Another Gustie reports from the Oregon II

Posted on June 30th, 2009 by

Here is another blog post I got via email — this time from Kat Coughlin, 2009 graduate of the biology department. She has sent a great description of her job and life as a volunteer aboard a NOAA research cruise. Once again, I’ve added some links to images in case you want to see some of the things that Kat is seeing:

6/30/2009: My shift is the night shift – so I’ll be on “watch” from midnight until noon.  Not sure exactly if that is a good or a bad thing yet.  At least there will be less chance of me coming back as red as a lobster.  By “on watch” I pretty much mean working.  And it’s on your feet barely any breaks working from midnight until noon.A trawl is when they hang the net down under the water near the bottom floor and drag it for 30 minutes to see what they catch, and then we take measurements of what they do catch. Exhausting – sorting fish, shrimp, sharks, crabs (lots and lots of crabs!), squid, jellyfish, all sorts of stuff.  On Wednesday the 24th we got like 6 little meter-long bonnet head sharks (like hammerheads)!  We also got some big and weird looking bat fish (Google it) and some big flounder. But we just keep going and going and going; the fish never stops coming!

For the shrimp, after we count them all (sometimes in the hundreds or thousands) they actually behead them and cook them for meals.  Waste not I guess, but after working for 12 hours with dead shrimp I don’t know why anyone would then want to go eat some.

Oh, I’ve also seen dolphins; they swim up to eat some of the dead fish after we finish counting them.  There’s also a flock of sea birds that stay perched on one of the cranes just waiting for the free meals.
Luckily it’s not too hot out here. I mean it’s definitely warm and humid and I like wearing shorts every night but luckily the nights aren’t nearly as bad as the days – and the dry lab and the living/eating sections of the ship are air conditioned.

The meals are at set times during the day – breakfast from 7-8:30, lunch from 11-12:30 and dinner I think from 5:30-7 but we can write down meals and our names on a clipboard and they’ll save a dinner for us.  I usually just have cereal at like 11:30 pm (before the shift starts), then toast and fruit (okay an apple) at breakfast, and then whatever they have for lunch.  One night I had a saved dinner during “breakfast” and that was pretty good, but I just wasn’t hungry enough to eat the whole thing.

My room is right across from the Captains room and right next to the lounge.  Literally my bed is right on the other side of the wall of the big flatscreen satellite TV.  This ship has some nice equipment on it.On Thursday after our shift I watched Transformers with Joel and Casey (another volunteer) and it was a lot of fun.  Casey had never seen it before and Joel really loves it so it was just really fun to watch.

Later in the week we headed out into deeper water and caught stranger things.  We caught some stingray type things called Texas Skates as well as spider crabs, starfish, and scorpion fish.  And then we started catching tons and tons of mud.  So much mud, and we had to sort through it to get all the little animals out.  And it wasn’t just the stuff I listed; we had to sort through tons of species diversity.  Consequently, some of my t-shirts are very very muddy/covered in dried mud.
I’m starting to recognize the Latin names for the different species, which is kind of cool.  Except I’ll probably lose all that once I get home.  It’s like a crash course in marine biodiversity – and man there is a lot of it.

Time passes differently on the ship – I hardly ever know what day of the week it is without checking my watch.

We had a few huge trawls – one had 70 kilograms of stuff (50kg of which were shrimp which have to be individually counted).  That one lasted us so long that we got 2 trawls behind and had it stacking up.
On Friday morning I saw something which kind of scared me.  All of a sudden one of the crew members (Jared) comes to the wet lab (where we count and measure the fish) and says “Hey all you Minnesota people, come see this!”  So we went out and looked and saw a waterspout not too far off.  In case you didn’t know, a waterspout is a tornado over water.  Yet it was sunny where we were and no one was concerned about it.  And then another one started coming down next to it.  It was definitely freaky – especially when thinking about Gustavus’ own history with tornadoes.

Right before our shift started on Sunday one of the trawling nets ripped and so Keith (from our shift) spent two whole shifts mending it by hand.  When Casey went out to watch Keith mending the nets he found a basket star entangled in the net.  He untangled it, brought it in, and I found a tiny one attached to the big one.  I’m going to preserve it in a vial and bring it home.  Hooray for souvenirs!

At one point we were dumping a load of dead fish at the same time as we were stopped to pull in the next load and so I finally got to see some sharks coming up for the dead fish.  They weren’t too big; I’d say 4-5 feet long, but there were like 3-4 of them all swirling around the fish.  At around 10am on Sunday we again stopped but this time it was for some NOAA divers to go diving.  We were talking in the back about how we should dump our chum load and see if all of the divers made it back (just kidding of course!).

On Monday night I dreamt that the day shift had gotten really far behind on their trawls and were running out of room for all the fish.  So the solution (in my dream of course) was to use beds to count the fish on.  So in my dream they came up, woke me up, and told me I had to get out of bed so they could count fish on it.  I then woke up and saw the little folds and stuff from my sheets and thought there was fish in my bed.  It took me awhile to logically figure out that it didn’t really happen.

The first hilarious find on Monday was the trip’s first octopus.  And it was hilarious because it came up inside a rusty old Budweiser can.  It’s actually pretty sad how much garbage and litter we’ve pulled up in the trawls, but this can is pretty old.  The next cool thing was a snapper.  We’ve caught some small snappers before – quite a bit actually – but this one was huge.  It was 650 mm long (translate that to about 26 inches) and weighed a lot.  I’m not sure exactly how much the entire fish weighed, but after they filleted it (lunch tomorrow?) the fillets weighed about 5 lbs.  After it was done, Mike taught me how to remove the otolith – it’s inside the fish’s head and helps them with balance and orientation.  It is also used by people to tell the fish’s age – there are rings on it just like tree rings.  So Mike took out the first one from the big snapper and then I did the second one. After that Joel found a little trumpetfish (related to sea horses, but straight instead of curvy) inside one of the plankton surveys – I’m thinking another souvenir for me!

Today (Tuesday) has been a really hard day for me.  Last night I hardly slept at all – and for no reason it seems.  I just didn’t sleep – my brain wouldn’t stop thinking of random stuff!  I finally got to sleep for about an hour between 5-6 pm and then woke up again and didn’t sleep until 10 pm.  And then I slept until 12:40 am – which meant I was late for my shift.  Aspen (roommate who’s on the day shift) came in and woke me up and then I scampered.  Luckily they hadn’t had anything to do yet but the trawl started coming up as I finished a few bites of cereal.

Since then, we’ve been working nonstop until around 10 am.  Quick break for breakfast but we had a huge trawl come in (11 baskets – we usually have between 1 and 4).  And there were about 3,000 shrimp in it – which have to be individually counted and measured.  After that we started falling behind – first just one trawl behind and then 2.  And then the computer froze on us!  Luckily we eventually caught up right around 10 am which was good timing (or evilly planned) because then we had a fire drill.  I felt so bad because all of the day shift had to wake up and go to the assigned spot.  Directly after that we had an “abandon ship” drill. Luckily we didn’t have to try on the survivor suits this time, but it still took awhile.  After that, Aspen headed back to bed and I went back to work.  Which meant cleaning out the wet lab with PineSol to try to get rid of some of the smell.  And then back in the dry lab to sit.  Yay sitting.

I could fall asleep right now, but the trawl just went in so we have a 30 minute break.  Hopefully by the time we finish that we’ll be about done.

Earlier I had some lemonade, and it was mostly gone when I noticed there was a fish scale in it.  Which prompted a short debate over whether or not to drink the remaining lemonade.  In the end I decided to drink the rest of it while avoiding drinking the scale.  I call it compromise.

Only new and interesting creature has been a shark sucker – black white and gray fish that is usually stuck on bigger sharks.  Other than that just shrimp, shrimp, and more shrimp.
Currently we are about 30 miles due south of Sabine Lake – I think Louisiana but it could be in Texas.


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