Kathleen Gibson, Sailing Away, July 27, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Gibson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 8, 2015

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographic Area of the Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Florida and Carolina Coasts
Date: July 27, 2015
Coordinates:  25o   30.755 N
                       O79o   55.736W

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 9
Sea Temp (deg C): 31.3
Air Temp (deg C):  31.2

View from the Bow - Gulf of Mexico

View from the bow – Gulf of Mexico

Just before we left Pascagoula last Saturday, we learned that the V-Sat system was not operational and that in all likelihood we wouldn’t have internet access during the trip.  So far this prediction has been accurate.  I’ll continue to write these blogs as we go and post them all after we get to port if it doesn’t get fixed.

In my first post I wrote a bit about the area we would be surveying. I’ve since learned that during this cruise we will only be working in the Atlantic Ocean. Another change is that our final destination will be Cape Canaveral, FL rather than Jacksonville, FL.

Motoring through the Florida Keys

Motoring through the Florida Keys

Since we aren’t doing any fishing in the Gulf, we are currently following a straight track from Pascagoula to the Florida Keys. We’ve been sailing for two days and are currently off the coast of Key Biscayne, FL.  There has been one rain event that went by quickly, and otherwise it has been fair weather. While land isn’t visible, there are a good number of recreational motorboats, so land must not be too far off.


Science and Technology

This cruise is the first of four legs of a long-term (longitudinal) study of the distribution and abundance of shark and red snapper populations. The study began in 1995 and the research area includes U.S. waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The Atlantic Ocean sampling stations on this first leg are positioned at various distances offshore from Miami, FL to Cape Hatteras, NC and at different depths. Later legs will complete the survey in the Gulf of Mexico.  While this type of study can be resource and labor intensive and also time consuming, a well-designed longitudinal study can provide valuable data that tracks trends and patterns over an extended period of time. As with any investigation, numerous potential variables must be controlled, including time of year sampling occurs, sampling equipment (line and hooks) and sampling locations.

We’ve prepared three barrels of gangions (50 hooks in each). When we start fishing we will bait the hooks with mackerel and hook them on the long line.

Kristin Hannan ( left) and science volunteers preparing gangions. These will be baited and attached to the main line.

Kristin Hannan ( left) and science volunteers preparing gangions.
These will be baited and attached to the main line.

The circular hooks are designed to minimize harm.

The circular hooks are designed to minimize harm.

NOAA Careers

A successful cruise requires a significant amount of preparation as well as committed participants. Those aboard include NOAA scientists, NOAA Corps Officers, an experienced deck crew, engineers, stewards, and science team volunteers. From the moment I arrived on board it has been apparent that everyone is fully invested in this project.  They’ve been willing to share their stories of how they made their way on to this cruise of the Oregon II;  I’ll share some of their stories with you in this and future blog entries.

Career Spotlight: Kristin Hannan – Field Party Chief, NOAA Shark Unit

As Field Party Chief, Kristin is responsible for all of the scientific work done during the cruise.  She is also the watch leader for the day shift.  While Kristin was fascinated with marine science at an early age, she followed some sage academic advice for her undergraduate program: “focus on being a scientist first, include rigorous coursework, and then do marine work.”  She graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry and she remains a loyal Hokie fan.

Kristin Hannan taking measurements

Kristin Hannan taking measurements

She has been involved in a number of challenging marine-related projects all around the United States and has been open to unusual opportunities when they arose. One such opportunity, over 10 years ago,  was to be a volunteer with NOAA Fisheries in Pascagoula, MS.  She joined the Shark Longline cruise as a volunteer one summer, and returned in subsequent summers to participate. Kristin eventually joined NOAA permanently as a Field Biologist with the Shark Unit, and is now the Chief Scientist/Field Party Chief for this cruise–the very same one she volunteered for some years ago.

In addition to her work with NOAA, Kristin is pursuing a Master’s Degree from the University of South Alabama, where she is studying chimeras and methods used to determine their age.

Kristin’s advice to students looking to work in Marine Sciences –or any field- is to:

  1. Be open to unusual opportunities
  2. Try to make a good impression every day
  3. Work hard

Personal Log

Flying Fish Photo Credit: NOAA

Flying Fish
Photo Credit: NOAA

We’re still sailing to the sampling area, so there is plenty of free time to meet others on board, read and walk around the deck.  This will definitely change when sampling begins. Today I went out to the bow and saw flying fish for the first time and dolphins were swimming off the bow.

The science team is made up of 4 NOAA scientists and 7 volunteers with a variety of experience. Our volunteers include 2 university professors, one graduate student, three undergraduate students, and one Teacher at Sea!  The group is split into two 12-hour shifts.  I’m on the day shift which begins at noon each day and ends at midnight.  It’s likely that we will begin fishing tomorrow morning, and the night crew has begun adjusting their sleep pattern to be prepared.  I’m going to have to work at sleeping in.

Survival Suit - Perfect Fit  Photo Credit: Lecia Salerno

Survival Suit – Perfect Fit  Photo Credit: Lecia Salerno


The Executive Officer (XO) LT Lecia Salerno, has graciously allowed me to share her quarters, which includes her office. The cabin is on an upper level so I definitely get rocked to sleep.

A fire drill and abandon-ship drill were called on the first full day at sea.  Lecia helped me get into my survival suit and, more importantly, out of it as well.

Questions of the day for my students:

What additional variables do you think should be considered and kept constant in this study?

What is a nautical mile and how many nautical miles is it from Pascagoula, MS, to Miami, FL?

How do chimeras differ from sharks?

Tomorrow we fish!

Tomorrow we fish!

Up next… Time to Fish.


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