Liz Harrington: Back into Action, August 23, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug. 23, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly cloudy
Lat. 29.31 °N  Lon. 84.18 °W
Temp.  83 °F (28.8 °C)
Humidity 79%
Wind speed   10-15 kts
Barometer  30.03 in ( 1017.15mb)
Visibility  10 mi

Science and Technology Log:

The weather hasn’t been cooperating with us too well as we have run in to an occasional squall. It is amazing just how quickly that wind can pick up. Yesterday in the course of hauling in the line the wind increased from 18 to 34 knots (A knot is similar to mph, but it uses a nautical mile as a distance. One knot = 1.15 mph).

Red Grouper await processing. Occasionally the catch becomes the bait and we pull in half of a fish.

Red Grouper await processing. Occasionally the catch becomes the bait and we pull in half of a fish.

But the fish have been cooperating. The lull is over and the catch has increased. For the most part we are catching Red Grouper, an occasional Red Snapper and a variety of sharks. Click here to see the shark species found in the Gulf of Mexico. The majority of the sharks have been large enough to cradle. When we hear “hard hats that means it’s a big one” and our team jumps into action. Some of the sharks come up in the cradle quietly, but others come up thrashing about.  They are quickly held down by the fishermen of the deck crew which keeps the sharks quiet and safe. Then the science team steps in to collect the data and insert a tag.  As the cradle is lowered back down it is paused to obtain the shark’s weight. There is an electronic scale located at the top of the cradle. It is then lowered into the water and the shark swims away. I’m still amazed at how efficient the process is. The sharks are measured, tagged and weighed in a matter of just a few minutes.

There is a level of excitement when catching any of these fish and sharks, but the exceptional catch raises that level.  This occurred a couple of days ago. We had something on the line and it was big – really big. Even the crew was yelling about its size.  I knew it was something special. As it got closer to the boat it was identified as a huge Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). The crane operator was bringing the cradle and the science team was getting ready when ……it was gone. It had bitten through the line. I guess there always has to be that big one that got away.

The huge Tiger Shark that got away.

The huge Tiger Shark that got away.

The level of excitement rose again when the next day we caught a Great Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran). Any of the larger Hammerheads or Tiger Sharks are being fitted with a satellite tag. This is attached to their dorsal fin (the large fin on their back).  Whenever the shark comes to the surface, the tag will transmit its location via radio waves to a satellite. The satellite will then send the signal back down to a receiving antennae and on to various labs. This is a type of remote sensing that is commonly used to track animals.  It gives scientists  information about animal’s behavior and migration patterns. These particular satellite tags are from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  It is a collaborative effort to get the tags on as many sharks as possible so they can study where they go after being caught.

Satellite tag on Great Hammerhead

Attaching a satellite tag to the dorsal fin of a Great Hammerhead Shark.

While working with the scientists I noticed that they use a combination of metric units, maritime units and imperial units. The fish are measured in millimeters, the electronic scale measured in pounds (normally it measures in  kilograms, but there was a technical issue that required changing to pounds), the handheld scale measure in kilograms, the water current is measured in knots, the depth for the CTD is measured in meters, the distance is measured in nautical miles and the survey areas are divided by fathoms ( 1 fathom = 6 feet), just to name a few.  It is helpful to be familiar with all of them and be able to convert from one type of unit to another.  It has made me think that we should be practicing our metric conversions even more than we currently do in class.  So, my incoming freshmen, get ready.

Personal Log :

The time is passing so quickly here on the ship. I think that is because there is always something happening here.  My daily routine consists of rising around 7:30 am, grabbing a light breakfast and then going to see what the night shift is doing. Often times they are preparing to haul in the line and I can’t resist watching that.  I have an early lunch since my shift will begin at noon, but we are usually prepared to go before that time. For the next twelve hours we will set the line, run the CTD, haul in the line and move on to the next site. Dinner is at 17:00 ( 5:00 pm) but if we are busy we can request a plate be set aside for us.  The distance between sites can be anywhere from less than a nautical mile (nm) to over 60 nm.  The ship can travel about 10 knots depending upon the wind and the current. So, there are times when we have a number of hours between sites. On these occasions I check my email, work on my blog, edit my pictures or just stand on the deck and look out over the water.  I always have my eyes open for animals, but it isn’t often that I see any.  Just water as far as the eye can see.  It gives me a sense of the vastness of the ocean. And I am seeing lots of beautiful cloud features and sunsets.

A beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

A beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

I had the special privilege of getting a tour by the Chief Marine Engineer, Sean Pfarrer, of the engine room. It is very  loud down there so we had to wear ear plugs.  Sean pointed to different things and I took  pictures. Then upstairs, in the relative quiet of the galley, he took the time to explain to me the role of each component. We had a really interesting discussion. Any mechanical questions that arose after that, Sean was the one I’d go to.  When I return, anyone interested in mechanics can listen to my presentation of the engine room – it’s more interesting than you may think.

The two main engines of the Oregon II

The two main engines of the Oregon II

wind picks up

As the wind picks up the day team scurries to clean up and put gear away because it is too rough to fish. Amy and Cliff clean and rinse the deck.

Sharpnose Shark

Weighing a Sharpnose Shark. photo courtesy of David Seay.

satellite tag

A closer view of the satellite tag attached to the dorsal fin.

measuring shark

Kristin calls out measurements to Amy as Daniel and Eric help hold the shark still.

otoliths

A pair of otoliths from a Red Grouper (Epinephelus morio).

yellowedge grouper

The day team only caught one Yellowedge Grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus). Photo courtesy of David Seay.

sharpnose shark

Teamwork is the key to the quick processing of this Sharpnose Shark. Amy, Daniel and I were done in no time. Photo courtesy of David Seay.

Liz Harrington: Let’s Go Fishing! August 17, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 17, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly cloudy, scattered showers and thunder storms
Lat. 27.19 °N  Lon. 84.38 °W
Temp. 92 °F ( 33.4° C)
Wind speed   10-15 knots
Barometer  30.1 in  (1015 mb)
Visibility  10 mi
Sea temp  83 ° F   (28.8  ° C)

Science and Technology Log

We have arrived at the survey sites, the fishing has begun and I’m having the time of my life! The process is a collaborative effort between the science team and the crew of the ship.  In upcoming blogs I’ll focus on all the different people on board the ship and their roles, but I’d like to first tell you about the fishing from my perspective as part of the science team. The science team consists of four scientists and seven volunteers. We are divided into day shift (noon to midnight) and night shift (midnight to noon). I am assigned to the day shift.

I was told that about a mile of line with 100 hooks would be let out and weighted to stay close to the bottom.  I was interested to see how they could let the line out and haul it back in again without all those hooks getting tangled. Well, I learned that the hooks are removable.  The hooks are attached to one end of a 12 foot section of line. The other end holds a snap. This set up is called a gangion.  The gangions are snapped onto the longline as it is let out and taken off the line as it is reeled in.  They are stored in a very orderly way to avoid tangles, although an occasional tangle does occur.  As the ship is approaching a designated site we prepare for setting the line. This is done from the rear of the ship, called the stern.

gangion

Parts of a gangion

baited gangions

Gangions baited and ready to set

We bait the hooks and decide on job assignments.  The jobs that need to be done while setting the line are “Data” (manning the computer to keep a count of the gangions that are put on the line); “High Flyer” (throwing out the buoys that will mark the beginning and end of the line); “Slinger” (throwing the baited hook over the edge of the ship and holding the other end of the gangion to receive a numbered tag); and “Numbers” (snapping numbered tags on to the gangions).  The weather conditions and the speed of the current must be checked before the final approval is given to set the line.  When the signal is given our team gets to work.

high flyer

Skilled fisherman Chuck Godwin and I get ready to put out the high flyer

High Flyers mark each end of the longline

High Flyers mark each end of the longline

slinging

Lead scientist for this trip, Kristin Hannan, slinging while we set out the line. The bait is Atlantic Mackerel.

After the line is set and the work station is cleaned up (that bait can get a little messy!), a CTD is deployed to gather data on the water – Conductivity (a measure of salinity), Temperature and Depth. The CTD also measures the dissolved oxygen in the water – remember that fish breathe by absorbing oxygen from the water as it runs over their gills.

An hour after the last high flyer is set, the line is hauled in. This is done from the bow (the front deck of the ship). During this part of the process I am full of anticipation as we wait to see what each hook holds. It might be a light catch with a couple of fish or it might be a very busy catch.  When the crew yells “fish on”, the action begins. Anything that is caught is brought on board and data is collected (more on this later). If it is too big to be pulled in, then it is lifted into a cradle and worked on along the side of the ship. The crew will determine if cradling is needed and will shout out “hard hats”, as we all need to be wearing hard hats when the crane is being used to move the cradle. In our first two days of fishing, the day shift has cradled five sharks. It is so exciting to be next to such a big, beautiful creature.

The final step to the fishing process is clean up. Our gear is put away, the deck is hosed down (using salt water, as fresh water is in precious on a ship), numbers are checked for proper order and damaged gangions are repaired. If there were fish caught that require dissection, this would be done now as well. In the meantime, Oregon II steams on to the next survey site.  So, you can see that the ship is a busy place 24 hours a day.

repairing or replacing worn gangions

Members of the day shift science team repair gangions after a recent haul. Foreground- Micayla and Cliff, volunteers. Background – Amy Schmidt, scientist.

Personal Log

I am having so much fun on the Oregon II. The work is really interesting and the people have been fantastic.  Not only has everyone on board been very friendly and helpful, but they have really made me feel like a member of the team. Right from the start we were trained for the various jobs and expected to do them, with lots of help and encouragement always available. I initially thought I’d be more of an observer, but that is not the case at all.  All of the volunteers are actively involved in every aspect of the fishing routine.

sharpnose shark

Here I am taking measurements on a Sharpnose Shark

I find it fascinating that people from all over the country have come together to cross paths here aboard a ship in the Gulf of Mexico. In future blogs I’d like to highlight some of their stories, but for now there is work to be done (although I’m not to the point where I can call this work. It’s way too much fun!)

New Terms

Shark Burn – the abrasion received when a wiggling shark rubs against your skin.

Water Haul – nothing at all is caught during a set.

night shark

Daniel, volunteer, prepares to release a Night Shark

removing hook

Removing a hook from a cradled Sandbar shark

CTD

Micayla and Cliff stabilize the CTD during deployment.

data collection

Micayla logs hook numbers as line is let out.

Rita Salisbury: More on the Mission, April 23, 2013

CDTs record conductivity, depth,  and temperature

CDTs record conductivity, depth, and temperature

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date:
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Science and Technology Log

CDT being lowered over the starboard side

CDT being lowered over the starboard side

A few days ago we dropped the CDT, an apparatus that collects data on the conductivity, the depth, and the temperature of the sea water in which the acoustic survey is taking place. All of these three things impact how quickly sound travels underwater. The scientists collect the information and then use it to figure out an accurate rate of speed for the sound waves. Once they have that information, they can determine how far a target is from the ship.I was able to ride along in a small boat to Maui to pick up parts for the AUV. While in the Maui harbor, I had the opportunity to visit the Huki Pono, a small boat working on this survey that is using BotCams to survey the fish population. The palu, or bait, that I help make every day is frozen and then transferred to the fishing boats. It is frozen in a shape that fits into a cage on the BotCam located near the camera. As the bait breaks up, fish are attracted to it and come close enough to the BotCam to be visually recorded. There is a lot of video to go through so Dr. Kobayashi says they won’t have the data from the BotCams for a while.  But the other three fishing boats assigned to this project turn their survey information in every evening and I get to add it to a spreadsheet to help keep track of what section the boats were in and what they found while they were there.

BotCam on the deck of the Huki Pono

BotCam on the deck of the Huki Pono

Chris Demarke, Jamie Barlow, and Bo Alexander retrieving a BotCam aboard the Huki Pono with Maui in the background
Work continues with the ROV and AUV. The scientists are always working on them, trying to make them run as smoothly as possible. We worked on calibrating the acoustics again this morning for the same reason. The better the information you have when you start a project, the better chance you have of having a successful outcome.

As I mentioned before though, not everything we are doing is high tech. We fish off the side of the ship in the evenings, dropping our lines all the way to the bottom so they are on the sea floor. The scientists running the acoustics tell us if they see fish and then we do our best to catch a representative sample.  Here are two of the fish I caught off the bottom: an opakapaka and a taape. The observers that ride in the small boats every day spend the night on the Sette. That way, they can turn their logs in and I can record the data. As a bonus, a few of them are expert fishermen and are a huge help to us as we fish from the ship.

Opakapaka and ta'ape

Opakapaka and ta’ape

Personal Log
I’m really enjoying my time on the Sette. In addition to learning new things that I can apply in my classroom, I’m making new friends. Everyone is exceptionally friendly and they go out of their way to explain things to me. Most of them call me “Teach” or “Taz” and almost all of them have sailed with a Teacher at Sea before.

Did You Know?
You can tell the age of a fish by their otoliths? The picture has the otoliths from an opakapaka, an ehu, and a hogo. Otoliths are a fish’s “ear bones” and they have growth lines in them much like a tree has growth rings.

Otoliths

Otoliths

Additional Section

Why are these bottom-dwelling fish red?

Red fish?

Red fish?

Steven Frantz: Critters at Sea, August 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 5, 2012

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 29.0
Wind Speed (knots): 10.28
Wind Direction (degree): 138.68
Relative Humidity (percent): 076
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1022.33
Water Depth (meters): 28.45
Salinity (PSU): 35.612

Location Data:
Latitude: 3323.40N
Longitude: 07808.17W

Critters at Sea

On my last blog I introduced you to five species of shark found so far. I think you can tell which one is my favorite, which is yours?

Even though our mission is to collect data on sharks, you never know what might come up on the end of a hook (or tangled in the line!). Data is still collected on just about everything else we catch. For today’s blog I have put together a photo journey on the so many other beautiful creatures we have caught.

Basket Starfish

Basket Starfish with pieces of soft red coral

Black Sea Bass

Black Sea Bass

Blue Line Tile Fish (Unfortunately damaged by a shark)

Blue Line Tile Fish (Unfortunately damaged by a shark)

Box Crab

Box Crab

Clearnose Skate

Clearnose Skate

Conger Eel

Conger Eel

Red Grouper

Red Grouper

Mermaid's Purse (egg case from a skate or ray)

Mermaid’s Purse (egg case from a skate or ray)

Candling the Mermaid's Purse reveals the tail and yolk of the animal

Candling the Mermaid’s Purse reveals the tail and yolk of the animal

Hammerjack

Amberjack

Scallop Shell

Scallop Shell

Scomberus japonicus (Can you come up with a common name?)

Scomberus japonicus (Can you come up with a common name?)

Sea Urchin

Sea Urchin

Spider Crab

Spider Crab

Starfish

Starfish

Red Snapper (10Kg)

Red Snapper (10Kg)

There you have it. I hope you enjoy the pictures of just some of the beauty and diversity in the Atlantic Ocean. Be sure to visit my next blog when we tie up loose ends!

Sunset

Sunset

Carmen Andrews: A Fishing Expedition in the Atlantic, Continued, July 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Daytona Beach, Florida
Date: July 13, 2012

Latitude:      29 ° 19.10   N
Longitude:   80
° 24.31’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.3° C (82.94°F)
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Wind Direction: from Southeast
Surface Water Temperature: 27.48 °C (81.46°F)

Weather conditions: Sunny and Fair

Science and Technology Log

Catching bottom fish at the reef

As the fish trap lies at the bottom of the ocean at the reef site, fish can enter and exit freely through the opening.

Red snapper swimming near a fish trap

Red snapper swimming near a sunken fish trap

 

At the end of approximately 90 minutes, the R/V Savannah returns to the drop site and begins the process of raising the trap with whatever fish remain inside. The six traps are pulled up in the order in which they were dropped.

Scientists and crew waiting to arrive at a trap location

Scientists and crew waiting to arrive at a trap location

The crew member on watch in the wheelhouse will maneuver the boat toward the paired poly ball buoys at a speed of about 5 knots. The boat draws alongside each pair on the starboard side.

R/V Savannah approaching poly ball buoys on the starboard side

R/V Savannah approaching poly ball buoys on the starboard side

One of the scientists throws a grappling hook toward the line that links the  poly balls.

Throwing the grappling hook to secure buoys

Throwing the grappling hook to secure buoys

The line is hauled in and passed to a waiting scientists, who pull the poly balls on deck. There is substantial hazard associated with this step. Undersea currents can be very powerful near the bottom where traps are set. As scientists are pulling in the cable by hand, unexpected current force can yank the trap cable, rope and buoys out of their hands and off the deck in an instant. If personnel on deck aren’t mindful and quick to react, the speeding rope can cause serious rope burn injury.

Nate is pulling poly balls and rigging onto the deck, as Adam P. gets ready to take the line

Nate is pulling poly balls and rigging onto the deck, as Adam P. gets ready to take the line

The cable connecting the fish trap and the poly balls is pulled in and threaded through the pulley system of a pot hauler. The pot hauler is an automated lifting tool that is operated by the second crew member on watch. At this time the first crew member on watch has left the wheel house and is piloting the boat from a small cab on deck above the pot hauler, so he can monitor the action below.

Pot hauler hoisting the fish trap to the boat

Pot hauler hoisting the fish trap to the boat

The pot hauler makes a distinctive clicking sound as it draws the trap toward the surface at an angle. It can take one to five minutes to raise the trap to the deck, depending on the depth of the water.

Tight cable raising submerged fish trap

Tight cable raising submerged fish trap

As the fish trap becomes visible, shimmering rapidly changing shapes can be seen as  fishes’ bodies catch and reflect sunlight.

Fish trap breaking the surface of the water

Fish trap breaking the surface of the water

The trap clears the water and gets pulled aboard.

Grabbing the fish trap

Grabbing the fish trap and pulling it aboard

Very quickly, and with two scientists holding each side, the trap is upended onto its nose and suspended above the deck. A third scientist opens the trap door at the bottom and the fish are shaken into a plastic bin.

Orienting the fish traps to ready them for dumping into bins

Orienting a fish trap to ready it for dumping the catch into a bin

Freshly caught red snapper and black sea bass

Freshly caught red snapper and black sea bass

 

Ice pellets are shoveled onto the fish and a cover is snapped on the bin. If the catch is small, fish may be placed in a bucket or tub and cover with ice.

Fish are covered in ice before the bin cover is snapped on

Fish are covered in ice before the bin cover is snapped on

A numbered tag is removed from the trap and tied onto the bin to identify specimens from each catch. The containers holding the day’s catch are set aside for later processing.

Every so often, unexpected sea life is brought up in the traps. The catch has included sea stars, sea urchins, several kinds of tropical fish and many moray eels.

Moray eel slithering on the deck.

Moray eel slithering on the deck. A moray’s bite can be very severe.

Video cameras are also removed from the top of the trap. Their data cards will be downloaded. Fish behavior and surrounding habitat videos will be analyzed, along with anatomical specimens and size data taken from the fish themselves in the wet lab.

Personal Log

Every day brings more wildlife encounters and sightings. I am dazzled by the many fascinating organisms I’ve been able to see up close. Sometimes I am quick enough to grab my camera and put the animal into my view finder, focusing clearly enough to catch a great image. Here are a few of those images (including some new friends from the cruise):

Adam P. holding a barracuda

Adam P. holding a barracuda

Daniel with a wahoo

Daniel with a wahoo

Trolling with a hooked dolphinfish

Trolling with a hooked dolphinfish

Sea stars

Sea stars

A sheerwater -- bird found in open water

A sheerwater — bird found in open water

Sheerwaters dive beneathe the surface to catch fish.

Sheerwaters dive beneath the surface of the water to catch fish. This bird is consuming a fish with its wings open to balance itself on the water.

Other times I have to capture a memory. Last night I tried reef fishing. I have no experience fishing. At all. Adam P. handed me his own rod and reel. The hook was baited and the line was already lowered to the bottom, down at around 40 meters (more than 120 feet).

Shortly after I took it, the tip of the rod began to bend downward and pull. I asked Adam if that meant something had been hooked.  He said, “Go ahead. Reel it in.” That’s when I discovered that even recreational fishing is tough work – particularly this unfamiliar technique of holding the rod with the right hand and reeling in with the left. Neophyte to fishing is me.

When the fish got to the surface, Adam took the big, beautiful black sea bass off the hook for me. On the deck it splayed out the spines of its dorsal, caudal and pectoral fins defensively. I was concerned because the fish’s air bladder was hanging out of its mouth from its rapid ascent to the surface. Adam punctured the air bladder to deflate it. He threw the fish back into the sea at my request, and assured me that the fish will go on with its life.  I’m optimistic it will.

Carmen Andrews: News from Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean off the Coast of Georgia, July 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – July 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coasts of Georgia and Florida
Date: July 9, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 30 ° 54.55’   N
Longitude: 80 ° 37.36’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.5°C (approx. 84°F)
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: from SW
Surface Water Temperature: 28.16 °C (approx. 83°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

Purpose of the research cruise and background information

The Research Vessel, or R/V Savannah is currently sampling several species of fish that live in the bottom or benthic habitats off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.

Reef fish study area

The coastal zone of Georgia and Florida and the Atlantic Ocean area where the R/V Savannah is currently surveying reef fish

These important reef habitats are a series of rocky areas that are referred to as hard bottom or “live” bottom areas by marine scientists. The reef area includes ledges or cliff-like formations that occur near the continental shelf of the southeast coast. They are called ‘reefs’ because of their topography – not because they are formed by large coral colonies, as in warmer waters. These zones can be envisioned as strings of rocky undersea islands that lie between softer areas of silt and sand. They are highly productive areas that are rich in marine organism diversity. Several species of snapper, grouper, sea bass, porgy, as well as moray eels, and other fish inhabit this hard benthic habitat.

Reef fish

Hard bottom of reef habitat, showing benthic fish — black sea bass is on left and gray trigger fish is on right side of image.

It is also home to many invertebrate species of coral, bryozoans, echinoderms, arthropods and mollusks.

Bottom organisms pulled up with fish traps

Bottom-dwelling organisms, pulled up with fish traps deployed in the reef zone.

The rock material, or substrate of the sea bottom, is thought to be limestone — similar to that found in most of Florida. There are places where ancient rivers once flowed to a more distant ocean shoreline than now. Scientists think that these are remnants of old coastlines that are now submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers still have much to discover about this little known ocean region that lies so close to where so many people live and work.

The biological research of this voyage focuses primarily on two kinds of popular fish – snappers and groupers. These are generic terms for a number of species that are sought by commercial and sports fishing interests. The two varieties of fish are so popular with consumers who purchase them in supermarkets, fish markets and restaurants, that their populations may be in decline.

Red snapper close up

Red snapper in its reef habitat

At this time, all red snapper fishing is banned in the southeast Atlantic fishery because the fish populations, also known as stocks, are so low.

How the fish are collected for study

The fish are caught in wire chevron traps. Six baited traps are dropped, one by one from the stern of the R/V Savannah. The traps are laid in water depths ranging from 40 to 250 feet in designated reef areas. Each trap is equipped with a high definition underwater video camera to monitor and record the comings and goings of fish around and within the traps, as well as a second camera that records the adjacent habitat.

Chevron fish trap

Fish swimming in and out of a chevron fish trap

I will provide the details of the fish trapping and data capture methods in a future blog.

Who is doing the research?

When not at sea, the R/V Savannah is docked at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SKIO)on Skidaway Island, south of Savannah, Georgia. The institute is part of the University of Georgia. The SKIO complex is also the headquarters of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The facility there has a small aquarium and the regional NOAA office.

The fisheries research being done on this cruise is a cooperative effort between federal and state agencies. The reef fish survey is one of several that are done annually as part of SEFIS, the Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey. The people who work to conduct this survey are located in Beaufort, North Carolina. SEFIS is part of NOAA.

The other members of the research team are from MARMAP, the Marine Research Monitoring Assessment and Prediction agency, which is part of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources . This team is from Charleston, South Carolina.

Carmen, suited up to retrieve fish from traps

Mrs. Andrews, on deck near the stern of the R/V Savannah, getting ready to unload fish traps

NOAA also allows “civilians” like me — one of the Teachers at Sea– as well as university undergraduate and graduate students to actively participate in this research.

Andrea Schmuttermair: A Lesson in Chemistry, July 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3, 2012

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 1, 2012 

Ship  Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 2957.02N
Longitude: 8618.29W
Speed: 10 knots
Wind Speed: 9.65
Wind Direction: S/SE
Surface Water Salinity:35.31
Air Temperature: 28.2 C
Relative Humidity: 76%
Barometric Pressure: 1017 mb
Water Depth:  57.54 m

Science and Technology Log

water from CTD

Here I’m filling up the BOD jar with our salt water samples from the CTD cast.

Reminiscent of my days in high school chemistry, today I had the opportunity to work with our Chief Scientist, Brittany, on completing the daily titration. If you remember, getting readings on the dissolved oxygen in the water is an important part of this survey as we locate any hypoxic (less than 2 mg of oxygen per liter of water) zones or anoxic (no oxygen) zones. This is done with a computerized device on the CTD, but we want to make sure that our readings are accurate. Because “chemistry never lies”, this is how we ensure our readings are accurate.

With our CTD, we have the ability to collect water samples at various depths. We do not collect water samples at every CTD, but rather one or two a day during the daytime hours. We collect water from the bottom to see if there is any expansion of hypoxia.

orion meter

Using the Orion dissolved oxygen meter to measure the amount of dissolved oxygen in our sample.

When the CTD comes back up, we use an Orion dissolved oxygen meter, which is a handheld device, to get a dissolved oxygen reading from our samples. We put the probe on the end of the meter gently into the containers of water on the CTD to get our reading. We will use this number in conjunction with the information sent from the CTD to our dry lab to check against our titration results.

Once we have the reading with the probe, we are ready to take some samples for our titration. We then take the water samples in the cylinders, rinse out our 300 mL BOD (biological oxygen demand) glass bottles a few times with that water, and then fill the botttles up with the sea water from the bottom. These samples are brought back to our Chem Lab (short for chemistry, as I’m sure you figured out) where we will test the amount of dissolved oxygen.

adding manganese sulfate

Adding the manganese sulfate to our sample.

This is after I’ve added the manganese sulfate and iodide. Now we have to wait for it to settle.

We are using the Winkler method to find the amount of dissolved oxygen in our water samples. The first step in this process is to put 2mL of manganese sulfate into the bottle. After that, we also add 2 mL of azide- iodide. With those 2 chemicals added, we carefully replace the stopper and give the bottle a good shake. We then can wait about 10-15 minutes for the chemicals to settle at the bottom. Pipettes are used to add the liquids and allow us to be very precise in our measurements.

after settling 1

Here is our sample after it has settled.

After the particles have settled at the bottom, we add 2 mL of sulfuric acid (which can be a dangerous chemical if used inappropriately), replace the stopper, and shake the bottle again gently. The sulfuric acid “fixes” the solution. Finally we add 2 mL of starch to the solution, which is a blue indicator when we put it in but turns the solution a burnt orange color. Now we are ready to titrate!

adding to beaker

Our sample solution being poured into the beaker, ready for the titration. Inside the beaker is a magnetic stirrer.

finished titration

Now you can see the solution is clear in color, meaning our titration is finished. We are ready to determine the amount of dissolved oxygen.

Prepared beforehand was a burette filled with phenylarsine oxide, what we use to drip into the sample. We pour the sample into a beaker and place it on a magnetic plate. We’ve placed a magnetic stirrer in the beaker so it gently stirs the solution while we are titrating. We let the phenylarsine oxide slowly drip into the sample  until it turns clear. When it does this, we note the amount of phenylarsine oxide that we put in the sample (which is equivalent to the amount of oxygen in the water), and the number should match (or be very close) to the reading of dissolved oxygen that we received from the CTD and the Orion dissolved oxygen meter.

This process is quite simple yet yields important results and is just one of the ways scientists verify their data.

Bioluminscence

One other interesting thing happened the other night on one of our shifts. We had brought in a bongo tow and were looking into the codends to see what we got. When Alex began rinsing the sample with some salt water, the whole codend began to illuminate. Why did it illuminate? Bioluminescence.  Bioluminescence is essentially a chemical reaction that produces light. Many marine critters can produce bioluminescence, as seen below.

bioluminescence

Bioluminescence in our bongo tow.

Personal Log

One of the things I’ve probably enjoyed the most about my trip so far are the relationships I’ve formed with the people on board. As a teacher, one of my top priorities is to build and maintain relationships with my students, both past and present. That became a bit more of a challenge to me this past year as I took on a new position and began teaching 600 students rather than the 30 I was used to.

Alonzo

Our watch leader, Alonzo, waiting to weigh our next catch.

I’ve come to love working with the scientists on the night watch, as each of them brings something to the table. Our watch leader, Alonzo, has a wealth of knowledge that he gladly shares with each of us, pushing us to learn more and find the answer for ourselves. I’ve improved immensely on identifying the different fish, crabs and shrimp we find (thanks to Lindsey, who is my partner in crime for making up silly ways to remember these crazy Latin names for all our species). Where I came in knowing names of very few if any types of Gulf critters, I can now confidently identify 15-20 different species. I’m learning more about how to look for the subtle differences between different species, and Alonzo has been able to sit back and be that “guide on the side” while we work and input all of our data. His patient demeanor has allowed all of us to become more self-sufficient and to become more confident in the knowledge we have gained thus far on this trip.

Alex

Alex with a sharksucker

Alex, another one of the scientists on my watch, shows an endless enthusiasm for marine science. He shares in my excitement when a trawl comes up, and the both of us rush out there to watch the net come up, often guessing how big we think the catch is going to be. Will it fill one basket? Two? Six? It’s even more exciting when we get inside and lay it out on the conveyor belt and can really examine everything carefully. His wish finally came true today as we are now in the eastern part of the Gulf. Alex is studying lionfish (Pterois volitans) for his research, and of course has been hoping to catch some. Today we caught 4, along with a multitude of other unique critters that we have not seen yet. Alex’s enthusiasm and passion for science is something I hope my students can find, whether it be in marine science, biology, or meteorology- whatever it is they love is what I hope they pursue.

Lindsey

Lindsey and Alex, getting ready to work.

Lindsey and Renee are both graduate students. Rene wanted to gain some experience and came on the ship as a volunteer. What a better way to get a hands-on experience! Lindsey has joined us on this cruise because she is doing research on Sargassum communities. She has been able to collect quite a few Sargassum  samples to include in her research for her thesis. Lindsey, like Alex, is very passionate and excited about what she does. I’ve never seen someone more excited to pull up a net full of Sargassum (which I’m sure you remember is a type of seaweed) in order to sift through and find critters. She has a great eye, though, because she always manages to find even the tiniest of critters in her samples. Just yesterday she found a baby seahorse that couldn’t have been more than a few millimeters long! Outside I hear her giggle with glee- I know this is because she has found a Sargassum fish, which is her all-time favorite.

deck crew

Our night shift deck crew- Tim, Chuck and Reggie

Our night watch would not be complete without the deck crew, Tim, Reggie and Chuck, who are responsible for helping us lower the CTD, Neuston and bongo tows, and for the trawl net. Our work could not be done without them.

William, one of our engineers, took me down into the engine room the other day. First impressions- it was hot and noisy! It was neat to see all the different machines. The ship makes its own water using a reverse osmosis system, which takes water from the ocean and converts it into drinking water for us (this water is also used for showers and sinks on board). One interesting note is that the toilets actually use salt water rather than fresh water so that we conserve our fresh water.

reverse osmosis

Our reverse osmosis systems.

I cannot believe how fast this leg has gone and that we only have a few more shifts to go before we return to the Oregon II’s  home port of Pascagoula. As we’ve moved into the eastern waters of the Gulf, we have seen a lot of different types of critters. On average, our most recent trawls have been much more brightly colored. We are near some coral reefs too- in our trawls we have pulled up a bit of coral and sponge. The markings on some of the fish are very intriguing, and even fish we’ve seen before seem to be just a little brighter in color out here.

Due to the fact that we are finding very different critters, my list of favorites for today has greatly increased! Here are just a few:

scorpion fish

The mouth of a scorpion fish. We’ve caught a bunch of these since we hit the eastern Gulf.

sea horse

A baby seahorse we pulled out of our Neuston tow. He was hiding in the Sargassum.

red snapper

One of our biggest red snappers.

box crab

This is another type of bashful crab, also known as the flame-streaked box crab (Calappa flammea).

octopus

This octopus sure liked my hard hat!

Kristy Weaver: The Sea is All I See, May 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard R/V Savannah
May 22, 2012-June 1, 2012

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Savannah, GA
Date: May 23, 2012

Current Weather: 85 and Sunny

Hello from the Atlantic Ocean!  Right now we are about 75 miles off the coast of Savannah, GA.  and there is water all around me!  The last time we saw land was about an hour after we left the dock yesterday.

Sunset on our first night at sea

Before I left many of you asked that I be careful while I am out here.  I wanted to tell you that I am safe and that safety seems to be a very important part of being a scientist, especially when you are on a ship.  I took photographs of a lot of the safety equipment and information throughout the ship.  We even had a safety meeting before we went out to sea.  The first mate (he does a lot of work on the ship) showed us how to put on a survival suit, which is something you wear that covers your whole body and has a hood.  This suit will keep you warm and floating if something happens and you need to go into the water.

After the meeting we had a fire drill just like we have at school, except we didn’t leave the boat.  The captain (he is the leader of the ship) sounded the alarm and we all put on life vests and met on the deck.  The deck is the back of the ship–the part that is outside.  A life vest is also called a life jacket or life preserver.  A life vest is put on like a jacket, but it doesn’t have any sleeves.   It’s bright orange and gets buckled and tied around you so that you can float if you go in the water.  You can see a picture of me in my life vest in the safety video that I made.

Many children asked what type of marine life is in the water here.  Here is a list and pictures of the animals I have seen so far.

Scamp Grouper

Scamp

Black Sea Bass

Black Sea Bass

Red Porgy

Red Porgy

After we empty the traps we sort the fish by family. Jennifer (a scientist) and I are sorting Red Porgy in this picture.

After we empty the traps we sort the fish by family. Jennifer (a scientist) and I are sorting Red Porgy in this picture.

The Red Snapper is the large pink fish. The black fish is a Shark Sucker.

If you look closely you can see that the Shark Sucker has a flat head with deep pockets on it that work like suction cups.

Spotted Dolphin

Spotted Dolphin

Gray Trigger Fish

One of the fishermen caught a shark with a fishing pole.  We had to get a picture of it quickly so that we could get it back into the water as soon as possible!

AND…to answer the #1 question that I have received…(drumroll please) YES!  Someone did catch a small shark today!

Did you know that you do things in science class that I have seen real scientists do  on this ship?  What things do you think you do that make you like a real scientist?  Check my next blog to find out how you already are a student scientist!

Deborah Campbell: Aboard Nancy Foster, May 16, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deborah Campbell
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
May 14 – May 24, 2012

Mission: Retrieve Acoustic Receivers
Georgraphical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off coast of South Carolina
Date: May 16th, 2012

Weather Data from Bridge: Overcast skies, 75 degrees

Science and Technology Log


Hi Everyone!  Tuesday, May 15th was a busy day.  Preparations were being made to deploy small boats on board  NANCY FOSTER.  On deck , the crew works with the crane operator to hoist the small boats in the water.  Everyone on deck must wear hard hats.  The boats must be loaded with supplies before going in the water.  Supplies include scientific equipment, dive gear, dive tanks, food, and water.  On my boat, “Nemo” gave me a bucket with a lid.  I put my water bottle, camera, sunglasses, and extra long sleeved shirt in bucket.

Mrs. Campbell aboard NOAA Ship NANCY FOSTER wearing hardhat.

Deborah Campbell climbing down ladder into NF3

Crane lifting whaler

The crane operator lowered NF3 (NF stands for Nancy Foster) in the water. “Nemo” got on board, the two divers, then me.  I was very nervous going down the rope ladder.  NF3 was bouncing in the water.  When I got in the boat, I stumbled and fell on the rough surface.  My knee was scraped up and bleeding.  I used my water bottle to clean up.  Luckily, there were some clean rags.  “Nemo” set the GPS (Global Positioning System) for the first site where the divers would work.

Diver Keith Borden on board NF3

When we got to the site, a weighted buoy was thrown off NF3 to mark the position where the divers would enter the water.   Nemo would have to carefully steer the boat away from the diving area, but stay near the marker.  My job aboard NF3 would be to try to stay put on my bucket seat while the boat rolled and bounced, and water splashed on board.  The divers Keith and Randy  prepared to go in the water.  I had a data sheet to record information.  The paper was water proof, and I could use a pencil.  The divers reported to me their beginning air tank pressure.  The divers had on wet suits, but had to lift their vests with heavy tanks attached while the boat was bouncing.  They prepared their masks by putting dish washing liquid and washing it out.  This was to prevent the masks from fogging up under water.  The divers got ready to get in the water by sitting on the sides of the boat.  When “Nemo” said ready, the divers leaned backward to drop in the water.  “Nemo” steered the boat clear of the divers.  Meanwhile, a loggerhead turtle was swimming nearby watching.

Diver Randy Rudd

Keith and Randy’s mission was to retrieve an acoustic receiver and deploy a new one.  Altogether, I would go with Keith, Randy, and “Nemo” on Tuesday and Wednesday to do a total of five dives.  Each time they located the old receiver, replaced it with another, and then took video footage of each of the dive sites.  On one dive site a Barracuda was swimming nearby.  On another a Nurse Shark was under a ledge.  Some sites had lots of fish such as Red Snappers and Gag Groupers.

Personal Log

I have met many amazing people from all over the United States.  We talk at meal times.  I am trying to get the chefs to reveal their secret recipes for the wonderful food, but they will not tell anyone.  Meanwhile I am washing my clothes.  The ship has two washers and dryers which happen to be right by my room.  I get pretty wet and alittle dirty aboard NF3.  My plans for Wednesday night include a meeting with scientists to debrief on the the activities which included sonar mapping, Zebra Arc shell collection, acoustic receiver deployment, and fish tagging.  The kitchen has a nice flat screen T.V. with lots of magazines.  There are plenty of snacks.  The ship will rock me to sleep.  I am looking forward to the upcoming activities aboard NANCY FOSTER….I will keep you posted.

Marian Wagner: My Final Words and Hurricane Irene’s in Charge, August 23, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marian Wagner
Aboard R/V Savannah
August 16 — 26, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean (Off the Georgia and Florida Coasts)
Date: Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Fine Bunch to Live with at Sea: Front: Katie Rowe (Scientist), Sarah Goldman (Scientist Watch Chief, Night), Stephen Long (Scientist), Warren Mitchell (Lead Scientist). Middle: Marian Wagner (Teacher-at-Sea), Shelly Falk (Scientist), Christina Schobernd (Scientist, Video). Back: John Bichy (Marine Technician), Richard Huguley (Engineer), Harry Carter (2nd Mate), Raymond Sweatte (Captain), Michael Richter (1st Mate), David Berrane (Scientist Watch Chief, Day), Mike Burton (Scientist). Missing: Joel Formby (Master of the Galley)

Weather Data from the Bridge (the wheelhouse, where the controls of the ship are)

E-NE Wind at 10 knots  (This means wind is travelling 10 nautical miles per hour,
1.15 statute miles = 1 nautical mile)

Sea depth where we traveled today ranged from 33 meters to 74 meters

Seas 2-4 feet (measure of the height of the back of the waves, lower the number = calmer seas and steadier boat)

Science and Technology Log

IRENE: On Tuesday evening, we discussed the impact of Hurricane Irene on our cruise plans, and scientists and crew needed to make a decision about when we should return to dock. Originally, the plan was to return in the morning on Friday, August 26, but due to projections of Irene, they predicted that the seas would be too rough for us to lay traps beyond Wednesday (8/24).  When the seas are too rough, the traps bounce around and cameras do not pick up a steady, reliable picture.  When seas get to be 6-7 feet+ on a boat the size of the R/V Savannah (92 feet long), it also makes our work (and life) on the boat very difficult. Additionally, with Irene’s landfall projected in North Carolina, where half of the scientists live, they would need to get home in time to secure their homes and potentially evacuate.  Not in the case of Irene, but if a hurricane was expected to hit Savannah/Skidaway, where the boat moors, the ship’s crew would need to prepare for a hurricane-mooring.  To do this, they would run the ship up the Savannah River and put on a navy anchor that weighs 3,000 pounds.  Even with the use of the electric crane, it’s not an easy task to pull a 3,000 pound anchor onboard.  This would not be done unless a direct hit to the area was expected.  It has been done once before to the Savannah in the 10 years of her existence.  The forecast did not project Savannah to be affected by Irene, so we did not need to prepare for a hurricane mooring.

After difficult deliberation on Tuesday night about hurricane Irene’s potential Category (see how hurricanes are ranked here), and considering the success of the research accomplished on the trip already, scientists decided the most practical and reasonable decision was to dock Tuesday night, unpack Wednesday morning, and allow North Carolina scientists to return to their homes by Wednesday night.  (From reports I received post-Irene, there was landfall of the hurricane eye over their houses, but the storm weakened between Wednesday night and Saturday and was Category 1 when it came ashore.  None of them sustained significant loss.  Many downed trees and three days without power, but no floods or structure damage. Phew!)

NOAA’s National Weather Service is the sole official voice of the U.S. government for issuing warnings during life-threatening weather situations.  Follow Seattle’s “Weather Story” at NOAA’s National Weather Service.

OUR RESEARCH PROCESS…A STORY CONCLUDED

Here on my final blog entry, I want to finish the story of our research process.  Here’s the story I’ve told so far, in outline form:

  1. research begins with baiting fish traps and attaching cameras, and we stand-by on deck
  2. when we arrive at a research location with reef fish habitat (as observed via depth sounder and GPS), we drop the trap to the bottom and it sits for 90 minutes; buoys float above each trap so we can find and retrieve them near where traps were deployed, we run the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Profiler (CTD) to get information about abiotic conditions at each sampling site. The CTD takes vertical water column profiles, measuring: Pressure, Temperature, Conductivity/Salinity, Chlorophyll fluorometer, Color dissolved organic matter fluorometer (CDOM), Photosynthetic Active Radiation (PAR), Backscatter, Dissolved oxygen, and Transmissometer -10 and 25 cm path lengths
  3. after 90 minutes have passed, we return to the traps and pick them up, and secure the fish caught
  4. we identify each fish, measure length, weight, and frequency (how many fish were      caught), and then keep the fish that our research is targeting
  5. in the wet lab, we dissect target fish, removing parts of fish that are sent back to the lab for further research

AT THIS POINT, WE ARE DONE with our research with the bodies of the fish, but we have 99% OF THE FISH’S BODY LEFT! What should we do?

I was very impressed with the compassionate and humane action the scientists do with the fish after research.  Scientific research guidelines don’t dictate what a research study should do with edible fish flesh. We could have just discarded fish back into the ocean. However, scientists see an opportunity to provide food to people in need of  nutritional support in our communities, and they coordinated with a regional food bank in Savannah to do just that. Despite the work and time it takes to process the fish for donation, it did not seem to be considered a burden at all by any of the scientists.

I am perfecting my fillet!

Fresh fish fillets ready for food bank distribution

To process the fish for donation, we cut fish into fillets, wrap the fillets in butcher paper, and freeze them onboard the ship.

When we reached land, Warren
contacted the regional food bank, who came out to the dock with a refrigerated truck to pick up fish.  Within a few days the fish was distributed through charitable organizations in the region to people who were most in need.

These scientists are not just natural scientists but social scientists too! (just as I fancy myself!)

Personal Log

Captain Raymond Sweatte and First Mate Michael Richter

Interview with Raymond Sweatte, captain of R/V Savannah

Marian: What  makes a good crew?

Raymond: A crew that sees things that need to be done and does them because they know it all goes smoother when they do.

 

M: Have you ever run into or had a close call running into another ship?

Raymond: No, but the closest I came was when I was passing under the bridge at the Skidaway when a barge was coming through at the same time. Because it was easier for me to maneuver, I pulled over to side to let the barge use the majority of the channel. But the barge stayed on my side of the channel and was coming right at me. My boat was leaning upon the bank so there was no where for me to go.  I got him on the horn and asked, “What’s going on?”  He pulled over right away. He was new and very apologetic. 

M: Have you ever been in a terrible storm before?

Raymond: A few times we’ve had 15-16 foot seas coming back from the Gulf. When you have a north wind at 35 knots [strong wind coming from the North] and north-going current opposing the wind, the seas get very rough. Waves were coming up over the ship. [picture Marian’s eyes VERY wide at this point in the conversation] When seas are really rough, you get lifted up out of bed and down again. I remember trying to sleep one night in rough seas when my head kept hitting against the wall, so I turned around so my feet were up hitting against the wall.

M: What were things like before radar, satellite, and so many electronic navigation tools
you use today?

Raymond: Things were not as accurate. Communication was on a single sideband, navigation was with Loran-C, though VHF radio was somewhat the same as now.  To follow ships and determine their speed we had radar on dash but we had to use an eye cup we looked into to correlate with the radar, and then go over to the chart to plot them.  Then, we did it again six minutes later and multiplied by 10 to find their speed.  Now we have an automatic identification system [we can click on a ship on the radar] that tells us where they are, who they are, where they came from, where they are going, and what they are doing.  

M: What are the right-of-ways when vessels are crossing paths; who moves when two vessels are in course to collide?

Raymond: [On ships, aircraft and piloted spacecraft] a red light is on the left or port side of the craft and a green is on the right or starboard side. When two vessels have crossing paths, each will see a red or green light. If you’re looking at another vessel’s port side you see red, and it’s his right-of-way. If you are on their starboard side, you see the green light, and the right is yours.

Also, right-of-way rules give priority to vessels with the most difficulty maneuvering. The ranks in right-of-way, starting with the highest are:

1)Not under command

2)Restricted in ability to maneuver

3)Constrained by draft (stay away from shallower water to avoid running aground)

4)Fishing

5)Sail

6)Power

7)Sea Plane

Remember this mnemonic: New Reels Catch Fish So Purchase Some.

M: Who’s easier to talk to, a Navy Sub Captain or a Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot?

Raymond: I don’t have a problem talking with any of them. Coast Guard generally would call you first. Navy sub pilots I’ve found to be very cordial. They have changed their course when we had traps out.

M: What message would you say to students interested in being a captain?

Raymond: All kids have to follow their own heart. If they like water and this environment, they should follow their heart and become a captain.

Thank you Captain Raymond! It was a genuine pleasure to talk to you and experience life at sea under your command and with such a stellar crew. It is no wonder you are revered by everyone you work with.  Read more about Captain Raymond Sweatte in the Savannah Morning News!

The powerful significance of this trip for me was that I did not just study a science lesson from a book or lab, but I was essentially given a chance to live a different life, that of a fisheries field biologist.  I did not dabble in the work; it was a full explosion into the curiosities, reasonings, and daily routines of working with live fish and fish guts while sharing friendship, humor and stories with scientists and crew aboard a boat that was a small bounded island of rich human culture within a vast ocean of life and scientific questions waiting to be answered.  I loved it.  If only I didn’t love teaching more…I could definitely live that life.  Thanks NOAA, thanks NC SEFIS folks, thanks SC DNR folks, and thanks Skidaway Institute of Oceanography folks.  You are all in my heart and in my classroom!

FASCINATING EXTRAS!

Flying fish!

At night especially, when looking out at the seascape, I noticed flying, bug-looking specimens scurrying out of and into the ocean’s surface.  WHAT WERE THEY?! I wondered. So I asked and learned they were FLYING FISH! A few of them flew right up on the vessel’s work deck.  Their wings are modifications of the pectoral fins.  They are so fascinating and their coloring was greenish/blue iridescence, a stunningly beautiful color!

RED SNAPPER: PROTECTED STATUS

“The Gulf and South Atlantic red snapper populations are currently at very low levels (overfished), and both red snapper populations are being harvested at too high a rate (overfishing).” See more where this quote came from at Fish Watch: US Seafood Facts.

It was clear to me how significant the concern for the red snapper population was when I learned that funding for this fisheries survey was drastically increased following the recent determination that red snapper were overfished and overfishing was occurring.  Fisheries managers, field biologists and members of the general public all want to see the red snapper population improve.  This cruise provided scientific data that will be useful when the status of the U.S. South Atlantic red snapper population is assessed again.

The lionfish's spines are so poisonous the only way to hold them is placing fingers in their mouths.

History of measuring speed in NAUTICAL MILES:

Wonder how a vessel’s speed was measured hundreds of years ago? Log Lines, knotted ropes with a log tied to one end and knots every nautical mile and one-tenth of a nautical mile, were tossed off the end of the ship while the knotted rope unraveled behind it. When the sand on a minute sand glass ran out, the rope was reeled back in and the knots counted to determine ship’s speed in knots-per-minute.

 LIONFISH: INVASIVE SPECIES

In its native waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the lionfish population is not a problem. There it has natural predators and natural parasites to keep it from overpopulating, yet it can survive well enough to maintain a healthy sustainable population. However, in the Caribbean waters and along the Eastern Coast of the United States, the lionfish has recently been introduced, and the effects are alarming. “Lionfish have the potential to become the most disastrous marine invasion in history by drastically reducing the abundance of coral reef fishes and leaving behind a devastated ecosystem.”  See more where this quote came from at NOAA’s research on invasive lionfish here. In the U.S. south Atlantic, they consume large quantities of reef fish and have no natural predators or parasites. Their population is thriving in large numbers, and it is devastating other fish species.  Mark Hixon, Oregon State University zoology professor, co-authored a study in 2008 with Mark Albins that showed “a lionfish can kill three-quarters of a reef’s fish population in just five weeks.” Read NPR story here. This is a cool way to view an environmental problem: see this animated map of the lionfish invasion! Red Snapper

Heather Haberman: Introduction July 1, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heather Haberman

Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 5 — 17, 2011 


Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, July 1, 2011

Heather Haberman

Heather Haberman, Science Teacher at Scottsbluff High School in Nebraska

Pre-cruise Personal Log: 

Allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Heather Haberman and I have been a science teacher at Scottsbluff High School in Western Nebraska for the past six years.  I LOVE being a teacher and sharing my passion for science with others.  Everyday brings a new adventure and there is rarely a dull moment.

Zoology and Environmental Science have always been my primary interests which motivated me to obtain a degree in Biology.  This degree allowed me to pursue positions such as a Research Assistant with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, an Animal Caretaker with the US Department of Agriculture, a Forest Protection Officer with the US Forest Service, as well as a Zookeeper and Education Curator for Riverside Zoo.  As an Education Curator, I realized how much fun it was to teach science so I decided to go back to college and earn my Education degree.  These real world experiences have helped me make science more fun and applicable to the lives of my students.  This is one of the reasons why I am so excited about being selected to participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.

Oregon II

NOAA's research vessel the Oregon II

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere.  Next week I will begin working alongside NOAA scientists on a groundfish survey in the Gulf of Mexico aboard the Oregon II.  Their primary summer objective is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth. Other objectives include obtaining samples of commercially important fishes, such as red snapper, and crustaceans.  This data enables scientists to predict population trends which allows government officials to regulate the fishing industry in a more sustainable fashion.  It is also important to collect weather (meteorological) data and physical ocean (hydrographic) data to look for climatic trends and to assess the health of the ocean.  Plankton samples will also be collected since they play a key role in the oceanic food web and are good indicators of ecosystem change.

The Mississippi watershed drains approximately 40% of the Unites States, including Nebraska.

I am excited to be a part of this scientific research team collecting data about the health of our fisheries and oceans.  I hope that bringing back real scientific stories about research at sea will help my students from the Great Plains feel more of a connection to their watershed and the oceans of our planet.  Being over a thousand miles away from an ocean makes it easy to dismiss the fact we rely on the sea for so many of our resources, and how our actions impact the marine environment.

I will be posting updates on this blog three to four times a week.  I would like to answer as many of your questions as possible while on my mission. What would you like this sea-faring teacher to inform you about? Would you like to know about the ship; the jobs of my co-workers; marine life; ocean chemistry; my duties aboard the ship; science at sea; etc?  Leave me a message by scrolling to the bottom of the blog post and select “Leave a Comment”.  I can’t wait to hear from you.

Steven Wilkie: June 29, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
STEVEN WILKIE
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II
JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 29, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 28.06
Longitude -96.43
Speed 8.40 kts
Course 89.00
Wind Speed 13.90 kts
Wind Dir. 71.56 º
Surf. Water Temp. 27.80 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 29.30 ºC
Relative Humidity 76.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1013.73 mb
Water Depth 26.00 m

Science and Technology Log

A preserved plankton sample from one of the Oregon II's bongo nets.

So now that we have an understanding of abiotic factors, let’s talk biotic factors, and for the most part, those biotic factors are going to be fish and plankton.  The majority of our plankton (plankton are organisms–plants or animals–that are too small to fight against the current and thus drift along with it) samples come from the neuston and bongo nets.  After we have our bongo or neuston nets back on board, the science crew goes to work preserving the specimens.

Something common in the neuston net, is Sargassum a type of brown algae belonging to the Kingdom Protista and the Phlyum phaeophyta (kingdoms and phylums are associated with the science of taxonomy or classification).    If you are familiar with kelp, then you are familiar with brown algae.  Kelp is a long algae that fastens itself to the bottom of the seafloor with a root of sorts called a holdfast.  Sargassum, however, does not hold fast, but rather drifts out in the open ocean.  It can stay afloat because Sargassum has little tiny gas-filled floats called pneumatocysts.  These clumps of algae can provide much needed hiding places for small marine organisms out in the open ocean.  Because so many organism might live in, on or around the mats of Sargassum whenever we capture Sargassumin our nets we have to be sure to wash them down thoroughly in order to ensure that we get as many of the creatures off of the blades as possible.

Sargassum, a brown algae, provides important habitat for many marine organisms including juvenile fish. Clearly visible are the pneumatocysts, gas-filled floats, that help keep the algae at the surface of the ocean.

The currents of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic actually concentrate the Sargassum into a giant mass in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean, commonly referred to as the Sargasso Sea.  So significant is the Sargassum, that Christopher Columbus feared for the safe passage of his ships because of the thick mass of algae.

The adventures of Captain Nemo as penned by Jules Verne in the late 19th century even commented on the nature of this floating mass of algae:  “This second arm–it is rather a collar than an arm–surrounds with its circles of warm water that portion of the cold, quiet, immovable ocean called the Sargasso Sea, a perfect lake in the open Atlantic: it takes no less than three years for the great current to pass round it. Such was the region the Nautilus was now visiting, a perfect meadow, a close carpet of seaweed, fucus, and tropical berries, so thick and so compact that the stem of a vessel could hardly tear its way through it. And Captain Nemo, not wishing to entangle his screw in this herbaceous mass, kept some yards beneath the surface of the waves.  The name Sargasso comes from the Spanish word “sargazzo” which signifies kelp.”

As interesting and important as Sargassum is to the ocean environment, it is not our targeted organism, which is, for the most part fish!  Although not a fish, crustaceans are still an important fishery, and few are more significant than Panaeus aztecus (brown shrimp), Panaeus setiferus (white shrimp)  and Panaeus duorarum (pink shrimp).  Chances are if you are dining on shrimp cocktail you are eating one of these three species.

One of many (so many) brown shrimp to be measured. We measure from the length of the rostrum (the point part by their eyes) to the tip of their (tail).

Lutjanus campiechanus (or the red snapper) is another commercially important species that scientists are particularly interested in.  Species like the red snapper are of particular concern because, according to NOAA’s Fish Watch website, the population is currently at low levels prompting NOAA to establish temporary restrictions on fishing this species in past years.
It is the work of the crew aboard the Oregon II to collect the data that helps scientists predict population trends in species such as these which allows government regulations to be based on sound science.  Although sometimes unpopular with the local fishing industry the temporary ban on fishing for some species is aimed at providing a long-term sustainable population for future generations.

Prized by the fishing industry and restauranteurs, red snapper are a species of particular concern because of the pressures local fisheries have placed on the species.

 Although not a primary target of this fish survey,  cartilaginous fish (Class Chondricthyes…there’s that taxonomy again) like sharks, rays and skates are also organisms of particular concern.  Unlike the majority of the fish we bring on board, which are bony fish belonging to the Class Osteicthyes, the majority of cartilaginous fish reproduce internally.  This means that a female shark, ray or skate, might have much fewer offspring in a given year, but those offspring might be more mature once they are born.  Bony fish on the other hand often lay eggs externally by the thousands, but only a small percentage survive.
The watch leader of my watch, Brittany Palm, realizes the significance of the reproductive habits of these organisms (follow this link to review Brittany and her fellow authors extensive work)  and has used much of her expertise gained through NOAA cruises like this one to publish scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals.
If you recall, one of the steps of the “scientific method” is to share your results, and there is no better way than to publish your findings in journals for other scientists to read.  Although writing a paper may sound simple, this is not your average high school term paper–there is considerably more effort required.  Brittany and her fellow authors labored for close to four years to finally draft and submit the paper for publishing.

An example of a cartilaginous fish, the Atlantic angelshark (Squatina dumeril) was brought on board as part of one of our trawls.

Although we may not write anything as extensive at the high school level, good sound scientific investigations will always end up with you sharing your results, and as a result, well-researched background information is always essential.  To all my past and future students out there, feel free to take note of the reference section of the paper and remember how important references and good research is in backing up your work!
 
Personal Log
It has not taken long to get into the rhythm of things aboard ship.  Although I thought that the waves might lead to a little sea sickness, I now find them quite soothing, and am curious as to how I might feel once back on shore as I struggle to get my land legs back.  Sleeping with the waves is a slightly different story. At times they can lull you off to sleep (or it might simply be the twelve hours of sorting, measuring and weighing the catch that does that); other times they can roll you right into your bunk wall and snap you awake.  My bunk is on the top, so the wall is better than the floor I suppose!
Although the waves have been soothing up to this point, we are possibly facing some inclement weather as the first tropical storm of the season, Arlene, is to our southwest heading towards the Mexican coast.  If the weather picks up too much we  may have to head in shore to work up some of the shallower stations while the Gulf settles back down.  Either way we will be kept busy, measuring fish or measuring the waves!

Tropical Storm Arlene, the first tropical storm of the Atlantic season is headed for the Mexico coast in the next few days.

Margaret Stephens, May 19, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Margaret Stephens
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Fisheries, bathymetric data collection for habitat mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States continental shelf waters from Cape Hatteras, NC to St. Lucie Inlet, FL
Dates of log: Thursday, 19 May through Saturday, 21 May, 2011

Here I am with the CTD equipment

Here I am with the CTD equipment

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: Latitude 27.87, Longitude -80.16
Wind Speed 11.06 kts
Wind Direction. 131.46 º
Surface Water Temperature 26.88 ºC
Surface Water Temperature
Air Temperature 27.10 ºC
Relative Humidity 78.00 %
Barometric Pressure 1015.50 mb
Water Depth 28.05 m
Sky conditions: clear

Science and Technology Log

General Description of the Scientific Work Aboard Pisces
While at sea, the ship’s operations and scientific crews work in shifts 24/7 – yes, that’s twenty-four hours, every day, with ship operations, maintenance, data collection and gear deployment continuing day and night.
The scientific team, headed by Chief Scientist, Dr. Nate Bacheler, includes researchers who are mostly marine biologists specializing in fisheries. Each team member has complementary specialized skills such as acoustics (use of sonar for sea floor mapping), physical or chemical oceanography, underwater video camera operations, data management and analysis, and many aspects of fish biology.

The main mission of this research cruise is to study red snapper and related grouper species, fish that are of great importance economically and to the marine ecosystem in near shore areas off the southeastern coast of the United States. In particular, the team is studying where the fish are likely to be found (their spatial distribution patterns) and their numbers, or abundance, and population dynamics (how the populations change over time).

This work expands the knowledge needed to guide decisions about how to protect and manage fisheries in a sustainable manner. Healthy, sustainable fish populations are essential to the economy, to the function of healthy ecosystems, and as high-protein (and tasty) food sources. In the past, many fish species have been overfished, resulting in dangerous declines in their populations.
The scientific work on board Pisces for this project is divided into three main areas. This log entry gives an overview of each of the three main areas of work, with a more detailed account of the acoustics, or mapping portion. Upcoming logs will describe the other phases in more detail.

  1. Acoustics – Using the science of sound with advanced sonar and computer technology, the acoustics team maps the sea floor and identifies areas likely to be good fish habitat.
  2. Fish survey – The survey team sets baited traps to catch fish, then collects them, identifies the species, and records essential data about the species of most interest.
  3. Underwater videography – The video team attaches cameras to the traps to view the kinds and activities of fish in the water and assess the type of sea bottom, such as sandy or hard, flat or “bumpy”, regular or irregular.
  4. After all this information is collected in the field, much of the painstaking, detailed analysis takes place back in the home labs and offices of the researchers.

Acoustics Work
Since acoustics is the first step used to identify specific sites to set traps for the fish survey, we’ll start here.
Throughout a long night shift, from 6 p.m. until the work is complete, often 7 a.m. or later the following day, the acoustics team uses sonar (SOund NAvigation and Ranging) and computer analysis to map the sea floor and identify promising areas to set traps for the fish survey. See a detailed description of the sonar equipment and procedures below.

Investigator Jennifer Weaver showing GIS model of sea floor contours

Investigator Jennifer Weaver showing GIS model of sea floor contours

At 5 a.m., the acoustics team meets with Chief Scientist Nate to report any sites they identified overnight and select the stations to sample with fish traps and underwater cameras during the day. The team then converts their data into a kind of route map that the helmsman (the ship’s “driver”) uses to steer the ship along the designated survey route.

The acoustics team members possess extensive knowledge about fish habitats, geography and geology of the sea floor, and computer and sonar technology. They also need to be aware of the interactions among wind, weather and currents and understand charts (marine maps) and ship’s navigation. They constantly communicate with the ship’s bridge via the internal radio network.

Fish survey team prepares baited traps at dawn

Fish survey team prepares baited traps at dawn

The acoustics lab houses work space large enough for five to ten people, banks of computer screens, servers, and large-scale display monitors projecting images from the sonar devices, real time navigation, and views from cameras positioned in work areas on deck.

Once the now-very-sleepy acoustics lab team wraps up its nocturnal work, the team members turn in for a day’s (or night’s?) sleep, just as the other teams’ daylight tasks begin in earnest.

Fish Survey Work
By 6 a.m., in the predawn darkness, the rear deck becomes a hub of concentrated activity, with sounds muffled by the early ocean haze and drone of the engines and generators. The four or more members of the fish survey team, still rubbing sleep from their eyes, assemble on the stern deck (rear of ship or fantail) to prepare the traps to catch fish for the day. Before the sun rises, floodlights illuminate the work of cutting and hanging menhaden, whole fish bait, in the traps, securing the underwater cameras in place, tagging each piece of equipment carefully and checking that everything is ready for deployment.

Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler directs trap deployment from the dry lab

Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler directs trap deployment from the dry lab

Chief Scientist Nate directs the deployment of the traps from the dry lab, where he faces a bank of computer screens displaying maps of the identified sampling route, the ship’s course in real time, and camera shots showing the personnel and operations on deck. By radio, Nate directs the deck crew to lower the traps at each of the designated sites.

The ship is steered along the sampling route, dropping traps in each of six locations. Each trap is left in place for approximately ninety (90) minutes. Once the last trap is lowered, the ship returns to the first location and raises the traps, usually following the same order. The deck crew members, together with the fish survey team, empty any catch and ready the traps for redeployment.
Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler directs trap deployment from the dry lab

Then the fish survey team, coordinated by Investigator Dave Berrane, sets to work sorting, weighing and measuring any catch and immediately releasing any fish not needed for further study.

Investigator Christina Schobernd views underwater video with Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler

Investigator Christina Schobernd views underwater video with Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler

Videography Work
As soon as the traps are hauled aboard by the deck crew, the wet lab team detaches and dries the cameras and hands them to the dry lab, where the videography team, headed by Investigator Christina Schobernd, removes the memory cards and transfers and makes duplicates of the video files on computer drives. All the teams take extreme care to label, catalog and back up everything carefully. Data management and redundancy are essential in this business. The scientists view some of the footage immediately to see if the cameras are working properly and to make any adjustments necessary. They also look for anything unusual or unexpected, any fish captured on camera other than those that made it into the trap, and they assess how closely the sea floor type matched what was expected from the acoustic team’s mapping work.

Christina works well into the night to back up and catalog all the day’s video recordings.

Detailed Description of Fisheries Acoustics Surveys

Multibeam sonar mapping the seafloor. Image courtesy of Jill Heinerth, Bermuda: Search for Deep Water Caves 2009.

Multibeam sonar mapping the seafloor. Image courtesy of Jill Heinerth, Bermuda: Search for Deep Water Caves 2009.

Fisheries Acoustic Surveys: Acoustic surveys help determine the relative abundance of target species and provide information to determine catch rates and guidance for fisheries management.

The equipment aboard Pisces includes two types of sonar devices that use sound waves to measure the water depth, shape or contours of the sea floor, and to a limited extent, fish groupings, or aggregations. Sonar operates using established knowledge about how fast sound travels in water under different conditions to develop a three-dimensional image of the shape of the sea floor. The first type is known as split-beam sonar, which uses sound waves at different frequencies to provide a picture of the underwater environment. Pisces has a Simrad EK60 echosounder.

The second, more sophisticated and expensive system involves Multibeam sonar mapping. Aboard Pisces is a Simrad ME70 device. Multibeam devices emit sound beams that forms an inverted cone, covering a larger area and providing a more complete picture of the sea floor than the series of vertical or horizontal sound signals that the split beam sonar provides. As described above, the bathymetric mapping surveys are conducted primarily during the night, from sundown until dawn, when fish sampling and other ship operations are not taking place. Ideally, this allows the science team to map out a route of sampling sites for the next day’s fish trapping work. At the end of the overnight shift, the acoustics team presents its findings to the Chief Scientist, who then coordinates the day’s activities with the fish team, the ship’s bridge, and the deck crew headed by the chief boatswain.

It’s called “multibeam” because unlike the first single-beam sonars, which sent out one signal or ping, multibeam sonar sends out a whole group of pings at once. Multibeam sonar can cover a larger area than a single beam can. Here’s a Quicktime movie of multibeam sonar: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/seafloor-mapping/movies/multi_240.mov

Personal Log

I cannot say enough about how friendly and helpful everyone on board has been to this neophyte. It takes a while to adjust to any new environment, but being on a ship at sea has its own learning curve. Pisces, at 209 feet long, operates like a small town. Because it is out at sea for weeks at a time, all supplies and systems must be operating 24/7 to keep the ship and crew focused on the appointed mission and keep everyone on board safe, comfortable, and able to do their jobs.

I spent the first two days getting acclimated to the layout of the ship, safety practices, meeting the members of the scientific crew, adjusting to the rigorous schedule, and doing my best not to commit any grave offenses or make big mistakes that would make the work of this very patient group of dedicated professionals any more difficult than it is already.

Sleep Time Because the ship’s work continues round the clock, sleep time varies, depending on the person’s position and duties. It is important for everyone aboard to be mindful that at any hour of the day or night, it’s likely that someone is sleeping. The mapping crew began a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift (or later, until the work is finished) on our second day at sea, and most of them will keep that difficult schedule for the entire cruise. Since I’m the lucky one to experience every aspect of the work, I’ll rotate through the various jobs and schedules. For the first few days, I’ll work with the fish survey team, from 6 a.m. until their work is completed, which may mean a break for supper at 5 p.m. followed by a few more hours of lab work to process all the day’s catch. My first day on the acoustics team, I’m scheduled to start at 4 a.m. assisting their nightly wrap up, as by the last few hours of their shift, they are quite tired.

Dining and Comforts Aboard Ship

Chief Steward/Chef Jesse Stiggens with a Pisces creation, a vegetable quiche.

Chief Steward/Chef Jesse Stiggens with a Pisces creation, a vegetable quiche.

Chief Steward Jesse Stiggens and Assistant Steward Michael Sapien create a terrific, appetizing menu for the three main meals and plenty of extras and snacks available at any hour.

The stewards are very accommodating, so anyone who will miss a main meal because of their work or sleep schedule can sign up in advance for the stewards to set aside a full plate of delicious food for them. The mess (dining room on a ship) is open all day and night, with coffee, cold beverages, an array of sandwich fixings, cereals and assorted leftovers kept chilled for anyone to microwave anytime they get a hankering for a nibble or a bigger bite. And…very important for morale … there’s a freezer stocked with ice cream, even Blue Bunny (a favorite in the South that I had not seen before) and Häagen-Dazs. There’s also a big screen television in the mess. The lounge area has computers, a conference or game table, a small library of books, a large screen television and several hundred movie titles, even new releases, for the crew to enjoy in their off time. Also available are wonderful reclining chairs, so comfortable, I wish I had time to use them. The one and only time I tried one out, the fire alarm went off for our first drill, and I haven’t had a free moment since.

Doomsday Came and Went: Saturday, 21 May, 2001….and Pisces work continues
CNN reports: After months of warnings and fear, the Day of Rapture, as predicted by apocalyptic Christian broadcaster Harold Camping, passed without apparent calamity. Judgment Day was to have started at 6 p.m., but as darkness fell on many parts of the world, it appeared that heaven could wait. At this writing, there have been no reports of people soaring upward to the skies, but plenty of folks are talking about it.

That includes those of us on Pisces. The possibility that Doomsday was approaching generated some good-natured kidding and gallows humor. We had some debate about when the end would begin. Since most of the ship’s instruments use Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a reference, we speculated that our end time might occur four hours later than east coast Daylight Savings Time (DST).

Everyone had their eyes on the clock and the horizon as first, the predicted doomsday hour of 6 p.m. DST came and went, and then, four hours later, 6 p.m. GMT passed without incident. Any apprehensions were put to rest, and now we have new fodder for discussion.

Special Challenges for Research at Sea
Many people have the idea that science is neat, pretty and conducted in sterile lab environments by other-worldly thinkers in clean white lab coats. That is decidedly not the case in fisheries work at sea. This section lists the special challenges (or, as, some optimists would say, “opportunities”) of conducting shipboard research. Each log will focus on or give examples of one or more challenges.

  • Limits of “shooting in the dark” – Imagine a vast, dark, deep, ever-changing, difficult-to-penetrate area, with living organisms moving about in and out, with all kinds of surface, bottom, and in-between conditions. That’s what underwater research involves. Examples: The mapping team thinks it has found great habitat for red snapper and grouper, so the survey team expects a bountiful trap. But up comes nothing but a trap still full of untouched bait. Or, the habitat conditions look promising, but the current is too strong to set the traps safely.
  • The Unexpected – It is often said that the only thing predictable in field research of this kind is unpredictability! You just never know….
  • Curiosity-seekers and just plain business – recreational and commercial boats – Not surprisingly, the areas of interest for NOAA fisheries research are often favorite fishing grounds for recreational fishermen, scuba divers, and active routes for commercial ships. Therefore, Pisces crew and helm (the person steering the ship) must always be on alert for other boat traffic. Example: On Saturday, a small recreational boat occupied by partiers pulled up nearly alongside Pisces. Despite polite cautions and requests from our bridge for the small boat to move away to a safer distance, the visitors just kept waving and cheering for a while.

Challenges to come in next logs:

  • Changing sea conditions, weather, waves and current
  • Fatigue
  • Limited daylight hours
  • Emergencies
  • More unpredictables

Links & Resources

Peggy Deichstetter, September 1, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 1, 2010

 

Teacher at Sea Peggy Deichstetter in her hard hat

Teacher at Sea Peggy Deichstetter in her hard hat

On the bridge

On the bridge

Day 4 Sept . 1

We are about an hour away from out first data collection area. This morning just before dawn I got a tour of the bridge. The CO showed my all the computers that keep track of where we are. I learned a lot, not only about the bridge but also about careers in NOAA.(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).. NOAA is made up of several parts, the CO and I talked about the oceanic parts; the officers and crew who run the ship and the scientists. The officers follow the same rules as the military. If you are in the Navy you can transfer directly into this division.

The scientists do the actual research designed by NOAA to answer questions about the ocean. In this cruise we are counting, tagging and releasing shark. This will tell us about how many sharks are in this area at this time of year. NOAA has collected data for twenty year so they will be able to tell the health of the shark population.

To help collect information of the effect of the oil spill we are also doing water analysis and plankton tows.

After lunch we were taught how to do a plankton tow. I have done numerous plankton tows in my life but never on this scale. I used all the skills that I learned when I did research in the Arctic except on a much larger scale.

Peggy Deichstetter, August 31, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Day 1 August 30


Peggy Deichstetter in her Safety Suit

Peggy Deichstetter in her Safety Suit

Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit

Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit

Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit

Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit

I woke up at 2:30am. Why didn’t my alarm go off? Now, I have to get dressed with all the stuff I will need for the rest of the day without waking my roommate. I make my way to the galley for some coffee. I pour a cup and take a gulp. This is soooooo bad. This is ever stronger than Mr. D’Agostino’s coffee. I make a new pot and sit down to work on my blog.

We have not had internet access since we departed yesterday and it looks like we won’t have it until noon tomorrow. Oh, life at sea. I also found out that we have another day at sea before we get to our fishing spot.

With a controlled experiment you need to have everything the same. So the spots we will be fishing in will be the same spots that they have done for the last 20 years. Our assignment is the coast of Mexico to Galveston Texas.

In my quest to stay awake for shift I went to bed at noon. At 12:30 the abandon ship drill was sounded, a difficult challenge, wake up, get down from the upper bunk, grab my survival suit and get to muster station. Once checked for roll call I got opportunity to don my survival suit. I have included some great pictures so everyone can have a good laugh.

Peggy Deichstetter, August 30, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Day 1 August 30

Stateroom

Stateroom

I met my roommate, Claudia, this morning. She was on this cruise last year. Basically we catch, tag and release sharks and any other fish we may catch. I walked into town to pick up things I forgot. Ashley, Guy and I run into town for our last meal on land, a Subway. During the excitement of casting off, I’m informed that I have the night shift. Me, the goddess of the morning. they must be kidding. As we reach open water the sea is really rough.

At dinner I’m advised to go to bed right after dinner and get up at 2:00am to acclimate my body to the night shift. So right after (6:30pm) dinner I head off to bed. My roommate is already there, she is green. She tells me she doesn’t feel well and needs to lie down. There is no way I can fall asleep. I lie there, waiting to fall asleep. Finally, I’ve been lying there so long, it most be time to get up. I look at my watch… its only 9:00. I finally fall asleep.

Stateroom

Stateroom

Annmarie Babicki, August 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date  August 20, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:  28.52 degrees North
Longitude:  85.52 degrees West
Clouds: partly cloudy
Winds:  10.37 kts.
Waves:  2-3 Feet
Air Temperature: 31.3 degrees C or 88 degrees F
Water Temperature:  29.7 degrees C or 85 degrees F
Barometric Pressure:  1014.28

Bull shark in the cradle

Science and Technology:

  There have been a couple of times when we have worked through a station and have not caught a fish.  That has been very discouraging and rather boring.  However, we had several stations that made up on it and we could barely keep up with bringing in the catch.  One catch, we caught seven sharks that needed to be put in the cradle because they were so large.

Underside of a bull shark

Bull sharks can be dangerous in the Gulf area because they swim in shallow waters where recreational activities take place.  They are one of the most abundant species of sharks, so you do have to be watchful of them.  It is fairly easy to recognize them because of the width of their midsection is and by their rounded nose.  The bull shark was a big male weighing 130 lb.  The black lines you can see just behind his head are the gills slits.  It’s amazing to think that he was enticed with a three inch piece of mackerel. This was only  second bull shark we have caught on our trip thus far.  The night shift also caught one and they were as excited as we were.
We also caught three sandbar sharks, which is the most common large shark we are catching out here.  They ranged in weight from 82 lb. to 136 lb.  Their colors vary from being a light sandy color to a grayish brown.  We had one fighter that thrashed around in the cradle.  The scientists was able  to calm it down, so that it did not hurt itself.  I made a video of one of the catches and it took the scientist and his assistants three min. to weigh, measure, tag and get the hook out of that shark.  I did tag a sandbar shark, but generally do not handle the really big ones.  This expert shark scientist is so skilled at handling sharks and the collecting of data he needs without stressing the sharks. I am in awe of his work and I very much admire the work he is doing to protect the shark populations in the Gulf.
We have caught several little sharks from the dogfish family that are not easily identifiable just by observing them. In order to identify them, the scientist takes a biopsy punch, which takes a small piece     (approx. .8 cm.) of skin just below the dorsal fin. It doesn’t hurt the shark and does not go deep into the muscle tissue. When the DNA testing is completed, the scientist will have the correct genus and species of the shark, which they can then enter into their data base.  Having accurate data is a must.  Without valid data, the shark populations will not be managed properly, which impacts sharks and fisheries.

Two embryos from a sharpnose shark

Another small shark that we caught was the sharpnose shark, which we dissected a few days ago.  Once again it was dissected and the data was collected on the female and her embryos.  They were measured and were old enough that the sex could be determined.  That was amazing to me as they were so small and translucent.  I will be bringing two of the embryos home with me.  I am sure my students will be excited them because you really can see their shark features.
In addition to the scientists on board, we have two contracted bird watchers, who have come to observe birds in the Gulf.  What has brought them here is in part the impact of the oil spill on the birds in open waters.  The other reason is that there have been few studies of Gulf birds, so at the very least they have begun to set a baseline for the species and populations.  Early on in our trip, we saw a very small bird called a cliff swallow that was migrating south to Argentina, which is its home.  It was fun to watch how they glided as they circled the ship.  It was aerodynamics at its best.  I was told that in February or earlier, it flies to North America where is mates and bears its young.  These birds travel this distance every year, which may account for why they live only 2 or 3 years.

A cliff swallow

 Personal Log

I have interviewed many of the officers and members of the science team since I arrived.  They come from diverse backgrounds and their journeys coming on the Oregon II are also very different.  Everyone has been very helpful and kind, even though I have so many questions that are both personal and professional in nature.  I look forward to sharing their stories with my students.
Sleeping has been a little more difficult for the past couple days.  I think it is the constant running of the engines.  I have not experience any soundless time, which I often have at home.  It will be nice to get home where it is quiet.  The crew has informed me that the lack of noise may bother me because it does them whenever they return from a trip.  They also stated that I will need a couple of days to adjust to land life.  I hope not since I start school on Thursday!
I will complete one more blog
“Animals Seen Today”  blacktip shark tiger shark, sharpnose.  yellow wedge grouper, golden tile fish, king snake eel.
Did You Know” that if a  hook is left in a shark’s mouth, it will rust out and the shark will expel what is left.

Beth Spear, August 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Beth Spear
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date of Post: August 17, 2010

I sadly said farewell to the Delaware II after 10 days and six night watch shifts hauling back sharks. It was a wonderful experience, but it was nice to get off the ship. :) I think my favorite moment was watching the sun rise one morning while a small pod of spotted dolphins surfed in the ship’s wake. I even saw two sets of mothers and babies playing together and thought I heard some faint clicks and chirps from them.

Something my fellow shipmates warned me about when we returned to land was dock rock, or sea legs. I did find myself swaying on the dock after disembarking from the ship. I thought that was the extent of it. However my first night on dry land my internal clock woke me up promptly at 11:45 PM for my night watch . I stumbled out of bed to visit the bathroom. I nearly fell flat on my face trying to compensate for the ship’s rocking even though the floor was steady. I think it took about 5 days for the bed to stop rocking like the ship. It was really strange I’d go to bed and it was fine, but when I woke up it felt just like the bed was pitching around as if I was back at sea.

While I was on board the ship I was unable to upload videos. I have attached a couple videos below showing the crew and scientists setting and hauling back the catch.

This video shows the night watch setting of the first 1/10 of the botton longline. The video begins just after Khris, a NOAA deckhand, had released the high flyer and bouy. Arjen, a volunteer, clips a numbered sample tag to the gangion held by Ryan, a grad student volunteer. Ryan feeds the gangion over the side of the ship and passes it off to Richie, a NOAA deck hand. Richie clips the gangions to the longline approximately every 60 feet. Adrian, the chief bos’n, is running the winch feeding out the longline. If you watch carefully Richie almost loses one of the gangions. We teased him about stagefright after I stopped taping.

The winch

NOAA deck hands

This video shows the night watch hauling back a catch. The vast majority of sharks were Atlantic Sharpnose, shown in this video. Richie and Khris are hauling in the line while Adrian is overseeing operations from the upper deack. Ian is collecting the numbered tags from the gangions. Lisa is collecting the gangions and reloading them into the barrels used to store them between sample locations. Ryan and Arjen are handling the sharks. Christian is recording data. There are 100 hooks and things can get pretty lively hauling back a catch with a lot of sharks. As you may notice removing the hook can be difficult. Ryan is good at it, but Arjen, much like myself find it more difficult. In fact I usually asked Christian to help me with the hook. I was very proud of the single, solitary hook I removed all by myself. :)

On the deck of the Delaware II

On the deck of the Delaware II

Annmarie Babicki, August 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki

NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 15, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:  26.96 degrees North
Longitude: 83.18 degrees West
Clouds: scattered clouds
Winds:  6.13 kts.
Air Temperature:  33.5 C or
Barometric Pressure:  1014.93

Science and Technology:

Today was another fantastic day of seeing biology at its best.  I had the opportunity to observe the dissection of a sharpnose shark.  It is a small shark (about 2′ long) and rather docile, so it has been a good shark for me to practice on learning how to handle sharks.  The Chief Scientist works with many other scientists who are researching the  reproduction of a variety of sharks in the Gulf.  Although this species of  shark is not the one that he is researching (he is researching the blacknose shark), shark colleagues throughout the Gulf work together in order to obtain as much data as possible, and therefore collect data for one another.  Scientists look at the reproductive stages by observing and performing tests on the reproductive organs.  The shark dissected was a female in advanced puberty, but was in the process of collecting developing eggs. The samples taken on this shark were the follicles, where the eggs are stored, a piece of tissue and a blood sample. They will be taken to the NOAA lab in Pascagoula for examination.

A sharpnose shark

Yellow follicles where eggs are stored.

One recent finding on the blacknose shark study is that it was thought to reproduce annually. The Shark Scientist has recently found samples of blacknose sharks that show some reproduce biennially and some annually.  This came about by looking at the physical features and chemical makeup of the sharks.  The Chief Scientist stated that they will need to go back and review all of the data they have collected on these sharks over the many seasons they have been conducting the bottom longline survey.  The reason why this is so important is that the federal regulation of the catch is based in part on this data.  The outcome could be that the shark population is being depleted at a faster rate than was expected or the population is larger than anticipated, which means the catch regulations could be changed to reflect that. The shark biologist and the shark endocrinologist ( researching the hormonal makeup of sharks) were both sure that their data was accurate and valid, yet their results contradicted one another.  As you would hope, these scientists are open-minded enough to review their findings again and will try to solve this unexpected puzzle.

There is a great deal of data that is collected during these types of surveys.  Some data is recorded with pencil/paper, other data, such as that collected with a piece of equipment called a CTD (for “conductivity”, “temperature”, and “depth”), is recorded with computers.  The actual measurements of sharks are written with pencil/paper, but once each station is done, the information is entered into one of the computers that are in the dry lab.  There are six computers in the dry lab, 2 of which are laptop computers  called Toughbooks.  The Toughbooks are used when the hi-flyers, weights and numbered tags are put out on the fishing line and when they are hauled in. They are recording the position and time each twelve foot line is being dropped into the water.

CTD lowered into the water.

The CTD is an extremely expensive and sensitive piece of equipment that is placed in the water immediately after the crew and scientists have finished setting the longline.  The CTD sits below the surface for 3 minutes and is then lowered nearly to the ocean floor.  The crew needs to be careful not to let it touch bottom because it can damage the sensors causing the unit to fail. All of the data from this equipment is analyzed by the Chief Scientist when he returns to the lab.  There are also computers in many offices on the ship.  As of this writing, I have not had the opportunity to explore what their functions are.  That is for another day.

Personal Log

 It is incredibly hot here today and I have not adapted very well this week.  For a person who is always cold and who rarely sweats, it is quite a surprise to have sweat dripping from everywhere.  I even had sweat dripping from my forehead into my eyes! That is not fun. Although I do not generally drink Gatorade, I am drinking a lot of it on this trip!  I really am not complaining, just making a statement. I am really having such a great time on board this ship. It truly is a once in a life time experience.
 In the past couple of days I have had the opportunity to interview the five scientists (which includes the shark scientist) that I work with, and the captain of the ship. Their backgrounds are very different, but they all agreed that their love for the ocean has always been there.  The also all stated that while in high school, there were not marine biology classes.  It was not until they were at the college level that there were course offerings in their area of interest. The shark scientist has a PhD., but the other crew members do not.  They are planning to work on their master’s degree in the future. All of the crew have set goals for themselves and I am sure they will achieve them.  Each one gave advice to my fifth graders and that is do what you love. I really enjoyed spending time with all of them and have a lot to share with my students and teachers when we are back in school.
“Answer to the Question of the Day:

A flying fish caught in the night.

The answer is yes.  There is this wonderful little fish that swims very fast under water, but will fly or skip like a rock over the water.  It is a great adaptation that helps it to survive because the dolphins just love to feast on them.  Often times where there are flying fish, there are dolphins.  The other evening a flying fish flew out of the water and bounced off one of the crew members who was walking to the bow.  One of the volunteers, who happens to be from UNE, caught it.  That was so amazing in itself and getting to see it upfront was even better. Another example of the wonders of the ocean.
“Question of the Day”
How do captains and crew members communicate with ships that are far away?
“Animals Seen Today” a pale spotted eel that has very sharp teeth and bites.

A pale spotted eel

Annmarie Babicki, August 10, 2010

Time:NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki

NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 10, 2010

Weather Data

Latitude:  25.36 degrees North
Longitude:  82.56 degrees West
Clouds: Overcast and occasional showers
Winds:  11.5 kts
Temperature: 28.6 Celcius or about 84 degrees Fahrenheit
Barometric Pressure; 1010.04

Science and Technology:

  I am working here in the Gulf of Mexico with a scientist who is completing shark stock assessments.  It is a long term study, which monitors population trends of all shark species in the Gulf.  The data collected from this survey is used in conjunction with data from many other studies to determine fisheries policy. One example of this could be the determinations of how large a catch can be and how long the catch season can be.  Policies are not only different by species, but also by whether the catch is for recreational or commercial use.
Today we began the shark survey and completed locations off the coast of Florida.  The locations are chosen at random, so that the data is objective and the findings are not skewed.  During each sampling the following information is recorded: shark species, its length, weight, sex, and the stage of its maturity.  The coordinates for each survey are also recorded, which enables scientists to know where particular shark populations exist. The number of stations completed per day varies depending on how far the stations are from one another.  Generally, the amount of time it takes to complete it is approximately two hours.

Bait bucket

Hi-flyer being dropped in the water

The methodology used to collect data on sharks is called bottom longlining.  This is when each hook are baited with mackerel and put on a gangion. We cut our own bait and attach it to the hooks.  Each hook is assigned a number, one to one hundred, so that it can be tracked. That line is then systematically hooked onto another line that runs one nautical mile.  Both ends of the line have what are called hi-flyers that float vertically in the water.  They are bright orange and have a blinking light on the top, so that they can be seen from a distance. There is a weight placed on both ends of the line and one in the middle. The weights help to keep the baited lines well below the surface.  After the last gangion is put on, we wait one hour and then begin to pull in all hundred lines. During this entire process the ship is moving, which can be sometimes challenging, especially in bad weather.

Measuring the length of a barracuda

weighing a barracuda

A tagged tiger shark

Although the focus of this survey is sharks, data is collected on all fishes that are captured. After the fish are pulled up on deck, data is collected and recorded by the hook number. The handling of sharks is different from the handling of fish.  Only sharks are fitted with a tag, which does not hurt them.  There are two types of tags, but to date we have only used one type.  In order to attach the yellow tag, a small slit is made underneath the dorsal fin. The tag has a sharp point on one end, which is inserted into the slit.  Also a small sample (5-10 cm) of the shark’s pelvic fin is taken.  This is then taken to the lab where DNA testing is done.  The DNA can be used to verify known species and unknown or new species. Also, scientists can compare the population of sharks in other oceans around the globe by their DNA. What I have observed on every catch is that the scientist carefully monitors the shark to ensure it is not being stressed or could be hurt in any way.
Today we caught this beautiful and powerful scalloped hammerhead shark.  When very large sharks like the hammerhead are caught, they are not pulled up by the line because it can damage them and they are too heavy to handle.  Instead they are guided onto a cradle which sits in the water. Once on securely they are hoisted to the side of the ship where scientists can collect the needed data. The hammerhead weighed in at 341lb. and was 8 feet long. What a catch this was, everyone was very excited.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

The cradle used to raise sharks in and out of the water.

Personal Log

The day started out cloudy but eventually turned over to showers and then to a hard rain.  We are feeling the effects of the tropical depression, which explains why it is difficult for me to stay standing for any length of time.  I am hitting and seeing more walls than I care to!  Also, it is a very bizarre feeling when the chair you are sitting in moves from one side of the room to the other.  Luckily I have fended of sea sickness, but I did have a mild case of nausea, however, nothing that stopped me from continuing to work on deck.  Thank goodness for Bonine.
Sleeping has not been much of a problem for me except when the ship’s engine changes.  The engines make a deep loud growling sound that wakes me for just a few minutes. Being out in the fresh air does make me tired, so I have to set my alarm clock or I will sleep through my next shift. It’s hard to know what day it is because I am working a noon to midnight shift. You keep track of time by when the next sampling is due.

Being at sea and doing this type of research is definitely only for the hearty.  The weather changes often as does the pace of the work.  There are many jobs to do during sampling and I am trying to learn all of them.  Baiting a hook and taking off bait has been frustrating, particularly since it has to be done quickly.  The type of hook they use has a barb on it that goes in a different direction from the rest of the hook, so it doesn’t just slide out.  We wear special gloves to protect our hands from the hooks and skin of the sharks, which can feel like sand paper or razor blades depending on the shark.  They say that practice makes perfect. Well, I have a lot of practicing to do!
My next adventure is to learn how to hold sharks and not be afraid of them.  I’ll keep you posted.

“Answer to Question of the Day” The fin clip is an actual piece of a fin that has been cut off the shark to be used for DNA testing.”Question of the Day”  What is a wet and dry room on a research vessel?

“Animals Seen Today” red groupers, tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, scalloped hammerhead, sharpnose shark, and sea birds

Beth Spear, August 4, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Beth A Spear
NOAA Ship: Delaware II

Mission: Shark – Red Snapper Bottom Long Line Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico to North Atlantic
Date: Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Night Watch

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0200 (2:00 am)
Position: Latitude 29 degrees 28’N, Longitude 080 degrees 21’W
Present Weather: Partly Cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wave Height: 1 foot
Sea Water Temp: 30.2 degrees C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 28.2 degrees C; Wet bulb = 26.0 degrees C
Barometric Pressure: 1016.8 mb
View off the stern off the NOAA Delaware II

View off the stern off the NOAA Delaware II

Science and Technology Log
This NOAA cruise was conducted for Red Snapper and sharks. Sampling is conducted along the continental shelf with a bottom longline. The longline consists of a mainline that is about 1 nautical mile or 6000 feet. Gangions are clamped to the main line approximately every 60 feet. The gangions have a clamp at one end and a hook baited with Atlantic Mackerel at the other end. The mainline is weighted at both ends and in the middle to keep it near the bottom. The line is set at depths ranging from 5 – 30 fathoms or 30 – 100 fathoms. The long term objective of the study is to estimate abundance of certain fish species. (mention annual survey, temporal patterns) Some short term objectives include sampling for genetic studies and tagging to study movement, age, and growth. Species studied usually include red snapper, tile fish, grouper, and various sharks.

The longline being sent out.

The longline being sent out.

Personal Log
Yesterday I began my night watch duties. Getting up at midnight is pretty tough especially when my normal bedtime is around 11:00 PM. One benefit however is the cooler early morning hours. We have about 4 -5 hot sunny hours before the night watch ends at noon. There is some down time while steaming to the next line. But when we are busy it can get crazy, especially working around animals with teeth that like to flip around. NOAA is very safety conscious and we all wear personal flotation devices (PFDs), safety glasses, and hard hats. The first night we had the mainline snap while hauling in the catch. No one was hurt, but that’s what the safety gear is for. It’ll be a good reminder for my students to wear their safety gear during labs.
Animals Seen So Far
Blue fish
Brittle star (see photo below)
Mahi Mahi
Flying fish
Scalloped hammerhead shark
Atlantic sharpnose shark
Blacknose shark
Eel
Sandbar shark
Bat?
Brittle star

Brittle star

Kimberly Lewis, July 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July  16 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 19, 2010

National Seafood Inspection Lab

doors up

doors up

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0730 (7:30 am)
Position: Latitude 28.18.6 N; Longitude 95.19.4 W
Present Weather: party cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 12.35 knots
Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.9 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 29.1 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 25.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1014.30 mb

Science and Technology Log

What is science technology? One simple definition can be ‘tools to help humans do science’. We have talked about some of the tools used aboard the Oregon II, like FSCS and CTD, but what are some other tools used that are not high tech?
Believe it or not, a shovel is an important tool on the ground fish survey. When a catch comes in, the net hovers over empty baskets and the catch is slowly released to fill the baskets. Once all of the catch has been emptied from the net, shovels are used to pick up the rest of the catch from the deck that fell out during emptying. In the wet lab we use scrappers to move the catch along the tray where we sort the organisms. When it comes to identification paperback field guides and laminated posters can help with ID.

So what do we do with the organisms we collect data on and identify?
It was mentioned that the SEAMAP survey collects data for many different agencies, but during the data collection we also save specimens for scientist from universities and other research groups. If a scientist is doing research on a particular species of batfish for example, once we collect data on the batfish we print a label for that scientist, bag the fish in zip loc baggies, and then put the specimens in the freezer below deck.

Station Board

Station Board

Station board – stations with a star beside them are NSIL stations. Stations with a “B” are stations where we drop the bongo nets (mentioned in an earlier log).

For commercial seafood we bag specimens to go to NSIL (National Seafood Inspection Lab). Not every station we drop the nets for is a NSIL station, but when we do have a NSIL station we follow a similar sample saving protocol to the one used for research scientists. These samples get labeled, placed in zip-loc baggies, and then they’re sent on to the freezer. However, because of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the gulf, the way we saved some of the samples for NSIL was different, because these samples are going to be sensory tested. In other words ‘sniff’ tested. For this test, the specimens had to be wrapped in foil to help contain any scents so that the ‘sniff testers’ (people trained to pick up petroleum scent at an amazing 100 ppm) can identify if petroleum products are present. For leg II the focus is on chemical sampling for petroleum. However, protocols can change daily when you are sampling during a disaster.

Foiling

Wrapping brown ship in foil to go to NSIL

Packed for NSIL

Packed for NSIL

Wrapped in foil, tagged, and ready for the freezer.

A few days ago our new protocol called for storing NSIL samples first to ensure we have enough freezer space, then other requesters samples may be saved if time permits.

Here is a CNN video clip about seafood safety.

We have a long list of the scientific names of seafood that need to be collected for NSIL but here is a list of more popular common names of seafood that you may recognize.

Some Common Commercial seafood for the Gulf Region for our groundfish survey 5-60 fathoms: Brown, White, and Pink Shrimp, Red Snapper, Gray triggerfish, crevalle jack, sand seatrout, silver seatrout, yellowedge grouper, snowy grouper, lane snapper, butterfish, wenchman, cobia, vermillion snapper, amberjack, shoal flounder, dusky flounder, and swimming crab.

Snapper on deck

Snapper on deck

Red Snapper freshly caught

Red Snapper in a fish taco, mmmm.

Personal Log:

Well the seas have been calm which is allowing me to get in a good 8-9 hrs of sleep each day. That is much better than the rockin’ and rollin’ I had been experiencing in bed. It is hard to sleep when you are sliding a few inches from head to foot of the bed, and side to side. It also creates an uneasy stomach as all of your stomach contents get mixed around.

Yesterday was a beautiful day as we could see for 10 miles (as mentioned above). One thing about night shift is that we only have 5 hours of daylight. This can be good or bad. Good part is that we have a cooler working environment and I don’t need as much sunscreen. (But believe me we still get stinky from all of the shrimp and fish juice!). The bad part about night shift is we can’t see into the sea as well. So 12 hours of collecting organisms we probably miss a lot of the other interesting things that are swimming near our boat when we haul up a catch.

4 days of fishing to go, then we will be cleaning the lab and heading to Mississippi.

Bruce Taterka, July 7, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Trawling in Deeper Waters

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2015 (8:15pm)
Position: Latitude = 27.20.39 N; Longitude = 096.35.21 W
Present Weather: Could cover 90%
Visibility: 4-6 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.6 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 28.5 C; Wet bulb = 26.7 C
Barometric Pressure: 1008.27 mb

Science and Technology Log

Since setting out on Friday we’ve headed south along the Gulf coast of Texas almost to the Mexican border, and now we’re heading back north but farther offshore, in deeper water. As a result our trawls are pulling up a deep-water assemblage of species different from those we saw in shallower waters a few days ago. There is still no sign of oil in this part of the Gulf, but we’re still taking samples of fish and shrimp for analysis to make sure there’s no contamination here from the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Ten-foot seas are predicted for tonight so we’re heading north along the Texas coast, away from the storm, and we’ve put away the fishing gear until it gets calmer.

Last log we talked about FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System). So what is it, how is it used, and what is so great about it?

FSCS, pronounced ‘fiscus’, is an automated system for recording the massive amount of biological and oceanographic data generated 24 hours a day by NOAA scientists during fisheries surveys. During a trawl survey, fish and invertebrates from each haul are sorted, counted and weighed by species. Scientists record data from individual fish, such as sex, weight, length and even stomach contents, resulting in tens of thousands of new data points every day. Before NOAA rolled out FSCS in 2001 aboard the ship Albatross IV, scientists recorded all data by hand, an incredibly tedious process. With FSCS, however, data are recorded digitally which is much faster, allows integration of biological and oceanographic data. It also enables NOAA to obtain critical real-time information to assess and manage the health of the marine ecosystem and individual fish stocks.

FSCS uses a Limnoterra FMB4 (fish measuring board) which has a magnetic pen to upload the length of an organism within a millimeter, and software that annotates all of the data on length, mass, sex, etc. The software has an index of species scientific names and can print labels for specimen samples that are to be shipped to other scientists and to the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory in Pascagoula, MS.

We use FSCS 24 hours a day, and I can’t imagine how NOAA scientists did this work without it.


Personal Log

I’m enjoying my 12-hour shifts processing fish, shrimp and invertebrates on theOregon II. Our noon-to-midnight watch is working well together and starting to bond.

My watch-mates in the Oregon II wet lab.

I’m seeing lots of very cool marine life that we’re hauling up from the bottom of the Gulf with our trawling net. Here are just a few of the things I’ve seen in the past two days:

Singlespot frogfish – Antennarius radiosus.

Note the lure on its snout.

Examining the stomach contents of a catfish.

Red snapper – Lutjanus campechanus.

Camouflage in the Sargassum. Can you spot the crabs?

Sunset

Sunset


Kimberly Lewis, July 5, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July  16 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 5, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: Latitude = 27.58.38 N; Longitude = 096.17.53 W
Present Weather: partly cloudy, haze on the horizon
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.6 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 29.2 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 26.1 C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.1 mb

Science and Technology Log

The purpose of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey is to collect data for managing commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. SEAMAP stands for Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program.

Right now we’re working along the Gulf Coast of Texas, far from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, so we’re not seeing any effects of oil here. However, part of our mission is to collect fish for testing to make sure that oil spill has not impacted the marine life in this area and that the fish and shrimp from Texas are safe to eat. We’re also collecting water samples from this area to use as baseline data for the long-term monitoring of the impact of the oil spill in Gulf.

There are four main ways the Oregon II is gathering SEAMAP data on this cruise, and we’ve already learned how to use all of them. The main way we collect data is by trawling, and this is where we do most of our work on the Oregon II. In trawling, we drag a 42’ net along the bottom for 30 minutes, haul it up, and weigh the catch. We then sort the haul which involves pulling out all of the shrimp and red snapper, which are the most commercially important species, and taking random samples of the rest. Then we count each species in the sample and record weights and measurements in a computer database called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System).

Here on the Texas coast, where we’re working now, the SEAMAP data is used to protect the shrimp population and make sure that it’s sustained into the future. Since 1959, Texas has been closing the shrimp fishery seasonally to allow the population to reproduce and grow. The SEAMAP data allows Texas to determine the length of the season and size limits for each species. Judging by our trawls, the Texas shrimp population is healthy.

Here I am flushing out the CTD to prepare for the next use.

Another method of data collection is the CTD, which stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. The CTD takes measurements from the surface to the bottom, creating a CTD profile of the water column at our trawling locations. These data are important to assess the extent of the hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, and to relate the characteristics of our trawling hauls to DO levels. SEAMAP data collected since the early 1980s show that the zone of hypoxia in the Gulf has been spreading, causing populations to decline in hypoxic areas.

We also use Bongos and Neustons to gather data on larval fish, especially Bluefin Tuna, Mackerel, Gray Triggerfish, and Red Snapper. The Neuston is a rectangular net that we drag along the surface for ten minutes to collect surface-dwelling larval fish that inhabit Sargassum, a type of seaweed that floats at the surface and provides critical habitat for small fish and other organisms. We drag the Bongos below the surface to collect ichthyoplankton, which are the tiny larvae of fish just after they hatch. The Neuston and Bongo data on fish larvae are used for long-term planning to maintain these important food species and keep fish stocks healthy.

In this photo I am untying the knots at the bottom of the Neuston to gather the ‘catch’. You can see a lot of Sargassum in this haul.

In this photo I am untying the knots at the bottom of the Neuston to gather the ‘catch’. You can see a lot of Sargassum in this haul.

Personal Log

Day 1: docked
Day 2: we left the port in Galveston (July 2). My shift started immediately but by the time we actually left port and reached the first station my shift was over 1200 noon. So far so good!

Day 3: 2400 hrs or Day 4: 00:00 hrs.
– the sea sickness is getting me a little now. The rough seas are most likely the main culprit, however, I have not been out to sea for this period of time before. Once the seas calm down I should have a better idea. I do know this, my shift leader Alonzo and the chief scientist Andre have both been very understanding of my adjustment to sea life. The entire staff on board for that matter are very understanding and concerned for everyone’s well being.
– This was my first full shift. We are BUSY aboard the Oregon II ! A catch will come in for processing, which I will explain processing on my next blog, and we sometimes are still processing the last batch or we are up front taking CTD samples and bringing in our bongos/neustrons. I have learned a lot of things in a short period of time.

July 4, 2010 – Lots of stations (places where we deploy our nets) tonight. We actually got a little backed up. There are five people on my shift and it takes all 5 of us working non-stop to get the job done.

July 5, 2010 – I am feeling better today, so much that I uploaded my blog! I keep waking up at 5pm and unable to go back to sleep, but I am going to try now to catch a couple more hours as my shifts starts again in 3 hours.

Mechelle Shoemake, June 29, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mechelle Shoemake
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 19 – 30, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0000 hours (12:00pm)
Position: Latitude = 28.45.067 N; Longitude = 091.35.189 W
Present Weather: cloudy
Visibility: 6 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wave Height: 4-6 foot swells
Sea Water Temp: 29.8 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 27.3 degrees Celsius;
Wet bulb = 26.2 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log

The Groundfish Survey’s purpose is to find out what species are here in the Gulf how many, and their size, sex, and maturity status. On average the trawl produces at least 20-40 different species on each tow. The type of trawl used on the Oregon II is the Bottom Otter Trawl. The deck hands put the net out, it trawls for around 30 minutes, and it is then pulled back in by the deck hands. The catch is then placed in basket where it is weighed and then separated by species Each species is then individually weighed, measured, and sexed.

This is a red snapper I’m sorting out of the catch

We caught a nice red snapper that will be sent back to the lab for testing. It will also be determined if the oil spill had any effect on the fish, shrimp, crabs, and other species we caught. We also took some more water samples using the CTD to determine how much oil is in the water. We We used the Neuston net and the Bongo nets to gather plankton, which is also being collected for testing. The Neuston gathers plankton on the surface while the Bongo nets gather plankton all the way from the bottom of the gulf to the surface. This plankton is then placed inglass jars with a preservative Twenty-four hours later the plankton is transferred to a lesser preservative. The initial set sample is too strong for long storage. The plankton samples are then sent to Poland to a specialized plankton lab. In this lab, the plankton is identified to the family level. It is then sent back to the NOAA labs where it is identified to the species level. It was amazing to see all the little critters in the jar. There were so many of them.

Deploying the bongo net

Later in the day, we did another trawl….the catch of the day. Well it was a tire! It did have two little critters living in it, though. They were both identified and weighed and then frozen and packaged for the lab. The speculated reason for the trawl producing so few specis what’s called hypoxia. Hypoxia is the depletion of the oxygen in the water. If there is no oxygen,the fish and many other species cannot live. You can read more about hypoxia at http://www.ncddc.gov.

A frog fish

To the right is a frog fish that we found living in the tire. It has a trick to catch its food. The tentacle on the top of the head acts as a lure to attracts its prey. When a smaller fish comes by to eat what it thinks is food at the end of the frog fish’s lure…..well it gets caught and the frog fish eats the little fish. This frog fish still had its dinner in its mouth.

To the left is a picture of the last trawl that my shift made. You can see that this catch was full of shrimp and little crabs. We had to turn back towards Texas due to Tropical Storm Alex, which is forecasted by NOAA’s National Weather Service to become a hurricane by tomorrow. It’s too dangerous for the ship to be out in weather like that.

Some of the critters from out last trawl

Personal Log

Well, I can say that this has definitely been an adventure of a lifetime. I have enjoyed my voyage with all of my new NOAA friends. They have taught me a lot. As I am writing this, we are sailing back to port in Galveston, TX. As I said earlier, we had to cut our trip short due to Tropical Storm Alex. Believe me, I know he is out there. Our ship is rolling with the waves. I had a quick lesson in securing my belongings. You never know what you might encounter when you go to sea. Thanks to NOAA for giving me this opportunity.