10 days at sea: Research Edition

June 11, 2014 by

Like the previous post mentioned, I went on a 10 day sea voyage with NOAA’s FRAMD (Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring Division) survey. This is annual survey that NOAA conducts during the summer to look at the fish community, by taking measurements of weights, lengths, sex of the fish, as well as selecting individuals to extract their otoliths. Otoliths are used to determine the age of bony fish. In many species rings are formed in the ear bones of the fishes. Biologists extract the ear bones from these fish and read them. There are three sets of ear bones, we use the largest set the sagittae. The information then will be used for fish stock assessments.

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Survivor: Ocean edition

May 30, 2014 by

Two weeks ago, my fellow labmate Jessica Jang and I headed to Newport, Oregon to learn how to survive the high seas in preparation for some trawls in which we will be participating later on this year. The FRAMD trawls (Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring Divison), associated with NOAA Fisheries, survey groundfish along the Western US coast, collecting age (using otoliths), sex, and length information on 90 groundfish species, as well as more limited information on other species collected in trawls, and more detailed information for scientists conducting special projects. Students in our lab (Pacific Shark Research Center) have, in the past, gathered specimens and data from these trawls for their thesis projects, and both Jessica and I are hoping to collect specimens for our own theses.

We arrived in Portland, and first made a pitstop to obtain some good food and the famed Voodoo Donuts. At the time, I didn’t realize I would be eating donuts nonstop for the next 4 days. We then drove to Newport, only getting lost a few times…

Voodoo Donuts!

Voodoo Donuts!

The next day, we started off the day with some extreme videos of ships crashing and sinking, then had some lectures about safety, which emphasized the main objective of the course: develop the will to survive! Being prepared for the situation, being able to stay calm and respond efficiently to any circumstances that might arise, and knowing when to abandon ship would strongly enhance our chance of survival.

Next, we went outside, where the Coast Guard taught us about the balance and period of a ship’s roll, and then showed us how to pump water out of a boat in the case of a flood. We took turns in their special training trailer, which was filled with leaky pipes and crevices that would begin spouting water at any given moment. I was Captain of my boat, and gave the Mayday! call to the Coast Guard while communicating with my crew members, whose job it was to plug the leaks with rubber wrapping, pieces of neoprene, and variably-shaped wooden wedges.

US Coast Guard setting up the pump

US Coast Guard setting up the pump

Using wedges to fill a pump

Using wedges to fill a pump

Water!!

Water!!

Later that day, we took our only test – unwrap and don our immersion (or survival, or gumby) suits within 60-seconds, which required multiple rounds of practice. The hardest part was doing anything that required fine motor skills (like zipping up the suit) with your fingers in a giant inflexible glove/ mitten. Some of us also tried the 60-s test in darkness, which was a whole other challenge. Although I wasn’t the suit’s biggest fan during the training, I came to appreciate it when we entered the water in our suits the next day (really toasty and kept me dry!), and understood how important it would be in the case of an actual sea emergency.

Me in my immersion suit

Donning my trendy suit

Later in the day we put out some fires (set on a grill), learning to work in a team and stay low to the ground, and tested some expired signal flares, one of which lit up the sky with orange smoke.

Jessica and I putting out a dangerous fire

Jessica and I putting out a dangerous fire

Handheld flares

Handheld flares

Orange smoke flare

Effective orange smoke flare

The following day, we had some role-playing drills, one person in each group being selected to fall overboard, while the other teammates worked on communicating with the Captain, Coast Guard, and each other to make sure the person was safely rescued. A second drill started out with a fire (which was hidden somewhere, represented by a glowstick, and simulated with a smoke machine), and quickly escalated into an abandon ship procedure. We had to grab the EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, which is one of the most important pieces of equipment during an emergency, sending a signal to the Coast Guard alerting them of its position), a box of signal flares, and deploy the life raft, then hop into a demonstration raft.

The gap between the ship and water was substantial – but somehow everyone succeeded! Unfortunately, I lost both my team’s EPIRB and flares when I turned my back on them to get into my survival suit and a “rogue wave” (aka Dan, one of our instructors) swept them away. Both our teams got Bs for the day, but we did successfully get off the ship and “survive”!

FIRE!

FIRE!

Graceful leap into the life raft

Jessica’s graceful leap into the life raft

Dan, the rogue wave, holding the EPIRB and flares

Dan, the rogue wave, holding the EPIRB and flares

After the demo, we went into the water in our suits, and practiced our safety positions (in case we were being located by helicopter or other boats), and each practiced overturning the life raft in case it deployed incorrectly.

On the final day, we had biological training. We learned about the high-tech equipment we would use out at sea (magnetic strips would send the lengths of the fish to a computer, instead of us having to read and manually record each measurement), the giant multi-ton hauls we would potentially recover (which could supposedly include anything from military and medical waste to fully packed suitcases to sheep and cats), the species we would likely observe (rockfish, chimaeras, skates, urchins, flatfish, sea stars, squid), and then practiced sorting, sexing, and taking otoliths out of a sample of a discarded haul.

Special scale

High-tech fish scale

Fish about to be sorted

Fish about to be sorted

After a long 3 days, we enjoyed some fresh seafood with some fellow scientist-survivors and said goodbye to the beach, knowing that this was only a gentle preview for what was to come in the open ocean. Jessica is currently at sea, traveling in Washington and Oregon, and I won’t be deploying until October – hopefully these survival skills will stick until then!

 

The Success of Open House 2014

May 10, 2014 by

By Melissa Nehmens PSRC

This past weekend, Moss Landing Marine Labs opened our doors and welcomed everyone to our annual Open House event. For those of you new to Moss Landing traditions (as I am as a first year student), it is an event we hold every year in the Spring that is organized by the student body and hosted by the students, faculty, and staff.

We take Open House as an opportunity to share our research in a fun, yet educational way. Just to name a few exciting activities:  the Invertebrate Zoology and Molecular Ecology lab had an invertebrate touch tank where you could see, touch, and learn about all of our interesting local invertebrates.

 

Graduate students Melinda Wheelock and Emily Schmeltzer, educate visitors about the wonderful world of invertebrates! Photo Credit: Heather Kramp

Graduate students Melinda Wheelock and Emily Schmeltzer, educate visitors about the wonderful world of invertebrates! Photo Credit: Diane Wyse

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MLML Open House!

April 23, 2014 by

openhouse_fbcover (1)

We know what you have been waiting all year to hear: our Open House is just over a week away!

Every year our facility opens it’s doors and invites the public to come explore with us. This year we are open from 9 to 5 on May 3rd and 4th.  This event is completely free and great for all ages. We welcome you to check out our invertebrate touch tanks, watch our marine themed puppet show, check out our raffle, see the sea lion show, and participate in our other fun activities.

Open House!

Entry Way to MLML. Dive into Open House! 
Photo by: Scott Gabara

If you have been able to attend in previous years, you know that we will even cook for you!  Here is a teaser recipe from last year’s table of baked goods:

Chocolate peanut clusters (gluten free & vegan)

By Jen Raanan

Shopping List:

1 bag chocolate chips (I use dark/semisweet)

1 cup peanut butter

1 large canister dry roasted peanuts (salted or unsalted, depending on your taste. I use salted because my peanut butter is low-sodium.)

Directions:
1) in a double-boiler, melt chocolate & peanut butter. Don’t get water in the mixture. It ruins the chocolate!

2) Remove mixture from heat and stir in peanuts until they’re completely coated.

3) Spoon mixture into bite-sized or cookie-sized drops onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper

4) Chill in fridge until chocolate sets

5) Clusters can be stored in fridge or freezer

Enjoy!

Underwater Diversity

April 21, 2014 by

It is amazing how many different ways organisms can survive in the ocean.  One of the most interesting is the many different strategies to try to get food from the water (filled with phytoplankton, zooplankton and detritus (particles of decaying algae and animal material)), from larger algae growing on the bottom, or from the organisms that consume these sources.

 

Kelp Rockfish

We see Kelp Rockfish associating with, surprise…kelp!  They eat different crustaceans on the kelp and even eat small year-old rockfish.

LingcodThis impressive Lingcod is a predator around the kelp forest, they eat invertebrates like squid and crustaceans and many different fishes.

Fish-Eating Anemone

This Fish-eating Anemone eats crustaceans and fishes.  It would not be pleasant to be captured by one of these and digested slowly!

Sunflower Star

This Sunflower Star is a surprisingly fast moving predator in the kelp forest.  They, like other seastars, extrude their stomach and digest their prey using acids, another not-so-fun way to be eaten.

Kelp Greenling

This beautiful Kelp Greenling male eats different invertebrates and even fishes when they become available.

Lined Chiton

This lined chiton moves along the bottom scraping the surface, getting foods like coralline algae, detritus (decaying algal and animal material), attached invertebrates, diatoms (algae), red algae, and green algae.

These species are just a preview of what we see each dive around the Monterey Bay area.  I am grateful people before us have studied these organisms so we are able to construct food webs to try to understand how all of this diversity we see interacts over time and space.

Back-to-Back Cruises on the Point Sur

April 14, 2014 by

The week before spring break, I had the pleasure of going on two class cruises back to back on MLML’s research vessel, the Point Sur. On Monday, I set sail with the biological oceanography class as we went out into the Monterey Bay to do a few CTD casts. The Point Sur is equipped with many oceanographic devices, and one of the most important is the CTD, or conductivity, temperature, and depth sensor. Once the CTD is lowered into the water and through the water column, we can get real-time information about the conditions at each depth.  Surrounding the CTD is a rosette of 12 open bottles that can be triggered to close whenever we desire, so as we pull the device back up and onto the ship, we can also sample seawater at various depths.

Biological oceanography students help deploy the CTD

Biological oceanography students help deploy the CTD

The biological oceanography class was particularly interested in phytoplankton and how they differ among different depths. After collecting water samples from the CTD rosette, several different measurements were made, including ATP concentrations and variable fluorescence through a PAM fluorometer. We also filtered water at each depth so that we could later conduct chromatographic analysis on the pigments found in each sample.

Chemical oceanography students prepare the multi-corer

Chemical oceanography students prepare the multi-corer

The next day, I went out with the chemical oceanography class. Early in the day, we also utilized the CTD to collect water samples at various depths to measure the nitrate, phosphate, and silicate composition at each depth. In addition, we got to deploy the multi-corer, which allowed us to collect sediment samples from the bottom of the ocean. Net tows were done to gather concentrated samples of phytoplankton and zooplankton.

Net tows allowed us to collect concentrated samples of phytoplankton and zooplankton

Net tows allowed us to collect concentrated samples of phytoplankton and zooplankton

A smaller group of students was also selected to launch a small boat from the Point Sur and collect surface water samples.

Launching a small boat from the Point Sur!

Launching a small boat from the Point Sur!

We were fortunate enough to have beautiful weather on both days, resulting in two incredible cruises out in the Monterey Bay. For many students, it was their first opportunity to be aboard the Point Sur, and I’m sure we’re all hoping it wasn’t our last.

MLML goes to Baja – the trip continues

March 17, 2014 by

Jackie Lindsey By Jackie Lindsey, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

For the next two weeks Moss Landing Marine Labs will be a little quieter, and not just because of spring break.  A large class of graduate students has just departed for Baja California Sur for two weeks of field research, and I am lucky to be among them!   Many of us have never been to this part the world, and we are full of hopes and dreams that we can pull off the projects we designed back in the classroom.

El Pardito

El Pardito

We are spending the majority of our trip on a tiny island called El Pardito, located within the Sea of Cortez.  This island is home to a small community of fishermen who have lived on the island for generations.  Many of us are depending heavily on their expertise to set up our projects and navigate the local waters.

Our projects range from mapping benthic habitat, to monitoring Marine Protected Areas, to studies of sea turtles and damselfish. We are spending full days in and on the water around El Pardito, and the weather should be just about perfect (fingers crossed)!

Turtle captures on El Pardito http://www.seaturtle.org/imagelib/?photo=6498

When we get back there will be plenty of pictures to post, commemorating our journey and all our hard work, but for now let me leave you with this image of NOT EVEN ALL OF THE GEAR!  Food, cooking tools, boats, compressors, dive gear, camping gear, sampling gear…the list goes on and on (and on and on).

Sampling gear

Sampling gear

Dive gear explosion

Dive gear explosion

I hope we didn’t forget anything because it’s too late now!  See you in two weeks!

Bon Voyage Baja Class!

March 14, 2014 by

IMG_1245The Marine Operations Building (aka the Firehouse) has been a busy place this morning. The Marine Environmental Studies of the Gulf of California class is staring their journey toward La Paz, Mexico today, eventually landing on a small island called Isla Partida just north of La Paz. Here they will conduct a variety of field research projects including sea floor mapping, fish grazing and artisanal fishing studies as well as fish, seaweed and invertebrate surveys.  Check back in a few weeks for a more detailed account of their adventures!

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Graduate students Dorota Szuta and Devona Yates check dive gear before loading their equipment into one of three vehicles traveling down to Baja California.

Captain Jon Douglas (JD) helps Scott Miller and Evan Mattiasen add a bit of extra space to the boat trailer for more gear.

Captain John Douglas (JD) helps Scott Miller and Evan Mattiasen add a bit of extra space to the boat trailer for more gear.

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Dissecting scope, first aid kit, generator, boat patch kit, FOOD, inflatable boats for diving, transect tapes…the list of supplies seems endless for this 3 week endeavor.

IMG_1256

Clint Collins lashes gear to the roof while Instructor Scott Hamilton and Ashley Wheeler load to food supplies.

Clash of the Titans: Killer Whales vs. Blue Whale

March 10, 2014 by

By Marilyn Cruickshank

With a vast habitat like the ocean, unusual encounters might happen all the time, but our chances of observing them are pretty slim. Last week, the naturalists of Monterey Bay Whale Watch had such a chance, when they spotted a pod of killer whales harassing a juvenile blue whale.

Credit: Monterey Bay Whale Watch

While the interaction didn’t last long, it was clear that members of the pod were rushing the rolling rorqual (baleen whale), as it flung its fluke (tail) into the air. Killer whales, which are actually large dolphins, exhibit similar behavior when they hunt gray whale calves. According to Monterey Bay Whale Watch, such an encounter with a blue whale has never before been recorded in California.

Most of the attack occurred underwater, before the larger whale retreated. It surfaced a quarter of a mile, and then a half a mile away from the killer whale pod, apparently deciding that any food gotten in that area was not worth the hassle. Since even juvenile blue whales can be 50 feet long or more, it is unlikely the pod could have done it serious damage or gotten any nutritional benefit. However, blood was spotted on its fluke, which shows that the interaction was not playful.

BLUE WHALE: TAIL THROWS, after encounter with killer whales! You can see a that the right tip of the right fluke is missing. Photo: Daniel Bianchetta.

BLUE WHALE: TAIL THROWS, after encounter with orcas! You can see a little blood flying off of the right tip of the right fluke; this fluke tip is missing. Photo: Daniel Bianchetta.

While we can only speculate about the reasons for bothering the blue whale, one such might be to practice hunting maneuvers specific to that pod, or to teach younger pod members the ropes. More such encounters would have to be observed before any scientific conclusions could be drawn, but even one helps us learn a little bit more about these amazing creatures.

When we see killer whales doing such things, it’s tempting to think of them as bullies, since they seem to gain no nutritional benefits. However, it is important to remember that such activities help to strengthen social ties within the pod, and that killer whales are wild animals that can’t just go to Safeway if they don’t find food that day. The killer whales are simply doing what they do best- working together to hone their skills as predators in a harsh ocean environment. Even still, it’s good to know that the blue whale got away with little harm, ready to eat tons of krill another day.

If you want to see these and other marine mammal and birds in their natural habitat, you can go to Monterey Bay Whale Watch for more information.

All photos were from Daniel Bianchetta from the Monterey Bay Whale Watch.

Sometimes You Have to Celebrate!

March 5, 2014 by

Back in December 2013 I went on my last sampling bout for my thesis to Santa Catalina Island. My team included three amazing colleagues from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. We conducted surveys in sand and rhodolith beds which will be used to compare the communities. Rhodoliths are free-living calcareous algae that look like little pink tumbleweeds and propagate above sand.

Rhodolith

They appear to provide diverse structure increasing abundance and diversity of flora and fauna, similar to how trees provide habitat for epiphytic plants, climbing vines, and animals like birds and mammals.

Mantis shrimp in a rhodolith bed

A mantis shrimp in the rhodolith bed. They are holding a scallop shell probably found within the bed.  Filamentous red algae is covering the pink rhodoliths.

We conducted surveys to estimate the abundance of macroalgae growing on each substrate, macroinvertebrates, fishes, and took cores for later sorting under a microscope to estimate microinvertebres within each substrate. We celebrated by wearing santa hats which made the long sampling dives more fun. It was a great way to finish up my thesis.

Gabara December 2013 Thesis Team

The Catalina Island December 2013 sampling crew. (from left to right) Sarah Jeffries, Scott Gabara, Will Fennie and Kristin Meagher (taking the photo).

Sarah Jeffries

Sarah Jeffries holding a quadrat and bags filled with core samples, whilst wearing our symbolic santa hat.

Appropriate boat name

An appropriate boat name at Avalon Harbor during my thesis sampling.


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