Leg I Home Stretch!

September 20, 2018

With a couple days left to fish, we’re closing in on the end of leg 1!  It’s that point in the leg when everything begins to look familiar and routine may have taken over.  But if you’re patient and keep your eyes open, you’re sure to see something.  With that said, here are some highlights from the last couple of days!

We woke up to an announcement that a large pod of common dolphins were jumping and swimming straight towards the boat.  There were at least 50 of them!  The whole show lasted 5-10 minutes, and just like that, they were gone.  It’s amazing how quickly these sightings come and go.

Video by Jennifer Casey, NOAA Fisheries

We’ve been sampling in deeper water these last couple of days, and a neat Scorpaenidae fish came up in the net.  It may look similar to our black belly rosefishHelicolenus dactylopterus, but there are some noticeable differences.  This fish is a bright orange color and has one extremely long dorsal spine.  When the mouth is open, you’ll see a bright yellow throat while the blackbelly rosefish’s is, as you would expect, black.


Scorpaenidae are a group of predatory marine fish that includes scoropionfishes or rockfishes,   Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

Some lobsters we catch have lost one or both of their arms.  Though, it’s not a permanent state because they can be regrown, and that’s exactly what one of the lobsters we caught was doing!  At first glance, it may seem like it has only one arm, but look closer, and you can see that a replacement arm has just started growing.


Lobster regrowing a new arm.  Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

At another station, we caught a beautiful starfish. We are wondering if it belongs to the genus Coronaster.  This animal has 11 delicate arms and is an orange-red color.  After pictures were taken, some arms were detached.  It seemed odd for that to happen so quickly and after minimal handling.  Perhaps it could be some kind of defense mechanism.  It will be brought back to the lab for further identification.


Coronaster is a species of starfish, or sea star. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun.

A benefit of being on day watch, noon to midnight, is the chance to witness amazing sunsets.  When the weather is just right, the sky can be remarkable, and it’s difficult to resist taking a moment to be still and enjoy the view.


Some day watch scientists,  watching the sunset after working up a station. Left to right: Kelcie Bean, Zackery Fyke, Lacey Bluemel, and Jennifer Casey.

Christine Kircun
Aboard the FSV Henry B. Bigelow
Fall 2018 Bottom Trawl Survey Leg 1

Very Small but Very Important

Sept. 14, 2018

Despite Hurricane Florence’s destruction on the Carolina coasts, the FSV Henry B. Bigelow has kept sampling stations at a steady pace.  We are currently outside Long Island, well out of the reach of the hurricane’s wind and rain.  As of now, it’s all clear for us to keep sampling stations and working up fish, but fish aren’t the only thing we’re catching in nets.

The ocean is amazingly diverse.  There are well known animals such as tuna, cod, and whales.  They could be valued for recreational enjoyment, commercial importance or intrinsic pleasure.  And there are numerous animals such as starfish, sea urchins, jellyfish, corals, and sponges that are only found in the ocean.  But there are hundreds of easily overlooked, very small yet vitally important species that benefit all living creatures, aquatic and terrestrial: plankton.

Simply put, plankton are very small, sometimes microscopic animals (zooplankton) and plants (phytoplankton) that drift in the water.  Found in both fresh and salt water, they are the base of the aquatic food web.  Not just that, but phytoplankton produce about half of Earth’s oxygen!  Because of their crucial environmental role, it is extremely important to study and monitor these fascinating organisms, and we have a protocol for doing just that on the bottom trawl surveys.


Bongo nets. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun


Survey Technician Mark Bradley spraying the contents of a plankton net into a sieve. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

Plankton tows are cast at select stations on the FSV Henry B. Bigelow.  This is called a ‘bongo’ because the two nets used look like bongos.  The bongo is lowered over the sidesampling station to about 5-10m from the bottom, depending on the ground type and weather conditions.  As soon as it reaches its appropriate depth, it’s brought back to the surface.  This gives us a vertical profile of the organisms in that area.The nets are washed down into a sieve, and the plankton are preserved with formalin in glass jars which will be examined back on land after the survey is completed.


Jar filled with plankton. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

Before the jars are preserved, a quick, first glance may leave the observer uninterested.  But simply wait a moment, and the jar comes to life!  Depending on the sampling location and time of year, ostracods, copepods, protozoans, jellyfish, mysids…. can be seen moving and zooming all over.  So the next time you’re enjoying the beach and gazing out on the water, know that it is far from empty!  You are actually watching thousands and thousands of plankton, working hard to support life in the ocean and on land.  So take a deep breath and say “Thank you!”

Plankton studies is not my area of focus, but it is for the people in the NEFSC Oceans and Climate Branch!  Check out their website at Oceans and Climate Branch for more information.

Christine Kircun
Aboard the FSV Henry B. Bigelow
Fall 2018 Bottom Trawl Survey Leg 1

Approaching hurricane, sampling underway

September 11, 2018

We’re almost a week into leg I of the bottom trawl survey on the FSV Henry B. Bigelow, and it’s off to a great start!  Despite Hurricane Florence slowly approaching from the southeast, the weather has been absolutely gorgeous.  The water is flat, and the sky is full of beautiful clouds.  One of them briefly produced a water spout.


Water spout forming. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

While off the coast of North Carolina, we saw the Diamond Shoals Lighthouse. With so many shoals along the coast of North Carolina, lighthouses were extremely important to warn sailors of the dangers below.


Diamond Shoals Lighthouse. Photo credit: NOAa Fisheries/Christine Kircun

This lighthouse was eventually moved offshore because warning signals from land were ultimately ineffective.  Read more at http://lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=169.

And of course, it’s always exciting to see what the net brings up.  Most of the animals have been small, but a couple sizable specimens made it to our sampling stations.  Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) is a pelagic, flatheaded fish that spends most of its time alone except when they aggregate annually to mate.  Currently, efforts to domestically cultivate cobia for food are underway.


Cobia. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

Grey triggerfish (Balistes capriscus) is found all along the eastern US coast.  These fish travel through the water with wave-like movements of their dorsal and anal fins.  They communicate with grunting and hissing noises.  Clicking noises are made when the teeth behind its fleshy lips are rubbed together.


A grey triggerfish. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

The common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) is an intelligent cephalopod that eats bivalves (mollusks with two shells) and crabs.  They are known to leave the empty shells


in what’s known as midden piles right outside whatever space they’ve decided to call home.  These piles are a unique way to show researchers what kind of bivalves and crabs are in the area since an octopus can more effectively comb through its habitat as it hunts for food.

Christine Kircun
Aboard the FSV Henry B. Bigelow
Fall Bottom Trawl Survey – Leg 1

Changes as we work to the south

30 August 2018

Good morning.

We are on our last full day at sea for the summer EcoMon.  We’ve sailed from Fire Island, New York to just north of Chesapeake Bay since my last update.  We completed all CTD and bongo stations in the Southern New England region and have finished over half the Mid-Atlantic Bight region.  That’s 19 CTDs and 65 bongos so far on the cruise.  The plankton community has changed as we moved south.  We are seeing black sea bass, windowpane, and goby larvae in some of the plankton samples.



Black sea bass larvae. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh


Martha Loizeaux, our teacher-at-sea, from the Ocean Studies Charter School in Tavernier, Florida, released a satellite drifter buoy from NOAA’s Global Drifter Program on the shelf-break of southeastern Georges Bank.  She decorated the drifter with the names of the school’s classrooms; sea stars, dolphins, rays, and sharks.  She and her students will be tracking the drifter and discussing its movements as part of her curriculum on currents.

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Brown booby on the bow of the Gordon Gunter. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh

We have continued to have decent weather for radiometry work.  Skies have been clear, but as you all on shore realize the humidity has made things a little hazy at times.  The observers have had fewer sightings than on Georges Bank, but have seen some fin whales, dolphins, a brown booby (that used the ship as a perch for almost a day), and flying fish that were accompanied by some large mats of sargassum.  They also reported seeing large slicks of yellow “pollen” that are mostly likely Trichodesmium, a filamentous cyanobacteria that is sometime called sea sawdust.



Cruise track of the summer EcoMon (yellow line) that started sampling in Block Island Sound (green circle) on August 22 and is currently off Chesapeake Bay (x).  The red dots show where the ship has stopped to conduct CTD and bongo tows.  The magenta dots show the location of the drifter buoy from 25-30 August 2018. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh

The plan for today is to work our way offshore towards the shelf-break conducting bongo tows and radiometry casts.  At some point we will need to head back towards Chesapeake Bay to dock in Norfolk Friday morning.  Friday will be spent packing gear for shipment back to Narragansett so we hopefully can make it home for the Labor Day weekend.

Harvey Walsh
Chief Scientist
GG18-04 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Sampling on Georges Bank

Monday 27 August 2018

We had a very productive week end sampling on Georges Bank.  The wind, sea, and sky were cooperative allowing us to conduct a lot of science.  The satellite oceanographers were able to collect data every day in conjunction with overpasses of the NOAA satellites.  We were able to sample about a third of the bongo and half the CTD stations on Georges Bank.  The sea bird observers have been seeing dolphins, mostly Risso’s and Common, White-faced Storm Petrels, Skulas, and a Yellow Warbler that has made a temporary stop on the ship.

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Two-inch witch flounder larvae caught in a bongo net. Witch flounder larvae stay in the water column longer, and grow to larger sizes, than many other larval fish. This individual is still metamorphosing from larvae to early-juvenile, when it will be ready to settle to the ocean bottom. The eye on the top of the head has not fully rotated from the left to the right side yet. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh


Clear skies and calm seas make for good satellite oceanography data collection. Sunrise over Georges Bank indicates another good day for light and water sampling (left). Jeff (front) and Charles (back) communicate with the bridge before deploying the radiometer (left/center). The radiometer collects light data with sensors that look both up towards the sky and down into the water (right/center). This will allow for data to be matched with what the satellites are recording as they pass over our station. Other researchers like Audrey are collecting data on  phytoplankton by filtering water for analysis back in the lab and instruments that image the plankton and measure the size of the cells (right). Photo credits: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh

We our back in the Southern New England (SNE) region this morning.  We are sampling off Fire Island, New York and around the travel lanes into the Hudson River.  We hope to finish the SNE stations early Tuesday morning, then start zig-zagging our way down to Chesapeake Bay.

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An example of the different phytoplankton sampled so far on our cruise.  The Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) is sampling water continually along our cruise track from the ship’s scientific flow-through seawater system.

So far, we have completed 37 bongos and 11 CTDs.

Harvey Walsh
Chief Scientist
GG180-04 Ecosystems Monitoring Survey

Editor’s Note:  Check out NOAA Teacher at Sea Martha Loizeaux’s blog for her experiences during the EcoMon survey.

Summer EcoMon cruise is underway

Good morning!

We sailed from Newport, RI aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter on Wednesday afternoon (August 22) on our summer Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) survey.  We have a fairly large science crew for this trip that includes two people from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Oceans and Climate Branch (Harvey Walsh and Tamara Holzwarth-Davis);  three ocean optics researchers, two from the University of Rhode Island (Audrey Ciochetto and Kyle Turner) and one from the NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (Charles Kovach);  two seabird observers (Chris Vogel and John Loch);  two volunteers, one from Maine Maritime Academy (Jessica Lindsey) and a recent graduate of URI (Brendan McCarron);  and one NOAA Teacher at Sea (Martha Loizeaux).

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Eel leptocephalus collected in a 60-cm bongo net at a station sampled on Georges Bank. Leptocephalus is the flat and transparent larva of the eel. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh


Profiling radiometer that is being deployed at times when satellites are passing overhead.  The satellites remotely measure chlorophyll and other optical properties of the water. The radiometer work is used to calibrate those measurements. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh

We have had a productive start, sampling stations from Block Island sound to Nantucket Shoals, and crossing Great South Channel this morning to begin sampling Georges Bank.  We’ve conducted 20 bongo tows and 3 CTD / rosette water casts, one radiometry, and pumped a lot of flow thru sea surface water through the Imaging FlowCytobot and bio-optical instruments to examine the phytoplankton community.

bio optical instruments hooked to flowthru seawater system

Bio-optical instruments attached to the ship’s flow-thru seawater system that are measuring phytoplankton size and fluorescence, which can be used to estimate primary productivity. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh

The weather looks nice for the weekend and we hope to collect some more radiometry casts during satellite overpasses.  Be sure to check out Martha’s blog at https://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/#/2018/Martha*Loizeaux/blogs.

Harvey Walsh
Chief Scientist
GG18-04 Summer EcoMon Survey

Headed Home

June 4

This will be the final update from this cruise as we are coming in to the Newport Naval Station ahead of an advancing storm which precluded any more operations in the Gulf of Maine, our last area to be surveyed.
We have completed 114 stations over the entire area of the survey, which now covers continental shelf waters from Delaware Bay north through Southern New England, Georges Bank and about two thirds of the Gulf of Maine.  We were unable to reach the Scotian Shelf and northern stations that extended up into the Bay of Fundy.  If our excellent weather had held a couple of more days our coverage in the Gulf of Maine could have been improved, but I can’t complain about weather that was perfect up until early this morning!
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Cruise track drawn as a red line on a paper chart showing the areas visited by the Henry Bigelow during this survey.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

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Our Teacher-at-Sea, Susan Dee, drops a messenger to trigger a water sampling bottle. Scientists were able to coordinate in-water optical light measurements during times when the vessel was stationary like this. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

I have learned a lot from this cruise in terms of having scientists from different agencies and countries work together sharing a survey and a vessel as closely as possible so that all could come away with enough data and samples to judge this trip a success for each of them. I’d like to thank the scientific staff for their patience and hard work in planning to make our sampling as efficient as possible. For example we learned that satellite optical measurements can often be made simultaneously with work where the vessel is stationary, like during vertical ring net tows and CTD rosette water casts.  This didn’t work every time, but I appreciate the effort the investigators made to try this, saving a significant amount of vessel time.
The vessel time we did have was maximized by a terrific effort from the crew and command of the Henry Bigelow who made every effort to keep us moving forward at maximum speed, up to 12 knots and sometimes more, much of the time, covering as much ground as possible in the time allotted to us. The command met with me every day to discuss our operations plan under the prevailing and forecast weather conditions.  Operations that they had not encountered before, like vertical ring net tows, were worked out, often with input and discussion from the crew, who brought up suggestions like modifying depressor weights, and maneuvering the vessel to avoid having the gear come under the keel during retrieval. The crew also contributed to overall morale with events like Sunday night ice cream socials, thanks to the efforts of our stewards Dennis Carey and Ray Burgess.
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Steward Ray Burgess saving a meal for a scientist who missed meal time while working on deck.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

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Chief Steward Dennis Carey serving behind the ice cream bar he set up for the Sunday Ice Cream Social.  Photo by Susan Dee, NOAA Teacher-at-Sea

Now as I look over the boxes of samples we can look forward to unloading later this week, I want to thank everyone involved with this trip for your time, patience and good spirits.  I will look forward to sailing with you all again, anytime!
Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB1803 Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey