This portal tracks the research and sea-going activities of the Fisheries Engineering and Acoustic Technologies (FEAT) Team from NOAA¿s Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Follow us as we use acoustics, trawling, and oceanographic sampling to learn about the Northeast Pacific Ocean.
This is Monica Baze,Ph.D. and I am along on the second leg of the Bell M. Shimada Summer 2017 Hake Cruise as the “HABs” scientist. In addition to surveying for hake, our small team is dedicated to surveying the phytoplankton off our coast and monitoring for Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). Specifically, we are paying close attention Pseudo-nitzschia spp., Alexandrium spp., and Dinophysis spp., all of which produce toxins that are harmful to humans and other vertebrates via shellfish and seafood. The team consists of our fearless leader and HABs expert Anthony Odell; stellar student volunteers Alexander Islas, Tracie Barry and Lynn Scamman; and myself, the tag along professor.
While I have a Ph.D. in Ecological/ Evolutionary Biology, the ocean and phytoplankton are not at all my specialty. (My specialty is high altitude physiology in mammals – you couldn’t find a more opposite specialty to marine phytoplankton!) My real job is a biology professor at Grays Harbor College, where I love teaching Introductory Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Ecology courses. So why is a mammal-ecologist-now-teacher playing so far outside of her scientific/ professional sandbox? While doing some educational outreach to our college, I met Anthony Odell. Anthony is the coastal HAB monitoring coordinator for the Olympic Region Harmful Algal Bloom (ORHAB) consortium. His presentations about phytoplankton biology, taxonomy and harmful algal blooms captured the interest of both me and my students. We soon set up a collaboration between ORHAB and Grays Harbor College to make Anthony a permanent presence on our campus. After learning about phytoplankton biology and taxonomy alongside my students for the past two years, I jumped at the opportunity to spend a couple weeks of my summer doing some real science again aboard the Bell M. Shimada.
I am now fascinated with phytoplankton and the role they play in our ocean ecosystem. I love the learning about the role phytoplankton play as the primary producers for the entire ocean, as the producers of 50% of the worlds oxygen, and about their incredibly diversity in form and function. These minute but mighty organisms are so important and fascinating! And as our world changes in climate and temperature, it is important to keep track of the ecological critical species and monitor their populations along our coast. But of even more critical importance is the recent increased frequency of Harmful Algal Blooms. Toxins produced by some phytoplankton bioaccumulate in shellfish and planktivorous fish and have devastating effects on shellfish fisheries and local coastal economies. While recent years has seen an increase in the blooms of these toxic species with warmer water, exactly what makes these species bloom, what makes them produce toxin, and how they spread along the coast is not entirely clear.
So, while everyone else on this vessel is looking for fish with sonar, fishing, and sampling fish along regular transect lines up the coast, the HAB scientist is quietly collecting water samples at predetermined intervals. It can be repetitive work. Every hour we are on transect we take our water samples. The water is filtered for DNA, domoic acid, and chlorophyll; it's frozen for chemical analysis, and of course, we use a phase contrast microscope to determine what species are present. From sun up to sun down, sample, sample, sample, with an occasional break to catch fish. It is a long and busy day - every day - on this boat, but so interesting and a lot of fun. And if I’m lucky, I get to mammal watch with the wet lab folks and even help dissect a few fish. We’ve seen some amazing creatures of the deep come up in the nets, such as a fish they call “King of the Salmon”, Trachipterus altivelis , (an odd looking ribbon fish that is definitely NOT a salmon ), and the huge Robust Clubhook Squid, Onykia robusta. The whale sightings have been amazing, the birding too exceptional, and the occasional sea lion visit to the boat delightful. I am so happy to be a part of this important work. It has been an incredible adventure with some incredible people.
There is only one HAB scientist aboard the Shimada on each leg of this journey. I will soon be replaced by 3 of my most talented former students. And this is what I am most excited about. Nothing gives me greater joy than to see my students find their passion and pursue it with the determination and joy as these three students. Watching them develop in to amazing young scientists has been the greatest adventure. Watch for their stories and the continued adventures of HABs on the Bell M. Shimada! Our group may be minute, but we are mighty!