Aboard the Oregon II

Posted on June 29th, 2009 by

Currently, Biology Professor Joel Carlin is  aboard a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) research ship with recent Gustavus grad Kat Coughlin. NOAA often relies upon research volunteers like Joel and Kat to help inventory marine species. The volunteers spend 12-hour shifts in a lab sorting and counting species that are caught by large trawls that mimic the shrimp fishery. There are so many fish that they are sent through the lab on a conveyor belt! Because of the types of data collected, some specimens are sacrificed (you’ll see some reference to this in the posts from Joel and Kat), but these cruises carry out highly valuable research on marine species populations that couldn’t be collected by any other method. It’s an amazing opportunity to see the Gulf of Mexico while getting some hands-on experience!

Joel has sent me some email messages to be posted here. I added some links in case you’d like to see some images of the species or get more information about the Oregon II. I haven’t yet had luck finding pictures without copyright restrictions, but there is a great collection of pictures from NOAA that show the ship and also some images that will give you an idea of what Joel and Kat are doing on their cruise. Enjoy!

6/25/2009: I am emailing you from aboard the R/V Oregon II, currently 50 miles due south of Galveston Texas.  We have caught a bazillion critters, including many small sharks.  My favorites are the little batfish the size of a silver dollar….so cute!  (and if you don’t know what a batfish is, do a Google image search right now…I am sure that you will agree). Kat Coughlin (GAC Bio ’09) is with me and is tired but having fun.  No one is seasick, although we are both worn out from our midnite to noon shift where we sorting laundry baskets of live seafood by species and then count and weigh them.  But Kat has seen her first dolphins and handled her first sharks, live crabs, live scallops, etc., so she is still excited.  Hopefully she will still feel the same afterwards!”

6/27/2009: Hello from aboard the R/V Oregon II, currently at 28* 10′ N and 94* 25’W (somewhere near due E of Corpus Christi and due S of Galveston TX).  It is 3:15am and we have had an unusual shift so far.  Most of our midnite to noon shifts so far have been nearly nonstop work, but we have had two trawls and very few fish.  The last trawl only had 0.9kg of critters, it took 4 of us only ten or fifteen minutes to sort and count everything.  In the shift before ours, the dayshift had caught 2kg of critters but someone mistakenly thought it had already been counted and threw the contents back into the sea before it had been counted.  So they turned the boat back to the same spot and re-did the trawl.  When it came up, they had nearly 400kg of critters, almost all of them the slimy nasty-looking fish Trichiurus leptus (the silver scabbardfish), so they were hating life right then.

This shows you how lucky Kat and I (and Casey, our fellow volunteer from MS) are feeling right now.   The reason I get to sit and email is because of the sampling design.  Prior to leaving for the 6 week bottomfish survey, NOAA uses stratified random sampling, so tonite we are cruising a lot (for a change) and that means less hurry.  When the computer has chosen to put two sampling events half an hour apart, that means we hustle!

We are trawling to count species diversity, abundance, sex ratio and length frequencies.  In addition we are also running a few CTD’s per shift, which automatically sample seawater properties.  Occasionally we will use a Nansen bottle and pull up a seawater sample from a specific depth.  Kat (my onboard Gustie) was amused that there is a titration set-up onboard and,  just like when she saw the dichotomous keys, she exclaimed “Oh my God, people actually do use these things!!”

Favorite critters for this post:  Casey and Kat voted for the brittle star Ophiolepis elegans… they are very cute!


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