Andrea Schmuttermair, Underwater Adventures, July 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 6 – 25, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 17, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 58 02.3N
Longitude: 152 24.4W

Sky:  some clouds, clear

Visibility: 10nm
Wind direction: 261 degrees

Wind speed: 10 knots
Sea wave height: 2ft

Swell wave direction: 140 degrees

Swell wave height: 1ft

Sea water temp: 12.1C
Dry temperature: 16.2C

Science and Technology Log

In addition to the walleye pollock survey, there are also a few side projects taking place on the ship. One of the instruments we are trying out on this survey is the DropCam. With some upgrades from a previous version of the camera, this is the first time this camera has come on the pollock survey. It was initially created for a NOAA project studying deep sea corals. Now that the study is over, we are using it for a project funded by North Pacific Research Board. The goals of this project are two-fold: habitat classification and tracking fish densities in untrawlable versus trawlable areas.

My students would be excited to learn that this is very similar to the tool they designed with our underwater ROVs. The DropCam is made up of strobe lights and 2 cameras- one color and one black and white- contained in a steel frame. We’ve been deploying it twice each night in areas where we see the most fish on the echogram. The ship pauses when we get to a point we want to put the camera in, and the camera itself will drift with the current. The DropCam is attached to a cable on deck, and, with the help of the survey tech and deckhand, we lower it over the side of the ship and down into the water. Once it gets down to 35m, we make sure it connects with our computers here in the lab before sending it all the way down to the ocean floor. Once it is down on the ocean floor, it’s time to drive! While controlling the camera with a joystick in the lab, we let it explore the ocean floor for 15 minute increments before bringing it back up. I’ve had the opportunity to “drive” it a few times now, and I must admit it’s a lot of fun for a seemingly simple device. We’ve seen some neat things on camera, my favorite being the octopus that came into view. One night in particular was an active night, and we saw plenty of flatfish, rockfish, krill, shrimp, basket stars and even a skate.

Here are a couple of photos taken from our DropCam excursion.

A skate trying to escape the DropCam

A skate trying to escape the DropCam

An octopus that we saw on the DropCam

An octopus that we saw on the DropCam

Personal Log

We have hit some rougher weather the last couple days, and we went from have 2ft swells to 6 ft swells- it is a noticeable difference! Rumor has it they may get even bigger, especially as we head out into open water. We did alter our course a little bit so we could head into Marmot Bay where we would be somewhat protected from rough waters. It is quite interesting to walk around the ship in these swells. It feels like someone spun you around blindfolded 30 times and then sent you off walking. No matter how hard you try to walk straight, you inevitably run into the wall or stumble your way down the stairs. The good thing about this is that everyone is doing it, even those who have been on the boat longer, so we can all laugh at each other.

Two humpback whales breaching near our ship.

Two humpback whales breaching near our ship.

Because the weather changes just as quickly here in Alaska as it does in Colorado, the clouds lifted this evening and the sun finally came out. We had a great evening just off the coast of Afognak Island with sunshine, a beautiful sunset, and lots of whales! I stayed up on the bridge a good portion of the evening on lookout for blows from their spouts. Some were far off in the distance while a few were just 50 yards away! We were all out on deck when we saw not one, but two whales breeching before making a deeper dive.


Longnose skate

Our trawl today was a little sad as we caught a huge longnose skate. We didn’t notice him initially in our catch until he got stuck in all the pollock as we were lowering the fish down into the wet lab. We paused in our processing to try and get him out. He was about 90lbs with a wingspan of 1.5 meters, so he was difficult to lift out. It took 2 of our deck crew guys to pull him out, and then we got him back into the water as fast as we could. Hopefully he made it back in without too much trauma. While he was exciting to see, I felt bad for catching him in our net.


Meet a NOAA Corps Officer: ENS Justin Boeck

ENS Justin Boeck on the bridge

ENS Justin Boeck on the bridge

There are 5 NOAA Corps officers and a chief mate on board the Oscar Dyson for this leg of our survey: ENS Gilman, ENS Kaiser, ENS Boeck, LT Rhodes, LT Schweitzer, and Chief Mate Mackie. I have a lot of respect for the officers on our ship, as they have a great responsibility to make sure everything is running smoothly. They are one of the reasons I enjoy going up to the bridge every day. ENS Boeck picked me up from the airport when I first arrived in Kodiak, and gave me a short tour of the ship. He works each night during part of my shift, and it’s fun to come up on the bridge and chat with him and ENS Gilman. I had the opportunity to interview ENS Boeck, the newest officer on the Dyson, to learn a little more about the NOAA Corps and what they do on the ship.

Can you give me a little background on how you came to the NOAA Corps?

Before coming into the NOAA Corps, I received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin. After my undergraduate degree, I was in the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa for 3 years. I was an environmental advisor teaching classes to both students and teachers in addition to grant writing and funding. I lived in a village of 500 people, and taught 90 kids and 5 teachers. While I was there we built a wall to protect the garden from animals, helped village members increase their nutrition through micro-gardening, and ran seed bank projects and mosquito net distributions.

In 2015 I went into training with the Coast Guard, and also went through BOTC/OCS (Basic Officer Training Class/Officer Candidate School) at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. There were 14 NOAA Corps officer candidates along with about 50 coast guard officer candidates, and we went through the same program with some of our academics varying slightly.

How long have you been in the NOAA Corps? One month, fresh out of BOTC (basic officer training class). I reported to the Oscar Dyson on June 4th.

Have you worked on other ships? If so, which one(s)? This is my first sea assignment. I’ll be at sea on the Dyson for 2 years, and will then move to a land assignment for 3 years.

What made you choose the NOAA Corps? I grew up near Lake Michigan and enjoy the water. I followed NOAA for job postings for a while, and I found out about the NOAA Corps through my last job working at a lab, so I contacted NOAA Corps officers to get more information about the NOAA Corps. I wanted to be on the water, drive a large ship, and get to SCUBA dive on a regular basis. I enjoy science and also working with my hands so this was a great way to be involved and be at the source of how fisheries data is being collected.

What’s the best part of your job? Driving the ship. The Oscar Dyson is the largest scale ship I’ve driven. It’s pretty amazing. I love being on the boat. The Oscar Dyson is considered the gold standard of the fleet, because it is a hardworking boat, running for 10 months of the year (most ships run for about 7 months out of the year) and a lot of underway time.

What is the most difficult part of your job? Getting used to the work and sleep schedule. We work 12 hours a day; 4 hour watch, 4 hours of collateral work, and then another 4 hour watch. We’re also short on deck so I spend some of my time helping out the deck crew. Because I’m new, I’m also learning the different duties around the ship. I need to know all the parts of the ship in order to become OOD (officer of the deck) qualified. I also need to have a specific amount of sea days, an interview with the commanding officer, and the trust of the commanding officer. Right now I’m learning more about the engineering on the ship.

What is something you wish more people knew about the NOAA Corps? With only 321 officers, it is still relatively unknown. We are aligning our training with the Coast Guard, which is creating more awareness and strengthening our relationship with the Coast Guard.

What advice would you give students who are interested in joining the NOAA Corps? Get boating experience and see if it’s something you’re into. Also having a solid understanding how a ship works. Get your experience early, and learn about weather, tide, swells, and ship processes. During BOTC, you get to fill out a request letter for what kind of ship you want to go on- fisheries, oceanographic, or hydrographic. Because my degree is in biology, I wanted to be on a fisheries boat, so I could get immediate experience in ship handling and still be involved with the fisheries data collection.

Did you know? The NOAA Corps is one of the 7 Uniformed Services, which include the US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, US Air Force, US Coast Guard,  US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps.

Where’s Wilson?

Or, rather, what sea creature is Wilson hanging out with in this picture? Write your answer in the comments below!

Where's Wilson?

Where’s Wilson?

2 responses to “Andrea Schmuttermair, Underwater Adventures, July 17, 2015

  1. So excited and proud to see Justin, our son hi-lighted in your article. He is enjoying all the aspects of being apart of NOAA. It is a fine organization and doing a wonderful part in environmental studies. Bill and Jan Boeck

  2. Thank you for reading my blog! It was an honor to be able to work with him and the other NOAA officers. They are amazing at what they do!

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