Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Working on a NOAA Ship

Anne by the Delaware II at dock in Woods Hole
Galley on the Delaware II
Being a marine biologist can be more like fun than work sometimes, so Anne jumped at the chance to volunteer on a research survey cruise for NOAA/NMFS.  Most of my research has been in near- and inshore waters, so the chance to do ocean work on a ship was a draw.  The purpose of the cruise was to use acoustics (fish finders) to survey herring populations on Georges Bank, then sample the fish schools to obtain biological data on the fish).  The cruise was on the Delaware II, a 155’ ship that berths in Woods Hole.  You may have read about the Delaware II recently with regard to their oil spill-related work in the Gulf of Mexico.  How different it was from research on my 23’ workboat in Florida!  The crew consisted of 18 men and women who worked on the bridge, in engineering, or as fishermen (two full complements of each, their schedules ran noon to midnight or vice versa).  They were all terrifically nice people; I guess you’ve got to be in those close quarters for extended periods.  There were nine scientists: three bird watchers, and six working on the herring survey.  I was one of three on the 6PM to 6AM shift, a bit of an adjustment at first, since I’m a morning person, but I have the gift of being able to sleep anytime, anywhere.  During our shift, the survey leader would look for concentrations of fish using acoustics, the fishermen would deploy and haul back the trawl, and the scientists would work the catch.  This included separating the different species, weighing them, and measuring fish lengths.  We would measure each of the herring in our sample (or subsample, if we caught a large number), and collect weight, sex, gonad stage and weight, and stomach contents data on a subset of certain-sized fish.  Data collection and entry was terrific!  You lay the fish on a measuring board and place a magnetic bar at the fork width and—Bing!—the data is automatically entered into the computer.   Put the fish on the scale, press a button, and—Bing!—the data is automatically entered into the computer.  Then someone opens the fish to check the gonads and stomach contents, and their partner enters the data on a touch-screen, and prints out a detailed specimen label.  This is soooo much quicker and more efficient, as well as accurate, than the way we collected our crab data in Florida, which was all by hand: take the measurements, write them down, enter the data into the computer, then print, proof, and correct the data.  I’m sure the system’s not perfect, but it’s certainly an improvement when you’ve got lots of data to process.  Some highlights of the trip?  Great people.  Beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  Great food; did I mention that there were two stewards who cooked terrific meals with a wide variety of seafood (scallops, swordfish, haddock, cod, ahi tuna) and meat (lamb chops and leg of lamb, stuffed pork chops, roast turkey, duck breast, pot roast, and more), as well as lots of salads and veggies and fruits, and something baked (brownies, coffee cake, muffins, banana bread) for an afternoon snack.  Seeing a Mola mola (ocean sunfish) floating on the surface, and whales spouting in the distance.  Not getting sick on Georges Bank in 30+knot winds (I was taking Bonine, which worked great and gave me no side effects).
Fishermen hauling in the net

Trying on my survival suit during the safely drill

Beautiful sunset off the back deck

Awesome sunrise from the flying bridge
Isn't this the cutest little ugly face you've ever seen?  A juvenile monkfish

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