Leah Johnson: All About the Fish, July 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Friday, July 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:38 PM
Latitude 033.235230
Longitude -077.298950
Water Temperature 25.88 °C
Salinity -No Data-
Air Temperature 28.3 °C
Relative Humidity 78 %
Wind Speed 5.76 knots
Wind Direction 355.13 degrees
Air Pressure 1011.3 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
When the traps are reeled in, the GoPro camera attachments are unclipped and brought into the dry lab. The cameras are encased in waterproof housing that can withstand the higher pressure at the seafloor. One camera is placed on the front of the trap, and one camera is placed on the back. Each video card captures ~45 minutes of footage. The videos will be carefully scrutinized at a later date to identify the fish (since many do not enter the traps), describe the habitat, and also describe the fish behavior. While aboard the ship, the videos are downloaded and watched just to make sure that the cameras worked properly, and to gain a general idea of what was happening around the trap. Occasionally, there are some really exciting moments, like when a tiger shark decided to investigate our trap!

tiger sharkThis tiger shark appeared in the video from both trap cameras as it circled.

While the cameras are being prepped in the dry lab for the next deployment, we are busy in the wet lab with the fish caught in the traps. The first step is identification. I could not identify a single fish when the first trap landed on the deck! However, I am slowly learning the names and distinctive features of the local fish. Here are a few examples of the fish that we have hauled in so far:

Once the fish are identified, they are sorted into different bins. We record the mass of each bin and the lengths of each fish. Most of the smaller fish are returned to the ocean once the measurements are recorded. Some fish are kept for further measuring and sampling. For each of these fish, we find the mass, recheck the total length (snout to tail), and also measure the fork length (snout to fork in tail) and standard length (snout to start of tail).

I measured the fish while one of my crew mates recorded the data.

I measured the fish while one of my crew mates recorded the data.

The fish is then ready for sampling. Depending on the species of fish, we may collect a variety of other biological materials:

  • Otoliths (ear stones) are made of calcium carbonate, and are located near the brain. As the fish grows, the calcium carbonate accumulates in layers. As a result, otoliths can be used – similarly to tree rings – to determine the age of the fish. I retrieved my first set of otoliths today!
  • Muscle tissue (the part of the fish that we eat) can be used to test for the presence of mercury. Since mercury is toxic, it is important to determine its concentration in fish species that are regularly consumed.
  • Gonads (ovaries in females or testes in males) can be examined to determine if a fish is of reproductive age, and whether it is just about to spawn (release eggs / sperm into the water).
  • The stomach contents indicate what the fish has eaten.

This toadfish had snail shells in its stomach!

This toadfish had snail shells in its stomach!

The soft tissues are kept in bags and preserved in a freezer in the wet lab. Sample analyses will take place in various onshore labs.

Personal Log:
It is important to remember that this ship is home to most of the people on board. They live and work together in very close quarters. There are daily routines and specific duties that individuals fill to keep Pisces running smoothly. Cooperation is key. I do my best to be useful when I can, and step aside when I cannot. Despite my inexperience at sea, everyone has been incredibly kind, patient, and helpful. I am lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people who are willing to show me the ropes!

Did You Know?
The lionfish is an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean. Its numbers are increasing in waters off the Southeastern U.S. coast. These fish have few predators, and they are consuming smaller fish and invertebrates which also sustain local snapper and grouper populations.


This lionfish was in one of our traps yesterday.

Kathleen Gibson, Preparing to Leave for the Mississippi Coast, July 10, 2015

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

Mission: Fisheries – Conduct longline surveys to monitor interannual variability of shark populations of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast.
Date: July 10, 2015


Town of Trumbull, Fairfield County , CT

Town of Trumbull, CT

My name is Kathleen Gibson and I bring you greetings from Trumbull, CT where live and teach. In two weeks I will travel to Pascagoula, MS, located on the Gulf of Mexico, to join NOAA Corps members, research scientists, and the crew aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, as a  2015 NOAA Teacher at Sea.

I work at Trumbull High School and currently teach Biology to sophomores and two elective courses for seniors–Marine Science and AP Environmental Science.  I’m passionate about environmental education and am always looking for opportunities to engage students in the world outside of the classroom.  Trumbull has a large amount of protected green space, wetlands, streams and a river, and while we aren’t on the coast, we are only a few miles from Long Island Sound.  The woods and the shoreline have become our laboratory.

Pequonnock River, Trumbull, CT

Pequonnock River, Trumbull, CT

I’m open to adventures and new experiences that help me grow both personally and professionally.  I’m fortunate to have an awesome family, terrific colleagues and open-minded students who are willing to go along with my ideas; whether it be be hiking around volcanoes and rift zones, looking for puffins, or wading in nearby streams looking for life below.

About NOAA and Teacher at Sea

NOAA Ship Oregon II Photo Credit: NOAA.gov

NOAA Ship Oregon II
Photo Credit: NOAA.gov

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency within the United States Department of Commerce that seeks to enrich life through science.  While NOAA is somewhat familiar to many of us– thanks to the abundance of weather data that is collected and disseminated to the public–that’s not all that is happening  there. NOAA is working to increase our understanding of climate, weather and marine ecosystems, and to use this knowledge to better manage and protect these crucial ecosystems.  In addition to the abundant educational resources available to all teachers, NOAA provides unique opportunities for teachers and students.  The Teacher at Sea Program  brings classroom teachers into the field to work with world-renowned NOAA scientists.

The Mission

The Mission of the cruise I will be a part of is to monitor Shark and Red Snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. Data collected will be compared to findings from previous years, as a part of the ongoing research studying inter-annual variability of these populations. We are scheduled to embark on July 25, 2015 and plan to sail from Pascagoula, MS, down the west coast of Florida and up the Atlantic Coast as far as Mayport, FL.

I am honored to have been selected to be a Teacher at Sea for the 2015 Season  and look forward to a number of “firsts”. I’ve never been to Mississippi nor have I been at sea for more than 24 hours. Also, I’ve only experienced sharks as preserved specimens or through aquarium glass.  I’m also looking forward to meeting my shipmates and learning about career opportunities and the paths that led them to be a part of this Oregon II cruise. I’ll share as much as I can through future posts. I’m excited to bring my students and others along with me on this journey.

Trumbull to Pascagoula.  Longline survey area is marked in blue.

Trumbull to Pascagoula. Longline survey area is marked in blue.

Next Up?

My next post to you should be coming later this month from off the Mississippi coast.  However, the first rule of being on board is FLEXIBILITY, so things may change.  Either way, I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, please check out some of the TAS 2015 blogs written by my fellow NOAA Teachers at Sea, and spread the word. There is so much to learn.

Did You Know?

  • While some sharks release eggs into the water where they will later hatch, as many as 75% of shark species give birth to live young.
  • Shark babies are called pups.

Heidi Wigman: Fisheries Sciences, June 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heidi Wigman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 27 – June 10, 2015

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico (24°29.956’N 083°320.601’W)
Date: June 8, 2015

Weather: 83° @ surface, E-SE winds @ 10-15 knots, seas 2-3 ft, average depth 123m

Science and Technology Log:

NOAA’s mission is three-fold: science, service, and stewardship.  By utilizing fisheries, hydrographic, and oceanographic scientists in the field, NOAA’s goal is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, while also putting forth a conservation effort towards coastal and marine ecosystems. This knowledge is shared with businesses, communities, and people, to inform on how to make good choices to protect our fragile earth.

sunset on the Gulf

Sunset on the Gulf


Sunrise on the Gulf

The specific mission, for our current voyage, on the Pisces, is to survey fisheries at pre-determined sites throughout the Western portion of the Gulf of Mexico. The data from these surveys will be brought back to the lab in Pascagoula, Miss. and analyzed. Then determinations will be made for future surveys and studies. According to Chief Scientist, Brandi Noble, “These fishery independent surveys increase our knowledge of natural reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. We get a better picture of what’s down there and work with outside agencies to determine how to maintain the health of the fisheries.  Data gathered will be used in future stock assessments for the Gulf of Mexico.”


Bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf

The methods used to gather data on this cruise are through the use of the camera array and the bandit reels.  The camera arrays are deployed at sites that have been mapped and sit at the bottom for a total soak time of 40 minutes.  This footage is analyzed and processed by scientists to determine what the conditions of the reef are and the species of fish present in the area and their abundance.  This gives a partial picture, but to get a complete and accurate report, fish need to be studied more closely.  The “Bandit Reels” provide a more hands-on approach and allow the scientists to get data on sex, maturity stage, and age of species.  Some of the fish are released after some initial measurements, but the commercially important species are dissected and samples are taken for further lab analysis.  Initial measurements made with anything brought aboard include total length (TL), fork length (FL), standard length, SL (from nose to caudal fin), and weight.

Removing the otolith to determine the age of the fish

Removing the otolith to determine the age of the fish

removing organs to determine sex and maturity

Removing organs to determine sex and maturity

A closer look at the data allows scientists to make predictions on fish populations and growth over time.  Some of the data we got on this trip were for the Lutjanus campechanus (red snapper) and for the Pagrus pagrus (red porgy).


Lutjanus campechanus “Red Snapper”


Pagrus pagrus “Red Porgy”

There are several ways to disaggregate the data to determine differences and similarities based on region, time, species, etc.  For our purposes, we’ll make some observations involving probability, proportion, and statistics.

Math Problem of the day: You are a scientist and have brought data back from the Gulf of Mexico to analyze in your lab.  You have three tasks: a) to get an average fish size based on weight (species specific) b)  to determine what the proportion is of the Standard Length to the Total Length of each species (hint: ratio of SL/TL; find average) c) determine the theoretical probabilities that the next Red Snapper will be  >1,100g, and that the next red Porgy will be <1,000g (hint: how many times does this happen out of the total catches?)

Coming Soon . . . Meet some of the crew behind the Pisces

Previous Answers:

Trigonometry of Navigation post: 18 m/s @ 34°SE

Bandit Reels post: about 14.6 nautical miles

The STEM of Mapping post: layback = 218m, layback w/ catenary = 207m

Underwater Acoustics: about 163 sq. meters

SCUBA Science: letter group A

Crystal Davis, Bottom Trawl for Shrimp, June 27, 2014

Bringing in a trawl

Bringing in a trawl

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Crystal Davis

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 23 – July 7, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Friday June 27, 2014

Weather: Partly cloudy

Winds:  15-20 knots

Waves:  5-6 feet



Science and Technology Log: Bottom Trawling

The Oregon II is a participant and contributor to SEAMAP (The Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) which monitors the biodiversity of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The primary way the Oregon II assists SEAMAP is by conducting bottom trawls with a 42 foot semi-balloon shrimp trawl net.The net is slowly lowered into the ocean until it reaches the bottom and is then dragged along the ocean floor for thirty minutes. The net has a tickler chain between the doors which scrapes the bottom of the ocean floor and flicks objects into the net. The net is then brought to the surface and all of the organisms inside are put into baskets (see video above). The total weight of the catch is massed on scales on the deck. If the catch is large (over 20 kilos), it is dumped onto a conveyor belt and a random sub-sample (smaller) is kept, along with any unique species while the rest of the catch is dumped overboard.

Shrimp Net

Shrimp Net

Once the sample has been selected, the marine organisms are sorted by species and put into baskets. Each species is then massed and counted while the data is recorded into a system called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System). To obtain a random sampling, every fifth individual of the species (up to twenty) is measured, massed and sexed (more on this later). Once the data has been verified by the watch manager, the marine organisms are put back into the ocean. The following are pictures of a sample on the conveyor belt and the organisms divided into a few species.

The sorting process for shrimp (white, brown and pink) differs slightly from that of the other marine organisms. Every shrimp (up to 200 of each species), is massed, measured and sexed.This data is then used by various government agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, etc… to determine the length of the shrimping season and to set quotas on the amount that can be caught by each issued license. States will not open the shrimping season until SEAMAP reports back with their findings from NOAA’s shrimp survey.

Types of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico

Types of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico

The shrimp trawl net used on the Oregon II differs from a shrimp net used on a commercial boat in two main ways. Commercial shrimping boats have BRD’s (Bycatch Reduction Devices) and TED’s (Turtle Excluder Devices). BRD’s and TED’s are federally required in the U.S. to reduce the amount of bycatch (unintentionally caught organisms) and sea turtles. Shrimping boats typically trawl for hours and turtles cannot survive that long without air. TED’s provide turtles and other large marine organisms an escape hatch so that they do not drown (see the video below). Unfortunately, larger turtles such as Loggerheads are too big to fit through the bars in a TED. Additionally, TED’s may become ineffective if they are clogged with sea debris, kelp or are purposefully altered.


Boat Personnel of the Week:

Warren Brown:

Warren Brown

Warren Brown

Warren is a gear specialist who is working as a member of the scientific party. He is contracted by Riverside for NOAA.  While aboard the Oregon II, Warren designs, builds and repairs gear that is needed on the boat. Unfortunately, on this leg of the trip either sharks or dolphins have been chewing holes in the nets to eat the fish inside. This means Warren has spent a large chunk of his time repairing nets.

Warren is not a crew member of the Oregon II  and actually works at the Netshed in Pascagoula where he spends his time working with TED’s. He has law enforcement training and will go out with government agencies (such as the Coast Guard or Fish and Wildlife Service) to monitor TED’s on shrimping boats. He also participates in outreach programs educating fishermen in measuring their nets for TED’s, installing them. Warren will bring TED’s and nets to make sure that every everyone at the training has a hands on experience installing them. While he regularly does outreach in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, his work has also taken him as far as Brazil.

Robin Gropp:

Robin playing his mandolin

Robin playing his mandolin

Robin will be a junior at Lewis & Clark College in the Fall. He is currently an intern aboard the Oregon II. Robin received a diversity internship through the Northern Gulf Institute and is one of eight interns for NOAA. For the first two weeks Robin worked at the NOAA lab participating in outreach at elementary school science fairs. He brought sea turtle shells and a shrimp net with a TED installed. The students were very excited to pretend to be sea turtle and run through the TED. They proclaimed, “we love sea turtles.”  After leaving the Oregon II, Robin will return to the NOAA lab to study the DNA of sharks.


Personal Log:

Overall I have had a hard time processing and accepting the groundfish survey portion of the trip. I am a vegetarian that does not eat meat, including fish, for ethical and environmental reasons. Yet here I find myself on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico surveying groundfish so that others can eat shrimp. A large part of me feels that I should be protesting the survey rather than assisting. Because of this I spent a lot of time talking to the other scientists on my watch and Chief Scientist Andre Debose. After many discussions (some still ongoing) I do realize how important the groundfish survey is. Without it, there would be no limits placed on the fishing industry and it is likely that many populations of marine organisms would be hunted to extinction more rapidly than they are now. This survey actually gives the shrimp species a chance at survival.

Did You Know?

Countries that do not use TED’s are banned from selling their shrimp to the U.S.

Spencer Cody: Sea of Life, June 4, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico
Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date:  June 4, 2014

Observational Data:

Latitude:  27˚ 51.464 N
Longitude:  93˚ 17.745 W
Air Temp: 27.1˚C (80.8˚F)
Water Temp: 24.5˚C (76.1˚F)
Ocean Depth:  141.5 m (464 ft.)
Relative Humidity:  81%
Wind Speed:  14.8 kts (17.0 mph)
Barometer:  1,012.3 hPa (1,012.3 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

The degree to which the Gulf of Mexico is rich in sea life is truly stunning.  The Gulf produces more fish, shrimp, and shellfish than the waters of New England, the Chesapeake, mid- and south-Atlantic combined; consequently, the SEAMAP survey area includes a wide variety of sea life with great abundance.  A lot is riding on our ability to understand and manage the Gulf of Mexico.  According to a 2010 National Marine Fisheries Service report, the five U.S. Gulf states harvested 1.3 billion pounds of commercial shellfish and fish.  In that same year, the Gulf produced 82% of the U.S. shrimp harvest, and 59% of the U.S. oyster harvest, and over a billion pounds of fish.  Maintaining the Gulf as a productive fishery for years into the future is essential to the U.S. economy and its food production.  So, what is going on with reef fish in the Gulf?  In general, many commercially valuable species in the Gulf are showing signs of strain due to over harvesting and various environmental factors.  However, compared to waters in some parts of the neighboring Caribbean that have had commercially valuable reef fish devastated by lax regulation and enforcement, some parts of the Gulf appear relatively pristine.

This is a picture of me taking measurements of one of our target commercial fish species.  Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

This is a picture of me taking measurements of one of our target commercial fish species. Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

One area of concern is our red snapper stocks.  It can be a difficult population to maintain since major swings in reproduction occur from year to year.  This can give both recreational and commercial fishermen a false sense that a population is doing well; however, with red snappers one thirty-year-old female lays more eggs than 30 one-year-old females.  Therefore, it is in our best interests to ensure some older fish survive for reproduction. This same trend can be applied to other commercial fish in the Gulf further complicating management efforts.

The populations of both red snapper and vermillion snapper are showing signs of recovery since setting harvesting restrictions. Red snapper still has a ways to go to get to the targeted sustainable population.  Currently, the red snapper population is only 13% of the target population level while the vermillion snapper is now at 92% of its target population.  Both populations are well below levels documented early in the 20th century. We see a similar problem with some of the grouper in the Gulf.

Species such as the gag grouper and red grouper have faced similar declines due to overfishing, and both have shown signs of recovery while the gag grouper is still under a population rebuilding plan.  While the bandit reels are targeting fish stocks that often have commercial or recreational value, the camera array reveals the context to the rest of the story about the habitat that is up to several hundred feet below our feet.

Just as freshwater fish back home are often attracted to some sort of structure, reef fish exhibit the same tendencies.  Survey areas where we catch few, if any, fish using the bandit reels often appear as barren, flat muddy or sandy bottoms.  This stands in stark contrast with the rich communities that congregate around structure.

Areas in the Gulf that have structure often have a remarkable array of fish and an even wider ranging variety in invertebrates.  So far on this cruise, we have viewed dozens of species of fish representing groups as diverse as snapper, grouper, sharks, eels, triggerfish, pufferfish, anglefish, damselfish, jacks, porgies, and tilefish.

The invertebrate diversity at these sites spans many phyla including sea fans, sea sponges, crabs, brittle stars, sea lilies, shrimp, tunicates, and various types of algae.  One may wonder why structure is found in these places.  In many cases these communities thrive on ancient coral reefs.  These reefs are no longer living themselves since the 150 to 300 feet we often find them in is too deep for the colonial animals that make up coral to have symbiotic algae living with them.  There is simply not enough light at that depth for the types of algae normally associated with coral to carry out photosynthesis.  Then how did corals get to such depths in the first place?  Twelve thousand years ago large ice sheets existed across much of the northern hemisphere.  These continental glaciers locked up approximately 100 feet of ocean sea level into ice at the peak of glaciation.  Therefore, many of our survey sections are directly over where the Gulf coast once was in very recent geological time.  Once the global climate warmed, the glacial ice sheets collapsed and filled the ocean basins to their present day sea levels leaving the existing coral reefs in near darkness.

Personal Log:

In addition to all of the sea life that I have seen directly relating to the survey, I have seen numerous species as a result of incidental catches or just from casual observations from the ship.  The Gulf is home to more than a dozen shark species.  A hammerhead and possibly a bull shark were spotted from the Pisces during the cruise.  Several unidentified sharks were attracted to the mackerel that we were using for bait on our bandit reels and the fish that we were reeling in on our lines.  Trying to reel in your catch and pull off ten hooks from your line before the sharks get a hold of it really adds a whole new element of excitement to fishing that I had never had to deal with before.  Other sea life that I have seen include barracuda, a wahoo, a bottlenose dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphins, large mats of brown algae called Sargassum, and the many living things that live among the Sargassum, which I will talk more about in future posts.

Did You Know?

Fish stocks throughout the ocean are threatened by over-harvesting and environmental issues.  You can learn more about the status of key marine species and issues relating to our seafood supply at the NOAA FishWatch.gov site.

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.


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.


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


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


Micayla and Cliff stabilize the CTD during deployment.

data collection

Micayla logs hook numbers as line is let out.