Small Science Staff, Lots to Accomplish

The NOAA vessel Pisces set sail from a busy Davisville, Rhode Island pier on Tuesday (Oct. 18) morning at 1030, flanked by a fleet of imported vehicles newly unloaded from two huge car carrying vessels docked nearby.


Two huge car carriers unload a fleet of imported cars onto the pier they share with the Pisces in Davisville, Rhode Island. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

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NOAA vessel Pisces, docked in Davisville, RI, flanked by freshly unloaded cars. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

Our first task of the day was to undertake a calibration of the EK60 acoustic system on board, which was carried out by Mike Jech and his team while we anchored in the lower part of Narragansett Bay. The process took six hours and involved moving a tungsten carbide sphere under the hull and measuring the acoustic returns from the system.

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Joe Godlewski and Jennifer Johnson monitoring acoustic returns from EK60 calibration aboard the Pisces. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

The sphere got hung up at one point but the team was able to free it and get it back to continue the process, until it was finally completed at 1830 hours. By 1900 the team members, Mike Jech, Joe Godlewski and Jennifer Johnson, and all their gear were ferried ashore in a rigid hull inflatable launch to the Newport Naval Station located across the bay from our anchorage.


Joe Godlewski prepares the calibration team gear to leave the Pisces. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries


Mike Jech and his calibration team departing the Pisces via the ship’s launch. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

After the return of the launch we proceeded out of the bay to start the southern leg of our survey. Our mission is to continue the core monitoring program of gathering data on hydrographic and biological parameters of continental shelf waters, by means of electronic sensors, plankton tows and water casts. Unlike previous missions we have a very small scientific staff on this trip, with just two people on each 12 hour watch, but all our routine sampling will be carried out, including plankton sampling, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) sampling to track ocean acidity, and chlorophyll and nutrient measurements.

We also have an Imaging FlowCytoBot unit from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on board to photograph dinoflagellates, diatoms and marine protozoa that are picked up by the scientific seawater system of the vessel. The only difference from past surveys is that we have no outside researchers joining us. Even the Canadian Wildlife Service, which normally sends an observer to monitor seabirds and marine mammals, was unable to place someone on-board until the northern leg of this survey.

For now we are heading south, and at the moment of this writing, are approaching the outer edge of the continental shelf about 90 miles southeast from the mouth of Narragansett Bay. Weather for the next couple of days is looking good, so we’re expecting to make good progress, having already completed four plankton tow stations, and one water sampling station.

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
PC1609 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Lots of small sand dollars

(NOAA Ship Pisces departed September 21, 2016 in support of the NEFSC’s benthic habitat assessment effort. The cruise is expected to end September 30.)
September 25:
The cruise has gone well so far: great crew, great ship, weather has been good, though not perfect.  All scientists (Ashok, Heather, Erick, DeMond, Delan, Jordan) are healthy and working hard.
We are looking at benthic habitat in the  Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) NY Wind Energy Area (WEA) off the south shore of Long Island along a fine grid of stations, some of which we are also mapping with multibeam lines.  As a piggyback project, we are also collecting samples for microplastic analysis, which has become an issue of considerable interest on the West Coast and in the Chesapeake.
We had some trouble with the ME70 multibeam sonar early on.  It took 5 hours plus to turn it “on” on Thursday night…very finicky, but it has been working well since.  Learned a lot about that system from the ship’s Survey Tech.  Erick, who is standing the sonar watches with her, is learning even more. Physical sampling has been going well and yielded some surprises.  We have been hitting some sea scallops in the south, which I expected, and have been mapping that same location to provide us with some characterization of sea scallop habitat.  Based on Observer Data, we don’t expect to see them in the northwest part of the WEA.
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We’re getting spotted hake and little skates in almost every trawl (no surprise), and we’ve seen some scup, fluke, windowpane and Gulf Stream flounders, rock crabs and one monkfish. Clyde: lots of sand shrimp everywhere, mostly juveniles.
The big surprise has been overwhelming catches of sand dollars…more like sand dimes: very small, probably newly settled.   We expected to see some, but not in such huge quantities.  However, they are patchy…not at all stations.
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The Manta neuston net (first time we’ve used it) is working well.  It catches for microplastics have yielded a lot of jellyfish, salps, comb jellies, pelagic isopods and some juvenile fish.  These samples will have to be reduced to extract microplastic particles for analysis. Sediment subsamples are also being taken for microplastics from the grabs we are taking for sediment grain size analysis.
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More to come soon!
Vince Guida
Chief Scientist
PC 16-06
NEFSC Benthic Habitat Assessments of Northeast Outer Continental Shelf Ecosystems

A Record Day!

Summary of report on Leg II (July 18 – August 5) of the AMAPPS survey:
During Leg 2 on July 21st of the AMAPPS survey the scientific party encountered the most animals ever in a single day for this survey. Early morning sightings started with a flurry of sperm whales near Oceanographer Canyon. That level of sighting lasted most of the day as the vessel traveled east in good conditions, although the species composition changed. In the afternoon in the shallows (100-200m) between
Oceanographer and Lydonia Canyons the crew encountered a sighting
bonanza: some 2500 common dolphins, 120 fin whales, 50 humpback whales,
60 Risso’s dolphins, 70 pilot whales, 80 bottlenose dolphins, 100 striped dolphins, with a few beaked whales and ocean sunfish when the ship was in
the deeper waters.

Bad weather ahead on leg III

August 10, 2016:

The 3rd leg of the AMAPPS abundance survey on the Henry Bigelow began today, as we departed the WHOI dock around 10:00am.  The day got off to a rocky start since one of our science crew had to get off the ship at the last minute; she had been sick the past few days and unfortunately was not able to sail with us.  Her departure dampened spirits as we left the dock, but it couldn’t be helped.

We hit the ground running today, arriving at our first survey area at 1:00pm, west of Nantucket.  Since most of the transect lines in that area had been covered on the previous leg, we only had about 4 hours of surveying left to do before heading offshore. Unfortunately, the weather was not as cooperative as I had hoped, and after a couple of hours, we had to break off effort due to rain and sea state.   We’re heading out to the shelf break now, with the plan to start tomorrow morning just south of the Great South Channel. The weather looks rough for the next few days, but we’ll make the most of it!


Danielle Cholewiak & the Bigelow team

Surveying for Marine Mammals, Turtles and More

Report from the AMAPPS Bigelow survey on 6July2016, our first bad weather day.

The 2016 AMAPPS (Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species) marine mammal and sea turtle abundance survey started on 27 July 2016. This is a multi-platform survey involves two ships (the NOAA ships Henry B. Bigelow and Gordon Gunter) and two NOAA Twin Otter airplanes that will together survey waters along the entire US Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida and from the shore line to the 200 nautical mile US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) during 27 July – 28 Sept 2016. These surveys are being led by the Northeast and Southeast Fisheries Science Centers and funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS, also known as NOAA Fisheries), the US Navy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). In addition, our Canadian colleagues are conducting an extensive aerial survey using two planes during the same time period covering Canadian waters around Nova Scotia and Newfoundland . One other large scale cetacean abundance survey, known as SCANS (Small Cetaceans in European Atlantic waters and the North Sea) III  is also taking place this summer around Europe.

There are 2 teams of visual observers on the AMAPPS Bigelow shipboard surveys that are scanning the waters using high powered binoculars looking for whales, dolphins, turtles, and seals and using line transect sampling methods. During 28 Jun – 4 Jul 2016 we covered about 575 nautical miles of track lines off the coasts of Virginia and Delaware and have already seen more than 2000 animals from 15 species. So far the most common species are common dolphins and striped dolphins. We have been in warm Gulf Stream waters where we have seen spinner dolphins (below).


In the deeper waters we have already seen three species of beaked whales (see below for more on these species). One of the most spectacular sightings we had was a group of about 24 false killer whales feasting on a large fish.

amapps_false_killer_whales.jpgPhotos of spinner dolphin and false killer whales by Richard Holt under MMPS permit number 17355-01.

In addition to searching for marine mammals there is a team of observers dedicated to searching for birds. The seabird team, conducting a modified 300 meter strip transect, found 390 birds representing 19 species, so far. We averaged about seven species per day, the exception being 4 July on line 25 when we found a remarkable 12 species including our first White-faced Storm-Petrel and South Polar Skua of the cruise. Furthermore, 961 seabirds were counted in six multi-species feeding flocks, consisting almost entirely of the three expected shearwater species: Cory’s, Great, and Audubon’s Shearwaters. These feeding flocks were almost all farther offshore in  warmer water, presumably associating with feeding tuna or other predatory fish. Highlights, and there always are highlights of one sort or another, were three Trindade (aka Trinidade) Petrels, a single Black-capped Petrel (all about 170 to 190 nautical miles east of Cape Charles/Cape Henry) and a confiding immature Brown Booby (below) wandering somewhat farther north than expected. The seabird team remains on a high level of alert as we survey the outer lines, eager for what other warm water species we might find out here. We collectively cry “East!” and the farther east (or southeast), the better. It’s all about the Gulf Stream, isn’t it?

brown_booby_bigelow_amappsBrown Booby that used the Bigelow as a resting spot. Photo by Michael Force

There is also a team of scientists listening for animals using hydrophones that trail behind the ship. We’ve had a  air diversity of species during this first week of the AMAPPS cruise. Sperm whales seem to be heard almost everywhere, and we’ve had some of their other click types besides the usual (ie: creaks and codas). We had a really good day where the visual team was able to spot and bring us to various different groups of dolphins and give us the opportunity to collect really high quality unambiguous recordings. We also managed in one week to collect recordings on the three species of beaked whales that we’ve encountered in the past (Cuvier’s, Gervais’, and Sowerby’s). The sonobuoys are being deployed every night to listen for the presence of baleen whales (which the array cannot detect). So far we have not heard baleen whales, but have detected sperm whales and dolphins.

Lastly, to learn more about the ecosystem that these marine mammals and turtles are living in we have scientists collecting data on oceanography and plankton. These scientists work at night utilizing a range of instruments, imaging systems, and nets. For oceanographic properties of the water like temperature, salinity and density, a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) is lowered through the water column. The EK60 is an active acoustic instrument on the hull of the ship that pings in 5 different frequencies to detect animals in the water column ranging in size from 1cm plankton to adult fish. Phytoplankton, individual celled plants less than 0.5mm in size, are being imaged from the surface water by an Imaging FlowCytobot. The zooplankton, animals 5mm to 2cm in size that live in the water column, are being imaged by a towed Video Plankton Recorder. Zooplankton is also being sampled using two net systems: a 61cm bongo, which is a standard plankton net, and a 2m x 1m neuston modified with weights to sample from the surface to 25m depth. The samples collected with the nets will have all the zooplankton and larval fish in them identified back at the lab, but we will especially be looking for bluefin tuna larvae, which were not previously thought be in the study area. Out here in the Gulf Stream, salps, a gelatinous type of zooplankton, have been the most frequently seen species in the nets. In fact each net may have over a gallon of salps that must be sieved out and discarded before the sample is preserved.


Above: Images of the most common salp, Salpa aspera, in its chain form and solitary form taken by the Video Plankton Recorder, and an image of a layer of salps around 50m depth as seen by the 200kHz transducer of the EK60.

The AMAPPS Bigelow Team, Leg I


Leg 1 Sampling Completed

Good Afternoon Everyone,

This will be the final update from the GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey.  We have completed sampling at all of our stations in the three areas that were planned for this cruise: the Middle Atlantic Bight, Southern New England and Georges Bank.  In addition to that, we’ve been able to even reach a few stations in the western Gulf of Maine region which are the target for Leg 2 of this survey.  As a result, we have gathered a lot of data, and hundreds of samples which will be used to contribute to our understanding of the complex processes taking place in our marine environment on the east coast of the United States.

This success has been due to a number of factors, one of which has been excellent weather, which always plays a large role in determining the outcome of a survey.  The biggest factor, to my mind however, has been the unrelenting support we, the scientific staff, have been shown by the command and crew of the Gordon Gunter.  They have worked tirelessly to ensure that everything that could be done to provide the best possible outcome for this cruise, was done.  This includes tweaking our cruise track to provide the most efficient route between points, to making sure our gear was deployed and retrieved safely, to keeping the winches and ship running smoothly to feeding us meals that are not just healthy but so appetizing that they were always something to look forward to with great anticipation!

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Scientific staff from Leg 1 of the GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey:
Back row (left to right): John Loch, Chris Taylor, Tamara Holzwarth-Davis, Jerry Prezioso,  and Jessica Lueders-Dumont. Front Row (left to right): Lauren Kittell-Porter, Zach Topor, and Bonny Clarke

Thank you all so much for having not just welcomed us aboard as staff, but as part of the on-board “family” of this vessel.  We are very grateful and proud to have served alongside all of you on this scientific mission.

Jerry Prezioso and all the scientists from GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

A memorable day at sea

As I am writing this, the Gordon Gunter is in the final stages of surveying on Georges Bank.  We are in an area marked as Little Georges on the nautical charts, on the western edge of Georges Bank.  We arrived here by rounding Cultivator Shoals to the north this morning.  As we were working our way towards a station up there, a wonderful thing happened.  The heavy fog, which has surrounded us since we first reached Georges on Sunday, lifted, and we could see the sun!

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Tracking our progress with a high-lighter on a chart and a finger puppet on the next position to be visited.  The red dot to the left of the finger puppet marks Cultivator Shoals which we sampled on the morning of June 1. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

At the same time, our marine animal observer on board, John Loch, from the Canadian Wildlife Service, was greeted with a profusion of marine wildlife to record: pilot whales, common dolphins and seabirds: Wilson Storm Petrels by the hundreds, Sooty and Greater Shearwaters, Fulmars, Red Phalaropes, Greater and South Polar Skuas, and Jaegers, to list some of them.  It’s been his busiest day of the cruise!

Meanwhile, our other work on board continues as before, foggy or not.

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John Loch, the Canadian Wildlife Service observer, at his post on the flying bridge of the Gordon Gunter. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

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Common dolphin seen near the Gordon Gunter. Photo by John Loch, Canadian Wildlife Service

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Black-back Gull chasing a Herring Gull.  Photo by John Loch, Canadian Wildlife Service

Our Princeton researcher, Jessica Lueders-Dumont, together with Bonny Clarke from the USGS (United States Geological Survey), continued her sampling of seawater, phytoplankton and zooplankton from the station that we visited in the Cultivator Shoals area this morning.  Her research aims to trace the path that nitrogen takes through the first steps of the marine food chain, by comparing the ratios of nitrogen 14 and 15 stable isotopes of this element in seawater, phytoplankton and zooplankton.

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Bonny Clarke working on the Princeton filtering rack. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

She captures the seawater and phytoplankton from different depths using our Niskin water bottle sampler, and the zooplankton samples she gets from a set of small bongo nets mounted above our larger ones during our plankton tows.  With filtering racks set up in the wet lab of the Gordon Gunter, Jess and Bonny have filtered hundreds of liters of seawater during this cruise to gather the data for this research.

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Bongo net array showing the small bongos used by Jessica Lueders-Dumont for capturing zooplankton to determine their nitrogen stable isotope ratios. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

With only a couple of days left in our cruise, it now looks like our mission of sampling three areas of the continental shelf – the Mid-Atlantic Bight, Southern New England and Georges Bank – will be accomplished.  We have been given a gift of weather here on Georges Bank, a notorious area where there is no lee from wind on any quarter.  I have been glad to live with the constant droning of our foghorn in return for the calm seas that came along with it.  Today of course, we have the best of all worlds; calm seas, no fog and a profusion of marine wildlife surrounding us.  Truly a memorable day at sea!


Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey