Gordon Gunter: Wildlife Magnet

October 25, 2015

On this heavily overcast Sunday morning, the Gordon Gunter is in the Great Round Shoal Channel heading for the Newport Naval Station where we will be tying up at Pier 2 this afternoon, marking the end of the 2015 Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey, GU 1506.

We have completed 117 stations for this cruise, with complete coverage of Georges Bank and Southern New England waters, and Mid-Atlantic Bight Coverage as far south as the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.  With the start of the cruise delayed for several days due to Hurricane Joaquin, the southernmost stations near Cape Hatteras, and the northern and central portions of the Gulf of Maine were missed.  Still we were able to sample at 73% of our initial 160 stations, which is remarkable considering the time lost to weather.

We’ve had a very high incidence of land birds coming to the ship for refuge, perhaps because we are in the midst of a migration period for many species.  Our bird observer from the Canadian Wildlife Service, Jeannine Winkel, has been as busy recording and photographing them as she has for the seabirds on this cruise!  The ship’s crew even set up a feeding and watering station for them on deck, in hopes of giving them a chance to recuperate and continue their journey.  Jeannine has documented several species of warblers, several species of sparrows, northern flickers, mourning doves, and a ruby crowned kinglet, to name just a few.

Jeannine Winkle using binoculars to sight birds from the bridge of the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

Jeannine Winkel, our seabird and marine mammal observer from the Canadian Wildlife Service. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA / NMFS

Small birds feeding on ship's deck

Birds feeding on food placed on deck by the ship’s crew during our cruise. Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

Small bird on ship's rail

Blackpoll Warbler, one of many birds hitchiking aboard the vessel during our trip. Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

Interestingly, we are not the only ones on board with an interest in these land birds.  A peregrine falcon also took up residence on the ship for a time, chasing some of the smaller birds for its own meals.

Falcon perched atop ship's upper deck

A Peregrine Falcon made our vessel its home for several days.
Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

Other species besides birds have been documented by our observer.  Humpback whales, a sperm whale, minke whale, and spinner and common dolphins were recorded, as well as both loggerhead and green sea turtles, and even one little brown bat!  These observations were recorded using a headset and microphone hooked up to a laptop using voice recognition software. (Jeannine is wearing this gear in the first photo in our post.)  This way, observers record their sightings directly into a database without taking their eyes off the subjects under observation.  This is standard Canadian Wildlife Service issue hardware to all observers.

Slender, leaping dolphins

Common dolphins approaching the Gordon Gunter to ride the bow wave.
Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

On an education front, the decorated Styrofoam manikin head from The Prout School in Wakefield, RI was removed yesterday from its niche under the Niskin bottle rosette.  After undergoing 25 immersions, some down to 500 m, it emerged compressed to a fraction of its former size to produce a graphic illustration of the effect of water pressure at depth for students in the oceanography class.

two manikin heads, one compressed by ocean water pressure

Styrofoam manikin heads before and after submersions down to 500 meters. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA / NMFS

Since the cruise will be ending in a few hours, this will be my final update.  I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the entire crew and command for all the help and support they’ve given us while we were out here.  I can’t say enough about the effort that our Chief Steward Margaret Coyle and Second Cook, Paul Acob put into the fantastic meals we have had every day.

Ship's galley with kitchen staff

Margaret Coyle, Chief Steward, and Paul Acob, 2nd Cook, in the Gordon Gunter galley. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA / NMFS

And finally to my five colleagues who collected all the data and samples we’ve gathered over these past two weeks, thank you very much!  You’ve all worked very hard and have traveled from Texas, Canada, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to be part of this expedition.  I hope it’s been a good experience for everyone!

Jerry Prezioso, Chief Scientist for the Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey, GU 1506.

Who Doesn’t Love a FlowCytoBot?

Today is October 20, one week and a day from when we set sail from Norfolk, VA, the Gordon Gunter has completed sampling at 61 stations across the mid-Atlantic Bight and Southern New England portions of this survey.

During this past weekend we had an excursion into the western Gulf of Maine up as far north as Jeffreys Ledge adding 12 samples to our total while we waited for a weather system to move off of Georges Bank.   Now, with improving weather we are heading east onto Georges and should arrive there early on Wednesday morning for the final phase of this cruise.

Plankton net coming onboard

Texas A & M student Joseph Losoya and crewman Dante Starks prepare to retrieve bongo net array aboard Gordon Gunter. Photo by Jerry Prezioso NOAA/NMFS

Our plankton samples have ranged from being heavily laden with phytoplankton at coastal stations off of New Jersey and Long Island to being more dominated by copepods and amphipods further north at the Gulf of Maine stations.  One sample taken at the Great South Channel was composed almost completely of chaetognaths or arrow-worms.

Scientist at computer tracking bongo net deployment

University of Maine researcher Maura Thomas talks to winch operator controlling a bongo net plankton tow while monitoring bottom depth, net depth, temperature, and salinities from her bank of monitors. Photo by Jerry Prezioso NOAA/NMFS

Scientist at computer screen sitting next to images equipment

Maura Thomas examines pictures from the Imaging FlowCytoBot Unit in a Gordon Gunter lab. Photo by Jerry Prezioso NOAA /NMFS

Photographs from our Imaging FlowCytoBot (IFCB) have proved useful in helping us to determine that the phytoplankton from off the coast of Barnegat Bay New Jersey consisted of several species of diatoms.

Black and white images of tiny cylinder-shaped plankton

Images of diatoms taken by the Imaging FlowCytoBot Unit off the coast of Barnegat, New Jersey. Image provided by Maura Thomas, University of Maine

Our most recent forecast indicates that Wednesday and Thursday will have the most favorable conditions on Georges Bank.  We are hoping to get as much of Georges Bank sampled before another weather system develops on Friday.

Dodging Hurricanes and Shrinking Mannequin Heads for Science!

The Fisheries Survey Vessel Gordon Gunter departed from the NOAA Marine Operations Center in Norfolk, Virginia on Columbus Day, Monday October 12, 2015 to begin the Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. Originally scheduled to start nearly a week earlier, the cruise has been cut back on time due to Hurricane Joaquin’s impact on the southern portion of the survey area.  We are now working our way northward along the continental shelf off the coast of New Jersey.

Turtle tag mounted on Niskin bottle rosette frame. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

Turtle tag mounted on Niskin bottle rosette frame. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

Now on our third day of the cruise at the time of this writing, we have completed 19 stations, using Bongo nets and a CTD Niskin bottle rosette to collect plankton, water and nutrient samples, plus hydrographic data.  In addition to sampling for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center we are also recording images of phytoplankton from our scientific seawater system, using an Imaging FlowCytoBot unit from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and collecting stable isotope water samples for Princeton University, and nutrient samples for the University of Maine.

Styrofoam mannequin head decorated by Prout High School Oceanography students. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

Styrofoam mannequin head decorated by Prout High School oceanography students. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

We have an observer from the Canadian Wildlife Service to monitor seabirds along our route, and we are testing a turtle tracking tag for the Protected Species Branch by submerging it on our Niskin bottle rosette.  Also on the rosette is a styrofoam mannequin head, creatively decorated by oceanography students from Prout High School in Narragansett, RI to demonstrate the effects of water pressure compressing it at depth.

 Styrofoam mannequin head in yellow mesh bag mounted under the Niskin bottle array. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

Styrofoam mannequin head in yellow mesh bag mounted under the Niskin bottle array. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

Plankton catches have been light, with many stations having salps in them, and one station near the shelf edge off the coast of Virginia had a large number of fish eggs in it.  Our seabird observer, Jeannine Winkel, has recorded greater shearwaters and a flock of pelicans along the southern portion of our route.  She also spotted a couple of sea turtles, possibly loggerheads and a pod of spinner dolphins.

Our weather is currently warm and sunny, with light winds and fairly calm seas so we are working our way to the outer shelf off the coast of New Jersey  prior to moving on to the southern New England area of our survey.

Jerry Prezioso   chief scientist for the Fall Ecosystem Monitoring
Survey, GU 1506.

Fairy shrimp, bingo games and a rowboat

This Tuesday finds the Henry Bigelow on its way to the Great South Channel to start coverage of the Georges Bank portion of this survey.  We have completed the Mid-Atlantic Bight and Southern New England areas completely, and hopefully will have enough time remaining to do justice to the northern portion of this survey.

The inshore Southern New England stations were marked by large numbers of very small copepods, and the samples (and nets) came aboard with a brownish tinge to them, indicating large numbers of diatoms in the water.  This fact was corroborated by Emily Peacock, from WHOI, who shared images from her imaging flowcytobot unit showing large numbers of diatoms in the scientific seawater flowthrough system.

emily and

Emily Peacock and the imaging flowcytobot. Photo by D J Kast, NOAA Teacher at Sea.

We have been getting fairly large numbers of young sand lance, Ammodytes, from several of the inshore stations Southern New England stations, ranging in length from 4 to as much as 10 centimeters.  There have also been many salps and ctenophores, and an occasional appearance of the amphipod, Phronima, that eats out the inside of barrel-shaped salps and then lives inside them.  Last night we also had a large catch of caprellid amphipods, sometimes commonly called “fairy shrimps”, much to the consternation of those of us whose turn it was to wash those samples out of the nets, as they tenaciously clung on to the meshes!


Images of diatoms from the flowcytobot. Photo by Emily Peacock, WHOI.

amphipod inside salp

An amphipod, Phronima, that eats out the inside of a barrel-shaped salp and then lives inside it. Photo by DJ Kast, NOAA Teacher at Sea.

fairy shrimps

Caprellid amphipods, commonly called “fairy shrimps”, were not easy to wash out of the nets. Photo by D J Kast, NOAA Teacher at Sea.

Our uneventful Memorial Day Weekend was punctuated by two events that made things interesting.  One was a festive ice cream social and bingo game on Sunday night put on by our stewards Dennis and Jeremy.  While in the midst of enjoying this we received a call from the bridge saying that they had spotted a rowboat anchored outside the entrance to New York harbor in the area we were transiting through!

bingo game

Sunday night ice cream social and bingo game. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.

Our commanding officer actually knew one of the two men onboard the twenty-three foot plywood craft that was on its way to Gallipoli, Turkey the next day once the winds subsided.  This venture was part of a “Rowing For Peace” movement, details of which can be found on a website:http://www.rowforpeace.com/

rowers and their boat

We sent a “care package” to this two-person boat, headed to Turkey. Photo by D J Kast, NOAA Teacher at Sea.

In keeping with the NOAA tradition of service to the public, a small care package was hastily arranged, with water bottles, ice cream, ship’s hats and a pineapple!  A line was thrown to the tiny vessel, and the items were passed across secured in a plastic bag.

Now we are on our way to Georges Bank, having completed the southern portion of our trip. Hopefully the nice weather will continue for a few more days while we are on Georges. There’s not too much shelter out there!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB1502 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Off and Running on the Late Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

On a foggy Tuesday (May 19) at 1230 pm the Henry Bigelow left its berth at the Newport Naval Station to start the Late Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey.  As is typical for these cruises, this is not just a Northeast Fisheries Science Center expedition, but a coalition of several other institutions and Canada with representative scientists on board to study different aspects of the marine ecosystem of the northeast continental shelf.  We have scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Maine, Princeton University, one scientist from the Canadian Wildlife Service and a NOAA Teacher at Sea from California, in addition to our usual cadre of researchers from the NEFSC in Narragansett and Woods Hole.  All the lab spaces are filled with gear; an imaging flowcytobot unit  and laptop computers in the CTD lab, multiple filtering racks in the chem lab, and the wet lab has become a storage area for spare gear and supplies.

bongo net deployment

Bongo nets being deployed for plankton collection. Photo by D.J. Kast, NOAA Teacher at Sea.

view of chemistry lab with equipment

Chemistry lab filled with seawater filtration racks. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

insturmneet to photograph phytoplankton

FlowCytoBot Unit for photographing phytoplankton in the scientific seawater flow-through system, strapped into position in the CTD lab.
Photo by D.J. Kast, NOAA Teacher at Sea.

The foggy weather has hindered our progress somewhat, but a more than punctual departure on Tuesday (we left 30 minutes ahead of schedule!) has given us a good start, and we are all thankful to be underway after frantic last minute repairs were made to the vessel prior to this trip.

Niskin bottle rosette array with CTD unit

Niskin bottle rosette array with an added CTD unit (white cylinder) for logging chlorophyll fluorescence and transmissometry data. Photo by D.J. Kast, NOAA Teacher at Sea.

We have completed eight stations so far: six bongo tows and two rosette casts on the shelf edge.  The rosette casts gathered transmissometry data for our U. Maine researcher as well as the usual salinity, temperature and chlorophyll profiles, and jugs of seawater were filled for an EPA researcher in Narragansett who is looking for traces of pharmaceutical compounds in offshore waters.  Fish larvae, either herring or sand lance were found in the nearshore plankton tows, and also some lion’s mane jellyfish.

lion's mane jellyfish in net

Lion’s Mane jellyfish capture in one of the nearshore plankton tows. Photo by D.J. Kast, NOAA Teacher at Sea.

The fog has lifted this Wednesday morning, and the ship is making faster progress now.  With the current good weather we will work our way towards Cape Hatteras, sampling at the offshore stations and then loop back north towards New England on an inshore track.

three woem scientists working in lab

Researchers Cristina Bascunan, Tamara Holzwarth-Davis and Megan Switzer working together to connect a transmissometer (black unit) to a CTD unit (white cylinder) shortly before sailing. Photo by D.J. Kast, NOAA Teacher at Sea.

Despite the crowded conditions, the diverse researchers are all getting along, and helping each other with equipment and tasks to help the mission go as smoothly as possible.  The ship’s crew and command have certainly played a large part in making things work, and I really appreciate the positive can-do attitude I’ve seen aboard here.

I think this is going to be a good, and very productive trip!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB1502 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

A Seahorse, Salps, and Styrofoam Cups?

The Pisces has made its final trawl and is now heading towards its last plankton station before it will dock in Little Creek, Norfolk, Virginia for the end of this cruise later today. Since our last update we’ve weathered persistent gale-force winds that caused us to miss our first and only station of this entire survey, when gusts of forty knot winds forced us to abort setting the Shallow-Water midwater trawl just before dawn on Monday morning. We altered course to continue working in a more sheltered area further south. Subsequent trawls made late last night have been small in quantity but highly diverse in composition, with cutlass fish, bluefish, a puffer fish, small squid, salps and even a seahorse! We are now heading for our last plankton station which we should arrive at in the wee hours of this Wednesday morning.

night watch processing catch

The night watch processing one of the last midwater trawl catches of the cruise. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

Rick Bell holds cutlass fish

Rich Bell holding a cutlass fish caught in the midwater trawl. Photo by Maura Thomas, University of Maine

This has been an interesting cruise owing to its multi-pronged approach for studying the waters of the northeast continental shelf. Using a variety of tools wielded by scientists from different disciplines, marine life from phyto- and zoo-plankton, to larval, juvenile and adult fish have been studied, together with a backdrop of oceanographic measurements of water temperatures and salinities, and light, chlorophyll, and nutrient levels. The onboard experiment to measure respiration of various fish was a first for one of these survey cruises.


Seahorse captured in midwater trawl. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA


emily and flow cytobot unit

Emily Brownlee and an Imaging Flow Cytobot Unit from WHOI. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

diatoms and dinoflagellates

Diatoms and dinoflagellates photographed by the Imaging Flow Cytobot units. Photo by Emily Brownlee, WHOI

There has also been an educational component, where students from Prout High School and Davisville Middle School in Rhode Island, sent highly decorated styrofoam coffee cups and manikin heads out with us to be submerged along with our instruments to depths of 500 meters (1,640 feet) to demonstrate the effect of pressure on them.

styrofiam cups in mesh bags below

Styrofoam cups in mesh bag mounted below instruments on CTD rosette. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/ NOAA

decorated strufoam cups and menikin heads

Styrofoam cups and manikin heads from Davis Middle School (top) and Prout High School (bottom) after 36 submersions on CTD rosette. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/ NOAA.

All of this was accomplished in an area ranging from as far north as the Bay of Fundy in the Gulf of Maine, to as far east as the Northeast Channel off of Georges Bank, down to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in the south in just seventeen days. Truly a remarkable achievement, and we, the scientists on this survey, want to thank the officers and crew of the Pisces for doing their utmost to make this possible. By utilizing this vessel to its fullest capabilities, and with their constant help and advice, they have enabled us to accomplish a lot in a short time.

Crewmen deplpoy bong nets from ship

Crewmen Victor Coleman and Jeff Brawley from the Pisces deploying bongo plankton nets. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

We thank you and wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
PC1405 NE Pelagic-EcoMon Survey


The usual, and the oddities

Since transiting the Cape Cod Canal on Thursday, the Pisces has continued its remarkable rate of progress in Southern New England waters. As of 6 p.m. Saturday night (November 15) we are outside of New York harbor and working our way further south towards the New Jersey coast. Tows in these inshore waters have had large amounts of phytoplankton, and catches of salps and ribbed jellyfish have been in several of our plankton tows. We also had ribbed jellyfish in one of our most recent shallow water mid-water trawls, along with a couple of juvenile butterfish and a few larval menhaden. Some earlier mid-water trawls had squid and lanternfish.

cruise trsacvk as of Nov.15 at 6 p.m.

Pisces cruise track as of 6 p.m. November 15, 2014. Image courtesy of NOAA Shiptracker website.

two juvenile butterfish and a menhaden larva

Two juvenile butterfish and a menhaden larva captured in a recent tow of the Shallow Water Midwater Trawl. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

We have been striving to catch our fish with as little trauma as possible for oxygen consumption measurements, but have had difficulty keeping most of them alive. We have gotten good data from “Lumpy” the lumpfish, who is still on board and doing well, from some sand eels and a paper nautilus. Our latest tenant of the respirometer is a lookdown, a shiny silvery fish which is not only about the size of a half dollar, but resembles one as well! We had hoped to make measurements on butterfish, but have not had any success in keeping them alive long enough to place them in the respirometers.

lookdown fish in respirometer

A lookdown fish, swimming against a mild current in the flow-through respirometer. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

cod-end aquarium

A codend aquarium for the midwater trawl, made by Chris Taylor and the scientists and crew aboard Pisces, will help keep fish alive during tows. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

To address this issue the scientists and crew worked together yesterday to come up with a tub that is placed inside the codend of the trawl to provide a soft landing place of undisturbed water at the back of the net for at least some of the fish that are scooped up, and also to keep them submerged in water while the net is being dragged up the trawlway and onto the deck.   We think that if we can address these issues of capture trauma we may have a better chance of getting some candidates for the respirometers. So far we’ve only caught a few squid and lantern fish in the tub. The squid were alive and well, but the lanternfish were not. The lanternfish did however appear to be in much better shape than ones we have caught just using the trawl alone, so we feel we are making some improvements. Now we just need a good catch of butterfish to give our design a real test!

We are continuing to catch a few oddities, such as a balloon squid, so named for its round shape, and also some Phronima, the latin name for a small amphipod that feeds on salps and then lives inside the clear salp body, swimming it around like a little barrel-shaped house. This thumb-sized crustacean is reputed to have been the inspiration for the appearance of the alien creature in the series of Alien movies!

balloon squid

A balloon squid captured in the Shallow Water Midwater trawl. Photo by Dan Vendettuoli, NEFSC/NOAA

a Phronimna amphipod

A Phronima amphipod, captured in the Shallow Water Midwater trawl. Photo by Dan Vendettuoli, NEFSC/NOAA

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
PC1405 NE Pelagic-EcoMon Survey