in charge of making sure that everyone on their list was present and accounted for. After attendance was taken the drill was over; however Melinda and I wanted to try on the survival suits because no matter who you are, you can’t help but look and feel silly in what the crew refers to as a “Gumby suit” – for obvious reasons. Two of the officers joined us in this cumbersome and entertaining task.

Emergency Drill

Emergency Drill

Melinda Storey and I in our Gumby Suits

Melinda Storey and I in our Gumby Suits

Getting into my gumby suit

Getting into my gumby suit

Never has the routine of an emergency drill seemed more significant than the next morning, shortly after arriving in the lab, when the general alarm sounded and an announcement came on saying, “This is NOT a drill…smoke has been detected near the bow thrusters on the lower deck…repeat, this is NOT a drill.” It took a second for me to register that this was a real emergency and we all quickly moved to the conference room – the muster station for the scientific party. On the way into the room, I smelled something burning and heard in my head the ominous words of one of the scientists during a previous fire drill, “One of the worst things that can happen at sea is a fire.” Now I was nervous. The Chief Scientist called the bridge to let them know that we were all accounted for and asked if we could move because we smelled smoke. We moved to the main deck and waited…not very long actually. Within a matter of minutes an announcement signaled that the fire was secure and we were free to carry on with our business.

The bow thrusters had overheated and fortunately, someone was working near them when the smoking started. Because the ship conducts fire drills on a regular basis, including the simulation of putting out specific types of fires, everyone knew where to go and the crew had the smoking under control very quickly. It was reassuring to know that the crew is so prepared to handle emergencies at sea. I will never again complain about the routine task of emergency drills, especially at school. Preparation and planning is the key to keeping everyone safe.

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 23, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle von der Heyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Wednesday, June 23

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10 am)
Position: latitude = 27°51 N longitude = 093º 51 W
Present Weather: 7/8 cloudy (cumulus/cirrus clouds)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: SSE Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wave Height: > 1 foot
Sea Water Temp: 31°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 31.4°C, wet bulb = 28°C

Science and Technology Log

Because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, most of the fish we are catching in the Chevron Trap or Bandit Reel is being weighed, measured, and frozen for the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) to be tested for oil or toxin contamination. After the NSIL completes its testing, the fish are sent back to the NOAA Pascagoula Laboratory where the scientists determine the sex of the fish and remove the otolith, or ear bone, which can be analyzed to determine its age. The otoliths are sliced very thin and examined under a microscope. Rings can be seen that help the scientists age the fish, similar to reading tree rings to determine the age of a tree. Age data is analyzed to contribute to the fishery-independent stock assessments which help determine the health of the fish population and how many can be taken out of the water. This also helps establish the size restriction of fish for the commercial and recreational fishing industry.

Otoliths

Otoliths

Occasionally, the fish trap will catch more than 10 fish at a time. If this happens, the first 10 fish are frozen for NSIL. Any remaining fish are dissected on board the ship to determine their sex and their otoliths are removed and placed in a labeled envelope for later analysis. The picture above shows the otoliths taken out of a red snapper.

The video footage taken at each station will also be analyzed in depth back at the NOAA Pascagoula Laboratory; however after each station, the footage is spot checked to ensure that the cameras recorded properly. The scientists make sure that the cameras are positioned correctly and not pointing upward in the water column or down on the ocean floor, that the field of view is not obstructed by an object like a rock, and that the water is clear enough to view the fish in sight. When we first began the Reef Fish Survey, most of the fish we saw were red snapper. As we have moved up in latitude toward the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary, the diversity of fish has increased.

Looking at the video footage

Looking at the video footage

There are 14 federally designated marine sanctuaries in the United States and the Flower Garden Banks is the only one located in the Gulf of Mexico. The Banks are essentially three large salt domes that were formed about 190 million years ago when much of the Gulf evaporated into a shallow sea. When the salt deposits were covered in layers of sediment, the pressure and difference in density caused the salt domes to rise and corals began to form on them about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. (This information was obtained from the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary website. For more information, visit this informative and interesting website at http://flowergarden.noaa.gov )

Yellowmouth grouper

Yellowmouth grouper

Grey Triggerfish

“As stated earlier, we do not view the entire recording from the camera arrays, but as we were spot-checking the footage from one of the cameras, one of the scientists came across an image of the Marbled Grouper that was later caught in the bandit reel. Looking closer at the image shows the variety of species found in these coral reef ecosystems including a Squirrelfish, a Yellowfin Grouper that has spots resembling a cheetah, and to our delight, a Spotted Moray eel!

Diagram of video footage

Diagram of video footage

 Personal Log

Each day the camera array and CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) are lowered 7 or 8 times at different stations within an area about 10 X 10 nautical miles. (A nautical mile is slightly larger than a standard mile). This is handled by the deckhands and scientists who operate the cranes and position the instruments. Since we cannot participate in this task, we make sure to help out as much as possible with the fish trap, bandit reel, and taking measurements of the fish we catch.

It was exciting when we caught the marbled grouper on the bandit reel because it was so big! It weighed around 21 pounds and fell off the hook a second after the photo on the right was taken, scaring me half to death as it flopped around on the deck! I was sure it would flop itself right back into the water and there would go our impressive catch. Fortunately a deckhand was nearby to lift it back into the basket. This grouper was not on the list of fish that we needed to save for the NSIL, so after taking its measurements, it was sent to the galley and provided lunch one day for everyone on board the ship.

Grouper

Me and a Grouper

It has been great to see such a variety of fish on this trip. The Chief Scientist said we are pretty lucky with the fish we have caught, especially the yellowmouth grouper shown in the science log above. The tiny Reef Butterflyfish was one of my favorites with its small mouth and bright yellow tail. I’m sure the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary will continue to impress as we watch the footage from the cameras and wait in anticipation to see what the bandit reel brings up from the depths of the seafloor.

Reef Butteryfish

Reef Butteryfish

Animals Seen

Grey Triggerfish (Balistes capriscus)

Longspine Porgy (Stenotomus caprinus)

Red Porgy (Pagrus pagrus)

Tomtate (Haemulon aurolineatum)

Reef Butterflyfish (Chaetodon sedentarius)

Marbled Grouper (Dermatolepis inermis)

Scamp Grouper (Mycteroperca phenax)

Yellowmouth Grouper (Mycteroperca interstitialis)

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Saturday, June 19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 27°34 N, longitude = 096°28 W
Present Weather: mostly clear
Visibility: > 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: SSE Wind Speed: 13 knots
Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.5°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.4°C, wet bulb = 27.8°C

Science and Technology Log

One of the goals of the SEAMAP Reef Fish survey is to monitor the health and abundance of reef fish to establish limits on how much fish the fishing industry can take out of Gulf waters. SEAMAP stands for Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program and is a State/Federal/University program for collection, management and dissemination of fishery-independent data and information in the southeastern United States.

Due to the oil spill in the Gulf, the fish we capture will be weighed, measured, frozen, and delivered to the Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) in Mississippi to be tested for hydrocarbons (oil) or other contamination to ensure that the seafood is safe to eat. Since the oil spill is far to the east of where we are doing the survey, our data will serve as a baseline and be compared to future studies to see what the extent and future impact of the oil will be in these waters.

Fish in Chevron Trap

Fish in Chevron Trap

Fish in wet lab

Fish in wet lab

The fish are taken out of the Chevron Trap or off the Bandit Reel and brought into the wet lab.

The first measurement we take is the weight (or mass) of the fish in kilograms (kg) using a motion compensating scale. One scientist will take the measurements while another records the data in a data table.

Fish being weighed

Fish being weighed

Fish being measured

Fish being measured

Recording the data

Recording the data

Next, we take three different measurements of length by placing the fish on a board that has a metric measuring tape attached. All length measurements are measured in millimeters (mm). First, we take the Total Length (TL) measurement which is from the mouth of the fish to the longest point on the tail. Then we measure the Fork Length (FL) from the mouth of the fish to the indention of the tail. The last measurement is the Standard Length (SL) which is from the mouth of the fish to the base of the tail.

Diagram of fish lengths

Diagram of fish lengths

Personal Log

I love having another Teacher at Sea with me to share this experience and discuss ideas for lessons based on the research we are conducting on board. What’s even better is Melinda’s enthusiasm about jumping right in and getting her hands dirty. She has no problem handling the slippery, stinky squid that is used to bait the Chevron trap (the Snapper in the top left photo didn’t get a chance to finish his last meal) or grabbing a slimy Red Snapper that has dorsal fin spikes and gill rakers as sharp as razor blades. For me, it’s taken a little getting used to. Just look at my facial expressions during my first attempt at measuring the fish.

Red Snapper did not get a chance to finish its last meal

Red Snapper did not get a chance to finish its last meal

First time measuring a fish

First time measuring a fish

First time weighing a fish

First time weighing a fish

First time measuring a fish

First time measuring a fish

What really gets me is the fish could just be lying there motionless one second, and then the next it begins to thrash and jump and flip itself right over…it startles me every time. After this first attempt at measurement, I began using thick gloves with grip to handle the fish – it helped.

Occasionally there is time at the end of the day for the crew on board to do some fishing. Just before sunset is prime time to catch fish, although so far, besides the jackpot reeled in the day we found the dead Sperm Whale, there have only been a few catches. One great phrase I’ve heard uttered by the crew more than once after over an hour of patiently waiting for the line to jerk is, “Well, that’s why they call it ‘fishing’, not ‘catching’.” I must admit it’s a peaceful way to end a long day of work.

The crew fishing

The crew fishing

The crew fishing

The crew fishing

Animals Seen

Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) – Caught and released by a deckhand while fishing

Wire Coral (Cirrhipathes leutkeni) – Reeled up along with the Crinoid while fishing

Crinoid (species unidentified) – shown below

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle von der Heyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Thursday, June 17

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 26.52.6 N, longitude = 096.46.7 W
Present Weather: 3/8 cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.5 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.2 degrees Celsius, wet bulb = 27.5 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log

We reached our first research station 40 miles off the coast of Southern Texas sometime in the early morning. To maximize the use of daylight, the scientists begin collecting data one hour after sunrise (around 0730 hours) and work until one hour before sunset (around 1930 hours). At each station, a camera array is lifted and lowered by a crane into the water column, down to the ocean floor. The depth of the ocean varies at each station but today the depth was somewhere around 68 meters (about 224 feet). The camera array has 4 sets of cameras pointing in each direction. Each set of cameras contains one video recorder and two still-shot cameras that take turns snapping pictures, sort of like closing your right eye, then your left eye, then your right eye, and so on. The purpose of the still-shots is to help the scientists, along with the use of lasers, to estimate the length of the fish in the images. The cameras stay submerged for 45 minutes and then they are hauled back up to the surface.

Camera Array

Camera Array

Camera Array

Camera Array

The next thing that happens at each station is the lowering of a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) into the water column. The CTD measures the changes in salinity (salt level), temperature, and dissolved oxygen as it passes through the water column. This data is transmitted directly to a computer graph where a technician watches and monitors to make sure the CTD is working properly and stays within 2 meters of the ocean floor.

CTD

CTD

Data from CTD on Computer Monitors

Data from CTD on Computer Monitors

CTD

CTD

The camera array and CTD are lowered at every station, but two stations are chosen randomly to drop a Chevron trap and two stations are chosen randomly to lower a Bandit Reel. The Chevron trap is baited with squid and physically picked up and thrown over the deck. The trap is fitted with weights on the bottom to make sure it lands in the right position on the ocean floor and soaks for one hour before being hauled back to the surface. During the first drop of the trap, we hauled in a giant Warsaw Grouper weighing over 16 kilograms (35.2 pounds)!

Chevron Trap

Chevron Trap

Bait

Bait

The Bandit Reel is like a long line sent straight down to the bottom of the ocean. It has 10 hooks that are baited with fresh mackerel and lowered to soak for 10 minutes. Luck was on our side again as the first drop of the bandit reel hooked 9 Red Snapper! This was our first look at the fish that is the main subject of our Reef Fish Survey.

Bandit Reel

Bandit Reel

Bait

Bait

Personal Log:

Before venturing on this journey out to sea, I wasn’t sure if I would experience the dreaded sea-sickness caused by the constant motion of the ship rolling back and forth in the waves. Even the most seasoned of seafarers can suffer from this ailment caused by imbalances sensed by the inner ear bones. Ensign Schill, who has suffered from sea-sickness on past cruises, recommended that I be safe rather than sorry. I took medicine to prevent sea-sickness the first two days and decided to skip it on the third day. The rolling of the ship increased on the third day but as of now, I haven’t experienced anything unpleasant from the motion. In fact, I find it soothing and have slept well since being at sea. I hope this lasts for the rest of the trip!

Me on the Pisces

Me on the Pisces

Thursday morning I woke up early to make sure I wouldn’t miss anything on the first day of the survey. Immediately upon stepping out on the deck, one of the deckhands handed me a hard hat and a life vest. This is necessary anytime the crane is in operatioRaising and lowering the equipment can be dangerous with ropes and cables that quickly unravel and follow the cameras as they sink into the water. I tried to stay out of the way as the deckhands, scientists, and officers on the bridge coordinated to place the instruments in just the right location. Things moved a little slowly at first but after a few drops everyone seemed to get into a rhythm and the pace picked up.

Certainly the most exciting time of the day is setting out the trap or lowering the Bandit Reel. Everyone waits in anticipation to see what rises from the depths of the ocean. When the first trap came up I couldn’t believe my eyes at the size of what was inside! I thought it was a shark at first. The opening to the trap is not very big and I could not believe a fish that large was able to swim inside. It was quite a struggle to get the giant Grouper out of the trap and into the wet lab to weigh and measure. It was even more of a sight to see the fish flip flop itself completely on its side while on the lab table. This was one of the biggest fish I have ever seen – outside of the water that is. It was also exciting to see our first Bandit Reel haul in 9 Red Snappers. Some of them had their air bladders popping out of their mouths because of the drastic pressure change from the ocean floor – a sight I had to quickly get used to as we worked to take weight and length measurements of all the fish we caught.

"Giant" Grouper

“Giant” Grouper

Melinda Storey with Red Snappers

Melinda Storey with Red Snappers

Animals Seen Today:

Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

Warsaw Grouper (Epinephelus nigritis)

Sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates): Caught on Bandit Reel before it sank into the depths. It was released – after Melinda had a chance to kiss it goodbye. The picture on the right is of the top of its head.

Melinda Storey with shark sucker

Melinda Storey with shark sucker

Melinda Storey with sharksucker

Melinda Storey with sharksucker

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle von der Heyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Tuesday, June 15

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 27.38.1 N, longitude = 088.18.9 W
Present Weather: 4/8 cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: SSW Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wave Height: < 1 foot
Sea Water Temp: 30.4 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.5 degrees Celsius
wet bulb = 27.2 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Today at around 1000 hours (10:00 am) our CO sighted a dead Sperm Whale from the bridge. Our scientists say it is extremely rare to see a floating sperm whale. In fact, a whale expert who communicated with one of our scientists said he has only seen one in 25 years of studying them! The Gulf of Mexico is a habitat of Sperm Whales. Females stay here year round and birth their young in these waters while male Sperm Whales travel to many different locations, some as far as the Antarctic Ocean. Sperm Whales are the deepest diving whales. Although they live at the surface, they dive to hunt Giant Squid that are bottom dwellers. They have been known to dive as deeply as 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) but average dives are about 4000 feet (1,200 meters) deep. The Sperm Whale can hold its breath for about an hour!

Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale

Here you see a close up of the teeth of the whale and some of the small fish swimming around it.

As you can see, the whale was covered in some black substance. Our scientists are not experts on marine mammals; however they spoke with Dr. Keith Mullin, the Southeastern Fisheries Science Center Marine Mammals Program manager, who stated that this is typical for the skins of dead whales to blister, char, and fall off. Upon seeing photos of the whale, the experts stated that it appeared to have died of natural causes; however we were asked to take samples from the whale to eliminate the possibility of oil as the cause of death. The ship positioned itself next to the dead whale and scientists swabbed the carcass in order to test for oil toxins and took tissue samples for DNA. NOAA catalogues mammal DNA to record species information and migration of different animals.

Black substance on sperm whale

Black substance on sperm whale

Getting DNA of the sperm whale

Getting DNA of the sperm whale

As we watched the whale float next to the ship, a 12 foot Tiger shark approached. It was obvious that sharks had been feasting on the whale because we could see definite bite marks along the side.

Tiger shark approaching sperm whale carcass

Tiger shark approaching sperm whale carcass

Bites out of the tiger shark

Bites out of the tiger shark

The Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is a fierce predator that has tiger-like markings and can grow to be over 14 feet (4.2 meters) long. It eats just about anything: fish, turtles, crabs, clams, mammals, seabirds, reptiles, other sharks, and just about anything else they can catch. It apparently likes to eat dead whales too! The Tiger Shark is one lean, mean eating machine. Each of its teeth is shaped like those found on a circular saw with a flat and curved hook at the end. A power saw might not even equal this shark’s power since it can cut through turtle shells with a single bite.

The shark circled the whale carcass and suddenly attacked, twisting back and forth in typical shark style. A bit later, the shark came along side the whale, bobbed up and down and took several chomping bites. Everyone was amazed at what we were witnessing!

Tiger shark eating whale carcass

Tiger shark eating whale carcass

Tiger shark eating whale carcass

Tiger shark eating whale carcass

Tiger shark eating whale carcass

Tiger shark eating whale carcass

Tiger shark eating whale carcass

Tiger shark eating whale carcass

Personal Log

Tuesday, June 15: The day started again with breakfast at 0700 hours. Since most of the day would be spent cruising through Gulf waters to our first research site off the coast of southern Texas, the plan had been to take a tour with the First Engineer of what I was told is a very impressive engine room in the lower deck of the Pisces. Little did I know that in a few hours I would witness one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. But first, as expected, an announcement came over the ship’s intercom announcing a “man overboard” drill, followed by three blasts of the general alarm. All the scientists “mustered” in the conference room to await the end of the drill. This was shortly followed by a fire drill where our muster station was again in the conference room. After the drills I began talking to Christopher Gledhill, one of the scientists, about the reef fish survey and some of the data he has collected on past surveys. All of a sudden, the Chief Scientist Paul Felts came into the conference room and announced, “They’ve spotted a dead whale!” I couldn’t believe my ears as I quickly gathered my things and headed to the deck of the ship. Sure enough, there was a big floating white mass just ahead of the bow of the ship. I frantically began taking pictures, not realizing that we would be spending the next few hours alongside the dead carcass plus all the fish that had gathered around to feed off of the remains. Someone said that sharks had left the scene as we approached and I was hoping they would return so I could catch a glimpse of one. I would not be disappointed.

Of course, my first observation was the black, charred-looking surface of the whale. It looked like someone had taken a torch and lit it on fire. My first thought was that this must be oil, but as stated in the science log above, the skin of a dead whale will blister, burn, and turn black when exposed to the heat of the sun. My second observation hit me like a ton of bricks as the wind shifted toward the deck of the boat and I caught my first whiff of dead, decomposing, sunburned sperm whale. I’m not really sure what to compare it to but imagine the worst smell you’ve ever smelled and multiply it by 10. I think the stench is permanently etched into my sensory memory. Fortunately, we were all just about to be fitted with respirators (like a gas mask) in case we came across fumes from the oil spill. I went inside to be fitted with the respirator and when I stepped outside, I didn’t smell an ounce of dead whale – what a relief! My third observation was of all the life that was swarming around this dead, decaying carcass. Schools of Mahi Mahi (aka Dolphin Fish), some up to 4 feet long, and other smaller fish dotted the depths of the crystal clear blue water. I noticed activity at the stern (back) of the boat as some of the officers and deckhands began assembling fishing poles to reel in the Mahi Mahi. Before long, the crew had hauled about 15 Mahi Mahi onto the ship!

Lines to reel in the Mahi Mahi

Lines to reel in the Mahi Mahi

Mahi Mahi

Mahi Mahi

During this time, the Chief Scientist was on the phone with other NOAA scientists discussing how they should handle taking samples from the whale. Our ship was not equipped to study marine mammals so we did not have the traditional tools necessary for this type of task.

All of a sudden someone spotted the Tiger Shark circling the waters around the whale. I was able to capture the image below of the shark as it swam under our boat. It circled the carcass a few times and then attacked! What a scene as it first thrashed at the belly, then swam to the backside and took a few chomps. What a thrill to see this powerful predator up close (and from the safety of the ship!). Barely a day into this trip and I’ve had an experience I will remember forever!

Animals Seen Today

Dead Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

Mahi Mahi (Coryphaena hippurus)

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Flying Fish (Family Exocoetidae – There are 64 species in this family!)
Various smaller fish

Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster): Shown below.

This seabird landed on the mast of our ship one evening and hitched a ride through the night until the next evening. It was hunting the flying fish in the water as we cruised toward Southern Texas waters and I even observed it dive into the water after a fish!

Sea bird

Sea bird

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 14, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Monday, June 14 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2000 hours (8 pm)
Position: latitude = 29.46.02 N, longitude = 088.08.4 W
Present Weather: some cumulus clouds
Visibility: 9 nautical miles
Wind Direction: Variable Wind Speed: Light
Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temp: 32.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry Bulb = 31 Celsius, Wet Bulb = 30.8 Celsius

Science and Technology Log

This portion of the log will be written by me and my fellow Teacher at Sea, Melinda Storey from Birmingham, AL. Since we will be cruising for a couple of days to reach our first destination off the coast of southern Texas, we thought we would briefly describe our mission on board Pisces and our first observations of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. We are participating in the first leg of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Reef Fish Survey along the continental shelf from Brownsville, TX north to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The Chief Scientist on this mission is Paul Felts. Our task will involve sending video cameras down into the water column and onto the ocean floor to record the abundance and relative size of reef fish associated with various geographical features. The video cameras will be submerged for about 45 minutes at a time, starting one hour after sunrise and continuing until one hour before sunset. If conditions are good, Mr. Felts believes we can submerge the cameras about 7-8 times a day. We will view some of the recorded data on the ship to make sure the equipment is working properly, however the analysis will take place back in the laboratory in Pascagoula, MS.

The Pisces left the port of Pascagoula at around 1130 hours (military time, aka 11:30 am) but did not leave the bay until about 1730 hours (5:30 pm).

The Pisces in port

The Pisces in port

Melinda Storey and I in front of the Pisces

Melinda Storey and I in front of the Pisces

During this time, the ship was cruising back and forth in the bay as engineers conducted tests of the acoustics on the ship. The Pisces, just commissioned in November of 2009, is the quietest vessel in the NOAA fleet and has some of the latest technology on board. Making a ship quiet may not seem like a big deal, but when you are trying to research marine life in an undisturbed natural environment, silent observation is everything. When the engineers finished their testing, a small boat arrived to take 4 of the engineers back to shore. Three other engineers and one intern remained on board to join us on our voyage.

Testing the small boat

Testing the small boat

The signs of oil extraction in the Gulf were apparent the moment we boarded the Pisces in Pascagoula. Across the channel from our ship were two old oil rigs no longer in service, one damaged from Hurricane Katrina and destined to be returned to the bottom of the sea to be made into an artificial reef. This is often done with old military battleships as well as they are sunk to the ocean floor and fish begin to use the vessels as a habitat and to hide from predators. Oil booms were placed around the Pisces and other ships in the channel for protection in case oil made its way into the port.

Out of service oil rigs

Out of service oil rigs

Oil booms

Oil booms

As we headed out to sea, we were surprised at the great number of ships and oil rigs that dotted the horizon. We saw lots of huge tankers that were just anchored, waiting in line to off load their oil into the Chevron refinery. One of the crew told us there are around 43,000 oil wells in the Gulf. Some wells just have pipes attached and pump oil directly through pipes into the refinery. Some wells have rigs that drill deep into the ocean floor. The Deepwater Horizon that exploded in the Gulf was this type of rig. We also saw one rig that had a flame coming out at the very top of the rig. This was the burning off of natural gas. Our Commanding Officer told us that they “burn off” natural gas for two reasons – safety and economics. All rigs let off a certain amount of excess gas and it’s more economical to burn it off rather than pipe it all the way back to the mainland. Also, burning off the excess gas keeps it from building up pressure, which is very dangerous.

It wasn’t until a few hours after leaving the bay that the officers on the bridge notified us that we were traveling through the oil slick. As we looked over the deck of the bridge, we saw a rainbow of sheen on the surface and even some reddish “emulsified” oil. On the map on the next page, you can see the ship’s route (labeled PC in red) as we passed through the oil slick shown in blue.


Personal Log

Sunday, June 13: After months of anticipation and possible cancellation of the Reef Fish Survey altogether, I arrived in Pascagoula, Mississippi and got the first glimpse of my new home for the next 19 days, the NOAA Ship Pisces. I flew into Mobile, AL and was picked up at the airport by my fellow Teacher at Sea, Melinda Storey. Ensign (ENS) Kelly Schill met us at the ship and showed us to our staterooms to get settled in. Knowing that space on the ship is limited; I was expecting to share a small, cramped room with Melinda and had already resigned myself to taking the top bunk.

I was surprised when ENS Schill said we each had our own staterooms. I later found out that some of the scientists scheduled to be on this cruise had been reassigned to other missions related to the oil spill in the Gulf. In addition, some of the tasks in our original mission, like longlining for sharks and rays, had also been cancelled due to the oil. At first, I was somewhat disappointed that we would not be capturing sharks or hauling in large amounts of fish to sample, then I snapped out of it as soon as I reminded myself that I was about to set sail on the trip of a lifetime on board a research vessel with NOAA! We met and had dinner with the Operations Officer (OPS) of the ship, ENS Kurt Karpov, before turning in for the night. Much to my surprise, the ship is equipped with DirectTV satellite, so I was able to watch TV before going to bed! The ship was set to sail at 1000 hours (military time, aka 10:00 am) the next day.

Monday, June 14: Melinda and I woke up early as breakfast began at 0700 hours. We introduced ourselves to Chief Steward Jessie Stiggins and Second Cook Michael Sapien who would be responsible for ensuring we received three hearty and nutritious meals a day on the ship – so far they have not disappointed. After breakfast, the scientists had not yet arrived so I walked around taking pictures, getting familiar with the ship, and introducing myself to the deckhands, engineers, and crew members with whom we would be sailing for the next few weeks. I met the Commanding Officer (CO) of the ship, LCDR (Lieutenant Commander, comparable to the same rank in the Navy or Coast Guard) Jeremy Adams, the Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Jessie Stark, and the ship’s Navigator, ENS Laura Gibson. From the moment we arrived, everyone has been very welcoming and friendly, making me feel very comfortable in my new surroundings. The morning was busy as crew members hauled in equipment and supplies and while I offered to help, there was not much for me to do and I simply tried to stay out of everyone’s way. The officers did allow me to conduct a test of the ship’s rudders to make sure that when a dial was turned to a particular setting, like 30 degrees to the right, that the rudders were actually moving 30 degrees to the right. The picture on the right below shows me conducting this test while the Operations Officer communicates with the engineers who are observing the rudders.

I was really grateful to have another teacher with me so we could discuss and ask questions together about what we were observing around us. After a busy morning, we finally set sail at 1130 hours. Shortly after we left port, we heard the exciting call of “Dolphins!” Looking over the bow (front) of the ship we saw one dolphin after another racing towards us and turning around under water so they could race along with the wake from the bow. At one point I believe there were close to 20 dolphins including a baby dolphin or two!

Later in the afternoon, we had a “Welcome Aboard” meeting run by ENS Gibson and ENS Schill to inform us of the facilities on the ship and the emergency procedures in case of fire, man overboard, or a need to abandon ship. We were also told there would be drills conducted for each of these emergencies – just like school fire and tornado drills! We met the Chief Scientist Paul Felts and three other scientists we would be working with. For now, there was not much for the science party to do because it would take about two days to reach our first destination about 30 miles off the coast of Southern Texas, near South Padre Island and the US/Mexico border.

In the early evening I decided to go up to the bridge to remind the officers on watch to inform us if they observed any oil. Shortly after, the CO entered the bridge and announced that there was oil sheen on the surface of the water. Melinda and I looked over the deck and began taking pictures. The sheen seemed to go on forever and my thoughts turned to what was happening beneath the surface that we could not see. As we watched the sun set on our first day out at sea, the oil sheen created an ironically beautiful and tranquil setting in the midst of an environmental tragedy. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the ship was sailing in cleaner waters.

Much to my surprise, after the ET (Electronics Technician) Bob Carter did a check of my laptop, I was able to log onto the internet and send emails while on board. After dinner, I spent the evening catching up on emails and reading before retiring as the soft rolling of the ship rocked me to sleep.

Animals Seen Today

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins (Stenella frontalis)

Seagull