Coastal Students Head Out to Sea on the R/V Oceanus

By Tiffany Woods from Oregon Sea Grant

NEWPORT, Ore. – High school and college students and a science teacher will learn to conduct research at sea Sept. 12-15 aboard a ship operated by Oregon State University.

The three high schoolers boarding the Oceanus are from Newport, Waldport and North Bend. The teacher, Carisa Ketchen, is from Toledo Jr/Sr High School. They will be joined by two undergraduates from OSU and Oregon Coast Community College as well as three OSU graduate students. The graduate students – two of whom have been on research cruises before – will serve as mentors for the other students.

Participants will learn about marine-related careers, what it’s like to live and work at sea, and how to work as a team to accomplish a variety of research tasks, said Tracy Crews, who manages Oregon Sea Grant’s marine education program and is coordinating everyone’s participation in the cruise.

“We’re trying to get the next generation of researchers excited to join the ranks,” she added.

The lead researchers will be Leigh Torres, a marine mammals scientist with Oregon Sea Grant and the OSU Extension Service; Sarah Henkel a seafloor ecologist in OSU’s College of Science; and Jessica Porquez, a seabird researcher at OSU.

The cruise, which will depart from and return to Newport, is funded by the Oceangoing Research Vessel Program at OSU, Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

The students will learn to collect sediment and animals from the ocean floor at a future wave energy test site off the coast of Newport. The goal is to collect baseline data to see how conditions might change over time after the wave energy devices are operating.

Coastal students and teachers participating on the 2018 research cruise deploy a CTD.

The students will also learn to collect plankton and to deploy equipment that records oceanographic data at different depths. They will also identify and count seabirds and marine mammals off the Oregon coast, with the aim of correlating their distribution to oceanic conditions and the location of prey. Additionally, the students will learn how researchers use camera-equipped drones to film whales. Torres hopes to launch a small boat from the Oceanus to collect whale poop. The samples would later be analyzed in a lab to understand the whales’ diet and stress levels.

“Since blue whales are being seen in significant numbers, we are hoping to encounter them in addition to gray whales and humpbacks,” Crews said.

The crew will also launch an unmanned, 5 ½-foot sailboat built and decorated by students at the Career Tech High School in Lincoln City. It contains a GPS unit that will allow students to track the boat’s location. The aim is to for students to monitor forecasted wave and wind conditions and predict where the boat will go. A note inside with contact information will encourage anyone who might find the boat to correspond with the students at Career Tech.

The students on the cruise will write about their experiences on the Oregon Coast STEM Hub’s blog and on its Facebook page.

This will be the third year that faculty with Oregon Sea Grant have led cruises on the Oceanus for students and teachers. Crews and Torres led expeditions in 2016 and 2018.

This project, entitled “Diversifying the STEM Pipeline through Oceangoing Research and Near-Peer Mentoring”, is led by Tracy Crews of Oregon Sea Grant. Funding is provided by the Oceangoing Research Vessel Program at OSU, Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

Big Questions

Hello everyone, my name is Andy Bedingfield, and the following is a journal style blog of my science adventures at sea on the Research Vessel Atlantis. My goal is to capture what it is like to live and work onboard a scientific research vessel. In My blog posts, I will talk about the science mission we are on as well as what it is like to live, eat and sleep on a moving hunk of steel in the middle of ocean with 50 of your new best friends. 

Andy Bedingfield
Andy Bedingfield

SETTING THE STAGE, July 13, 2019
By Andy Bedingfield

I am a high school science teacher, and I was lucky to receive a research experience for teachers (RET) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to have an at-sea experience on the R/V Atlantis. My goal for this trip is to learn as much as I can about the science and lifestyle that goes on in an NSF funded oceanographic research cruise. When I get back to land I will turn everything I know into a learning experience for middle and high school students.

planktonic baby fish

We are going to sea for two weeks to study plankton and neuston. Anything that is alive and drifts through the ocean is considered plankton. This word comes from the Greek word for wanderer. Plankton can range from single cell viruses and bacteria, to tiny plants, to tiny complex animals like baby fish. If it is in the ocean, is alive, and can’t swim against the ocean’s current, it is plankton. Neuston (one of the new words I learned on this cruise), have pretty much the same definition, but with the caveat that they only live on the surface of the water right were the ocean meets the air. The word neuston comes from the Greek word for swimmer.

At its heart, science is about answering questions by collecting data (information) and then using that data to figure out how something works. The big question that we are trying answer on this cruise is:

How are the plankton and neuston populations faring as humans have a larger and larger impact on the environment?

To accomplish this, we need fully understand their lifecycles and look for long term changes over the years.

We are collecting data in two locations: off Newport, Oregon, and off Trinidad Head in Northern California. In both of these locations, we sail east and west along a line known as a transect. Scientific studies have been done on these same transects for years. This is a good example of scientists controlling variables. If we just wondered around the ocean collecting samples in different places, it would be really hard to see if there was an increase or a decrease in plankton populations over time.

Screen shot of Ship Tracker showing how the R/V Atlantis moves along a transect line
Visit Ship Tracker to see how the R/V Atlantis is moving along a transect line.

There are five ways we will be collecting data on this research cruise:

  • MOCNESS (multiple opening and closing net and environmental sampling system): a multiple opening net system that allows us to catch our study subjects and bring them on board. With this system there are two sets of nets with different mesh sizes, MOC 1 is 333 microns, MOC 4 is 1000 microns. In addition to the nets this system collects data about the water such as temperature, salinity, and depth. This device is lowered to 100 meters while the ship is moving very slowly, about 2 miles an hour. When we send it over the side, the first net, called net zero is open. Once the net gets to 100 meters, we close net zero and open net one, and then bring it up to 75 meters. At 75 meters we close net one and open net two, and then bring it up to 50 meters, and so on until we reach the surface. Once we get the net system back on board, which in itself is a complex and dangerous operation, we take the all of the samples on board sort them into jars and preserve them in ethanol for later analysis.
  • ISIIS (in situ ichthyoplankton imaging system): an underwater high definition camera system that we tow through the water. In plain language this is an underwater camera system (imaging system) designed to take pictures of baby fish (ichthyoplankton) where they live (in situ).
  • A neuston net system: a single opening net system that sits right on the surface to collect neuston as we tow it through the water. Neuston are what the we call any plants or animals the inhabit the surface of the water. We tow this through the water at a slow speed. I sits right on top as it is towed and looks like a manta ray.
  • CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) device: this gets dropped straight over the side while we are stationary. This system is measuring these parameters in real time, and it also has 24 bottles that can be open and closed automatically. This way scientists can collect water samples at different depths and bring them back to the lab for analysis.
  • A vertical net: this also looks like a wind sock. This net is dropped down to 100 meters and pulled back up to the surface while the ship is stationary.

The data collected by these instruments will help answer big Science Questions posed by researchers. One question is:

What is the interaction between the different types of plankton and their food (which is also mostly other plankton)?

The specialized MOCNESS has multiple nets that can be opened and closed, enabling the crew to take samples at different depths. This issue with this method, though, is that if you drag the net for a 1000 meters, you smash everything in that stretch together. The baby fish can’t really swim against ocean currents and neither can their food. They are both at the mercy of the current. This fact determines if we consider them plankton or not. When you pull up your net, you may see food and baby fish, but you don’t really know if the food was close enough to the baby fish for them to eat it.


That’s where the ISIIS system comes into play. This is basically a high definition camera system we tow behind the boat which takes photo images of plankton in the water column. In the old days, graduate students used to look at thousands of images and count critters by hand, but now this is done automatically using a very smart computer system. With this system, researchers know not only how many baby fish are in the water and how much food, but where they are located in relation to each other.

My job on board will be two help the science crew (a mix of college professors, post docs, graduate students and one undergraduate student) work on the deck collecting the samples and running the equipment outlined above. 

Andy Bedingfield teaches Science at Taft 7-12 High School in Lincoln City and is part of the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program on the R/V Atlantis cruise taking place July 13-27, 2019.

Firing the engine of wonder

TWO high school teachers from the Oregon Coast are participating in the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program on board the R/V Atlantis this month. See other posts in this series

Not only are two high school science teachers from the Oregon Coast on board the R/V Atlantis right now, but also the managing editor for the Newport News Times. The newspaper is running a series of reports about the research cruise as it unfolds, and the first article features Taft High School science teacher Andy Bedingfield:

The scientific stakes are high, but Bedingfield’s mission is more personal and comes down to the individual Taft High School chemistry students who he will try to draw into a net of wonder.

– Bret Yager, Newport News Times, July 16, 2019

Read the full article: Science at Sea: A net full of wonder

More News Times articles about this cruise:

The RET program enabling coastal teachers to participate in this cruise is sponsored by the Oregon Coast STEM Hub and the Hatfield Marine Science Center and funded by the National Science Foundation.

Day Three on the R/V Atlantis

Calan Taylor is a high school teacher participating in the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program on board the R/V Atlantis. See other posts in this series using the navigation tools at right.

DAY THREE July 16, 2019
By Calan Taylor

Second night at sea went well. I always sleep better on boats. The coziness of the rack (that’s what a bed is called on a working ship) coupled with the rhythm of the waves rocks you like a baby in a womb. I ended yesterday with a workout at the “Gym,” which is a modified storage room in the bow of the ship. I thought I’d be alone, but was actually joined by Jami (the lab director from Hatfield), her sister (a nuclear physicist from the Sandia Lab in Albuquerque), and Ronnie (the Bosun/Deck Boss) They suggested that we all do “a light insanity workout together”. It went about how you’d expect…not light. The interesting part was doing burpees and plyometrics on the bow of a moving ship. After dinner I watched part of Good Will Hunting with some of the crew, then went for a tour of the Bridge which was impressive and expansive. The first time I’ve ever seen the bridge on a big ship. Fun fact? The 278ft ship was built in Mississippi in the mid 90’s, gets 10 gallons to the mile (not a typo), and is actually a Navy vessel (which explains the wild interior layout reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg Machine).

This morning we commenced with our first transect by launching ISIIS (In Situ Ichthioplankton Imaging System) which is basically a fancy submersible with advanced imaging capabilities. The ROV is driven between depths of 100-0 meters every 20 minutes as the ship crosses the transect at 5 knots heading east to west. There are fiber optics in the core of the cable that tethers ISIS so that real time data can be communicated to the onboard lab. There are two cameras (which use shadow imaging similar to the old slide shows from my childhood) to capture 60 and 100 Frames Per Second of plankton ranging from 400 micrometers up to 50-60 mm, respectively. The shadow imaging allows the cameras to collect images across a relatively large depth of field which is important for two reasons. First, there’s a lot of empty space, and second, data on spatial relationships between organisms can be collected.

ISIIS on the ship's deck
ISIIS on deck

There are 3 stations that we rotate through at roughly 20-30 minutes. The first job is on the back deck running the winch by either paying out or hauling in cable at speeds of 20-50 cm/sec depending on instructions received from the lab. This job looks easy until you actually get behind the joystick and realize how touchy it is. The second job is called “Flying ISIIS” which sounds like something you’d do in a Drone over Yemen but actually involves monitoring speed over water of the ROV in the lab and communicating instructions to adjust winch speeds to the operator on deck. At this station you also monitor salinity/conductivity, dissolved oxygen, Fluorescence/PAR (Which are proxies for photosynthesis), density, and salinity. The final job is watching the stream of real time data and annotating “Events” which are just things that look interesting such as fish larva or other rarer organisms. Since there are literally millions of slides being collected, most analysis will be done with AI, but potentially interesting events noted and time-stamped in the journal can be revisited for closer inspection by students or citizen scientists down the road. The cool thing about this job is that you are literally flying through the ocean passing millions of critters that look like something out of The Abyss in real time.

ISIIS in the water
ISIIS in the water

So that’s about it for today, I have one more shift at each station starting shortly, then a workout, dinner, and back to the rack. Looking forward to reading some more and maybe watching a movie.

Calan Taylor teaches Physics, Chemistry, and Physical Science at Bandon High School and is part of the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program on the R/V Atlantis cruise taking place July 13-27, 2019.

Day Two on the R/V Atlantis

Calan Taylor is a high school teacher participating in the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program on board the R/V Atlantis. See other posts in this series using the navigation tools at right.

DAY TWO: July 15, 2019
By Calan Taylor

Stayed up too late reading. It’s easy to lose track of time on a big ship with few portholes and lots of fluorescent lights. I spoke with Melissa during breakfast. Until last year, she was a teacher and Athletic Director at Waldport High School (In the Sunset League with Bandon) and is now working on her Post Bach/Masters at Portland State. The breadth of representation onboard is impressive. The 21 folks on the science team (of which Andy and I are included) represent 5 academic institutions (UO, OSU, Portland State, Humboldt State, and UW) along with two NOAA labs, an artist from Sitka, the head of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, and the chief editor from the Newport News Times.

The day has been filled with safety/conduct meetings in the morning and scientific briefings in the afternoon. Highlights of the morning included abandon ship drills, emergency protocols, shipboard procedures and expectations, and various other general info. It was interesting to watch 20 people in various stages of sea sickness/scopolamine stupor-struggle into survival suits on a moving vessel. I felt fortunate for having had so much practice on F/V Chasina in the past.

In the afternoon we learned about the overarching goals of the research, which are to compare trophic webs in two locations. The first transect will be off of Trinity Head in Northern California where upwelling conditions are prevalent throughout the year. The second is off of Newport Oregon where upwelling conditions are seasonal, occurring mostly in the summer months. By sampling in winter and summer, they hope to address questions of how trophic relationships and spatial distributions of phytoplankton, zooplankton, and mesoplankton are affected by wind/upwelling conditions in the two locations.

One of the things that is most impressive is the amount of resources that are going into the project. To begin, it costs around $55,000 per day to operate the ship. This does not include the HOV ALVIN which is aboard, but not a part of this research. Second, each piece of equipment is a state of the art, one off, that must be handled with precision and care in potentially challenging ocean conditions. A good example is the MOCNESS (Multiple Opening and Closing Net Environmental Sampling System) which is basically a mid-water trawl similar to what you’d see in commercial fishing, but modified to catch organisms in the 100 micron range. It opens and closes five separate nets at discrete depth intervals of 20 meters, ranging from the surface to 100 meters deep.

MOCNESS in the water

We will work round the clock in two teams 12 hours on and 12 hours off.  I have been assigned the 3am-3pm shift and we will begin tomorrow morning. I’m looking forward to seeing how this whole operation functions. First though, I’m going to head up to the weight room and get a workout.

Calan Taylor teaches Physics, Chemistry, and Physical Science at Bandon High School and is part of the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program on the R/V Atlantis cruise taking place July 13-27, 2019. Where is the R/V Atlantis now?

Day One on the R/V Atlantis

Calan Taylor is a high school teacher participating in the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program on board the R/V Atlantis. See other posts in this series using the navigation tools at right.

Calan Taylor

Calan Taylor

DAY ONE: July 14, 2019
By Calan Taylor

First day on R/V Atlantis is coming to a close and I’m settled in. I showed up early and tried to check in to the wrong boat (an OSU research vessel that was docked next to the Atlantis). My wife was convinced that had to be the boat because, “The Atlantis is too nice and too big…it’s got to be the smaller one.” So I walked out the dock and introduced myself to the wrong crew who looked at me a bit bewildered… “We’re deadheading to San Diego,” they said, and pointed me in the direction of Atlantis.

R/V Atlantis at the dock

R/V Atlantis

I had expected to encounter a strict set of codes/restrictions/protocols while on the boat, but the reality was much more relaxed. The crew showed me to my cabin which was nicer than I expected and then invited me to explore the ship on my own. I spent the next hour wandering around and getting lost. There are 6 levels on Atlantis and a maze of corridors that are a bit confusing. Eventually I ended up on the back deck talking to Will and Megan about their work. Will studies rockfish development and recruitment and is looking at how environmental conditions affect individuals with different growth rates. Apparently rockfish have their babies near shore but they quickly wash out to sea as larvae where they eat plankton for about a year until they are big enough to move back to the coastal regions and start preying on small fish. By counting and measuring the rings in its ear bone, he is able to see how old a juvenile fish is (in days) and how fast it is growing. Megan specializes in Ling Cod and may have some opportunities for my students and I to help her collect data from a SMURF (which is a buoy-like data collection device) that they have anchored off shore in Port Orford. Apparently she has trouble finding volunteers to work in “remote locations like Port Orford”, so we can potentially add value there. The work would involve taking a small skiff out to the offshore buoy and then free-diving on the smurf to collect samples. Sounds like some serious aquanaut stuff right? Sign me up.

R/V Atlantis

R/V Atlantis

I ate lunch and dinner on board and was really impressed with the food. I had lunch with Kelly (a University of Oregon Professor) and Andy (the other RET Teacher). At dinner I sat with Bob (who is the director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center) and Sue (who runs the lab that Will and Megan work for). I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth and cordiality I received from everyone I met today. Although I had thought the boat was leaving today, it turns out we will stay in port until 7am tomorrow. We will then run south to Trinidad California and start our first transect.

After dinner (which was served at 5pm) the boat got super quiet. Most of the scientists are local so they went home to sleep in their own beds another night. I was about to head to my cabin and get back into my book when Will asked me if I wanted to go surfing. He was nice enough to loan me a board and suit and we paddled out at South Beach for a couple hours. Small summer fun, with whales spouting just off shore.

Alvin submersible

Alvin submersible

When I returned to Atlantis, I struck up a conversation with Lance, an able-bodied seaman and deckhand. He had worked in the same Southeast Alaska Salmon fishery as I had so we found we had a lot in common. He gave me a brief tour of the ALVIN submarine. Fewer than 10,000 people have ever dove in it, and he is one of them. Lance told me some cool stories about deep sea octopus, sea pigs, and other strange creatures he had encountered at 9,000 feet. We also talked a lot about his job as a deckhand on the vessel. 3 months on 3 months off…Not a bad gig. It’s always fun to find out about careers that you hadn’t considered, or even known existed.

Looking forward to tomorrow…and the open ocean.

Calan Taylor teaches Physics, Chemistry, and Physical Science at Bandon High School and is part of the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program on the R/V Atlantis cruise taking place July 13-27, 2019.

Where is the R/V Atlantis now?

Research Experiences for Teachers

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to join a marine science research expedition?

For the next thirteen days the Oregon Coast STEM Hub blog will be highlighting the experience of two coastal Oregon science teachers at sea: Calan Taylor and Andy Bedingfield. Calan and Andy are part of a Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The goal of the program is to improve science educators’ general knowledge and research skills by exposing them to research. This RET program is sponsored by the Oregon Coast STEM Hub and the Hatfield Marine Science Center.


The Ship

R/V Atlantis

From July 13-27, 2019, two RETs from the Oregon Coast will join researchers at sea on board the Research Vessel Atlantis. The R/V Atlantis is an oceanographic research vessel owned by the US Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) fleet. Unique to the Atlantis is the fact that it is the only ship outfitted to launch Alvin –  the first deep-sea submersible capable of taking crew down to the ocean floor.

The Teachers

Calan Taylor – Bandon, OR

Calan Taylor

Mr. Calan Taylor

Calan Taylor teaches Physics, Chemistry, and Physical Science at Bandon High School and assists with his school’s Surfrider club. He has been teaching high school science for 15 years in Oregon, first at Kalapuya High School in Eugene – where he taught Ecology and Natural Resource Management – and for the past 2 years at Bandon. He has a lifelong passion for Marine Ecology that started early, growing up living on sailboats, first in Massachusetts, and later in Port Townsend, WA. When he was ten years old his family attempted to sail around the world. Although they never made it past the Society Islands, he was able to spend over two years diving, fishing and sailing in some of the richest coral ecosystems on the planet. This included a month and a half on Palmyra Atoll.

After high school Calan became a commercial fisherman and spent eight years working on salmon seiners in Southeast Alaska. His skipper had a degree in Marine Biology so he was lucky enough to learn his perspective on balancing resource management and sustainable harvests. In addition to working and living on boats, Calan spends most of his free time and money traveling to explore the surf, giving Calan first-hand experience with an array of coastal marine conservation issues.

Andy Bedingfield – Lincoln City, OR

Man holding fish

Mr. Andy Bedingfield

Andy Bedingfield has two master’s degrees: One in chemistry, and one in education. Andy worked as a research and development chemist at the Willamette Valley Company for seven years before serving four years as the Director of Outreach, Education, and Diversity for the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry. Since 2014, he has taught high school science at Taft High School in Lincoln City.

What you may not know about Andy is that he was a professional freestyle whitewater kayaker from 1998-2003, winning the Whitewater Freestyle World Championships in Taupo, New Zealand in 1999 and in Sort, Spain in Squirt Boating in 2001.

Photos of 13 people posing with kayaks

Can you find Mr. Bedingfield in the kayak?

Coming up next…

Stay tuned for a post about the first day of the cruise… from a teacher’s perspective!

Snow Doesn’t Stop Motivated Teachers

By Jaime Belanger

Snow doesn’t stop motivated teachers from heading to the estuary!

Teachers pull in a netWhat kinds of science can you study during the winter on the Oregon coast? Nine teachers braved the heavy gray skies, icy passes and a assortment of precipitation to find out. In mid-February the group of educators spent three days immersed in learning about ocean acidification and climate science at the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Charleston. Elementary, middle and high school teachers of science, social studies, library and media and environmental education attended a Teachers on the Estuary (TOTE) workshop. The Reserve used the phenomenon of ocean acidification as an anchor to explore causes and effects of changing atmosphere on estuaries and oceans.

teachers look in microscopesDuring the workshop, teachers participated in classroom activities and field work to tackle the complexities of climate change and ocean acidification. Understanding the science behind these issues is difficult, and educators often face additional challenges when teaching about climate change due to external factors that influence student thinking like political polarization, media bias or personal values. Workshop participants learned ways to make ocean acidification, the carbon cycle and pH more tangible and relevant to their students. In addition, they had opportunities to discuss obstacles they face in their teaching, and methods to help address some of those problems.

The teachers examined water quality trends from South Slough with Ali Helms, the Reserve’s Estuarine and Monitoring coordinator. They discussed anomalies in estuarine pH as well as recent issues with eel grass declines.

TOTE teachers on deckThe Reserve’s Education Coordinator, Jaime Belanger, believes the best way to understand and connect with a place is full immersion, so she took the teachers out on a research cruise with Captain Knute, aboard the UO Oregon Institute of Marine Biology’s R/V Pluteus. Teachers collected plankton, measured water quality, examined benthic samples and observed the diverse wildlife that call the estuary home.

The group also had a unique opportunity to hear from Oregon State University PhD candidate Brian Erickson, who has reviewed an immense collection of ocean acidification resources, taught in classrooms and developed a curriculum for classroom teachers.

teacher presentsFinally, they spent a morning working through some exercises with artist and ocean historian Samm Newton. Samm asked the teachers to dig into the questions “what do we know,” “how do we know it,” and “why do we care.” Then they worked as a group to identify ways that environmental arts and humanities could strengthen ocean acidification lessons.

Teachers on the Estuary (TOTEs) are professional development workshops offered by National Estuarine Research Reserves designed to provide hands-on experience in estuary science concepts that can be applied in the classroom. Participating in a TOTE allows educators to explore coastal habitats and conduct field investigations, learn from local scientists and experienced coastal educators.

“It truly felt like a deep dive and it will definitely impact my teaching significantly.”

teachers on deck

“There was a lot of variety; lectures, speakers, activities, field trip, boat excursion, group work and art. Which kept the pacing lively and engaging.”


The next climate TOTE workshop at South Slough will be held Jun 19-22. For more information and to register, visit the Eventbrite site

Jaime Belanger is the Education Coordinator for the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Charleston, OR. In addition to providing professional development workshops for educators, she develops and leads students on field experiences at the Reserve throughout the year, and also works with teachers and students at their schools. South Slough NERR and UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology are partners in the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

Drones, Plankton, and Orcas: Day Four on the Oceanus

By Sara Pursel
Science Teacher at Taft High School in Lincoln City, OR

This post is part of a series about the 2018 STEM research cruise taking place this week on board the R/V Oceanus. Other posts in this series include a report from PI Tracy Crews on Day One and Day Three, and a post from high school student Alishia Keller from Day Two.

Drone footage captures data about whales

Wednesday was our fourth and final day conducting the research portion of the Oceanus STEM cruise. We began in the morning off the coast of Washington, surveying for marine mammals as both the wind and weather were cooperating for visibility. The goal of the day was to get additional drone footage of the Humpback whales as they surfaced. Fairly early in the day we encountered a group of at least five individual whales and were able to successfully complete two drone flights to obtain footage of the animals. Our drone operator recently graduated from the Drone Academy at Career Tech High School with his pilot’s license and has been collaborating with the chief scientist onboard, Dr. Leigh Torres, to capture overflight video of whale for photogrammetry analysis, which helps assess body condition or overall health.

During one early whale sighting, we also had a solitary sea lion and a sea turtle right in front of the bow of the ship. The sea bird activity picked up as well, demonstrating how cold Pacific Northwest waters provide a favorable habitat for many types of marine animals.

Before lunch we conducted another plankton tow in order to obtain some samples to help with the education outreach effort that will be happening once we dock in Portland. While we didn’t catch as much in volume compared with the night tows, one of the students on board did attach a camera to view the organisms entering the tow net. The tow brought up a jelly with a bell size of approximately 18 cm (7 inches) in diameter as well as more krill, copepods (tiny crustaceans), a ctenophore (comb jelly), amphipods (more tiny crustaceans), a siphonophore (also related to jellies), and several other species. The video footage of the tow captured the jelly, ctenophore, and many other interesting images, including the flow meter stopping and starting as the ship moved over the ocean swells.

Sampling planktonAs we made our way south towards Oregon waters, three Orcas (killer whales) crossed our path and we diverted our trip to observe the animals for a while. I was working on this blog post when the boat stopped suddenly and several of us raced outside after putting on our PFDs (personal flotation devices – safety first) to get a glimpse of the animals. The head marine mammal researcher identified one adult male and hypothesized the other two were possibly juvenile males given their size. Most of the rest of the day was spent cleaning up, sharing files of data, pictures, and videos, and preparing for the next two days in Portland.

Marine education has been a passion of mine since I was a kid, and this experience has given me a new perspective and appreciation of what researchers do to gather data. While on the ship I have been sharing brief stories and a few pictures and videos with my students back home and have had a chance to answer some of their questions regarding equipment and marine life. I’ve learned so much on this research cruise that I can share with my students for years to come, and I will be able to connect them with researchers and opportunities in the future thanks to my time here.



Sara Pursel teaches science at Lincoln County School District’s Taft High School in Lincoln City, Oregon. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology with Chemistry minor, and a Masters of Education degree. In addition to joining this STEM research cruise, Sara has participated Oregon Coast STEM Hub professional development trainings and has checked out materials from the STEM Hub resource trailer.

Shipboard Experience on the Oceanus

By Tracy Crews

Surveying the horizon for marine mammals and seabirds

Surveying the horizon for marine mammals and seabirds

This weekend, a science party of 13 researchers, students, and teachers gathered aboard Oregon State University’s research vessel, the Oceanus, to begin a four-day research cruise aimed at providing mentoring and career connections at sea. The team mission is to conduct marine mammal and sea bird surveys and correlate sightings with oceanographic data and prey distribution. Participants in this cruise include high school teachers and students from Bandon High School, Taft High School in Lincoln City, and Warrenton High School, as well as college students from Southwestern Oregon Community College, Oregon Coast Community College and Oregon State University.

Deploying the CTD

Deploying the CTD

While adapting to life at sea, these teachers and students are learning to handle lines and deploy oceanographic equipment, how to identify marine mammals, seabirds, and plankton. They aren’t just observers but active participants in the science party, operating critical equipment, including hydraulics and data collection systems.

The first day we experienced sunshine and many successes.  Participants mastered their seasickness, and went on to deploy and retrieve plankton nets and CTDs. The abundance and types of plankton (small floating plants and animals) captured in the fine-mesh nets, and the physical parameters of conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth measured by the CTDs will help researchers characterize the water column.

In addition, we surveyed over a dozen humpback whales and numerous porpoises, and used a drone to capture video footage of a humpback whale from above. The video data will help researchers from OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute assess the whale’s body condition, an indicator of overall health.

Life on the water is often exhausting, and after a 14 hour day, we are all ready for some much needed sleep. Laying in our bunks as we are rocked to sleep, we dream of what tomorrow will bring.


Tracy Crews is the Marine Education Program Manager for Oregon Sea Grant, the Student STEM Experiences Coordinator for the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, and the Principal Investigator for the STEM research cruise taking place this week on the R/V Oceanus.

This cruise is funded by Oregon Legislative funds with additional support from Oregon Sea Grant and Oregon State University. Track the R/V Oceanus at, and see more photos of this expedition on the Oregon Coast STEM Hub Facebook page.