Week 7: Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Biologist’s Life For Me!

Another fantastic week in Charleston! This week we wrapped up the annual red rock crab tagging survey. We pulled our traps up at the end of the week and put them back into storage. It was crazy how at the beginning of the surveys we were catching on average 60 crabs per trap per day and by the end of the survey we were catching only four or five crabs per trap per day. Some of this was in part to our friendly neighborhood harbor seals that would ram our traps to get the bait and make it easier for crabs to escape. However, that is not the only reason behind the poor crabbing and that is the mystery we are now tasked with solving.

One of the last red rocks we marked.

The first part of the week was mainly data entry and analysis. Scott has been teaching me the magical world of Access and R throughout my time at the ODFW and this week put those skills to the test. Access is a Microsoft database program that allows us to better organize our data and create queries that can be used to table data in a form that is easier to analyze. We then use the program R to analyze all the data we’ve put into Access. R has a pretty steep learning curve and as someone with no experience with coding or programming I feel like what I’ve learned so far has been pretty extensive. It’s exciting to see data you’ve collected turn into readable and meaningful graphs.

Scott has also been putting my ArcGIS skills to good use. Scott is creating urchin harvest reports for the ODFW and has been using ArcGIS to analyze the data spatially. Between the two of us we were able to figure out some cool ways to map and analyze the urchin data.

On Thursday, Scott, Nick, and I felt we had enough of our share of office work for this week and decided it would be a perfect day to go fishing. I had never gone fishing in the open ocean before so to say I was excited was an understatement! Within an hour of being out to sea I had caught my first fish: a black rockfish. We were “bottom fishing” which is exactly what it sounds like: fishing along the ocean floor. The trick with bottom fishing is not catching on the bottom, which even experienced fishermen often have trouble with. Once you catch the sea bed there is a lot of organized chaos with unhooking yourself—jerking your line up hard in various directions and trying not to snap it—and an equal amount of shaking your fist at the ocean.


My mighty black rockfish!

Friday we took out the ODFW’s boat, Ophiodon, to release some basket stars the invertebrate biology professor wanted returned to sea, as well as to collect some spatial data on sport crabbing. When returning basket stars to sea you must first burp them by gently pressing on their disk. Air often gets trapped inside of basket stars which will cause them to float at the surface and will inevitably be eaten by gulls and other hungry sea birds; burping them ensures a (somewhat) safe journey to the ocean floor.

After returning the basket stars we began our data collection. We drove the Ophiodon throughout Coos Bay marking waypoints on the boat’s GPS where we found sport crab gear. We collect this data in order to be able to make informed decisions when companies want to alter the habitat, such as dredge it, so we can be aware of how much sport crabbing we would be affected.

And though only two days at sea isn’t really enough to determine whether I get seasick or not, I am happy to report that seasickness has not been an issue thus far! I’m so happy to finally to be getting my sea legs!

Returning basket stars to their deep sea home.

Saturday I went with a few students from OIMB to go hiking at Gold and Silver Falls. It was unbelievably beautiful. We first hiked to Silver Falls which was my favorite of the two because we were able to play under the waterfall! Gold Falls was also pretty amazing, as the trail leads you to the top of the waterfall and you can look over the edge, which was a surreal experience. We also took it upon ourselves to go off the beaten path and explore some unmarked areas; I definitely improved upon my climbing abilities during this hike! As always, with the end of this week I’ve been left exhausted but completely happy. Until next week!


Silver Falls

Playing underneath Silver Falls!

Third Week’s The Charm!

Hello again!

With the holiday weekend over I must say I’m exhausted. I’m not sure where the week went! This past week at the ODFW was all about starting up our annual red rock crab surveys. Monday, Jim and I set eight crab pots off the docks of the small boat basin of Coos Bay. We filled them with leftover fish fillets thrown away by fishermen and boy, did they smell gnarly! We let them soak overnight and have been checking them daily in the mornings.

Past surveys have shown that basin is comprised of mainly Dungeness and red rock crabs. We have been measuring the carapace length and taking weights of whole (no appendages missing) Dungeness crabs. For red rock crabs we have quite the laundry list of tasks to perform and data to collect. Red rock crabs are weighed, carapace length is measured, and we check and account for missing appendages and determine the sex of the crab. We then tag the crab with a t-bar tag that includes an individual identification number that we can use for mark-recapture studies. We also clip the eighth carapace spine on the right-hand side to help compensate for tag loss. If a crab is a recapture we note that as well. Flyers are posted around the boat basin that encourages people to call in recreational recaptured red rock crabs with incentive of a prize. This is done to monitor removal of red rock crabs from the small boat basin. We hope to use this annual project to predict red rock population size and variability over years, as well as to monitor and analyze red rock crab recruitment.

My mentor's sense of humor always keeps me on my toes!

My mentor’s sense of humor always keeps me on my toes!

And let me tell you, if you have never handled a crab you are in for a surprise. Watching my mentor work up crabs made it all seem very easy and effortless, but in reality there is an art to avoiding being pinched. Dungeness crabs will make your extremities sting for a short while, but get your hand caught in the grips of red rock chelae and you are in for a painful crush. However, I am slowly trying to master the art.

This week we also had the day off for the Fourth of July. OIMB held a lovely picnic overlooking the ocean on Cape Arago. The food was amazing: grilled oysters, BBQ tuna, hotdogs, and endless desserts. A few friends and I headed over to South Cove after lunch where we were lucky enough to spy a grey whale swimming fairly close to shore. We also found a washed up juvenile salmon shark with quite the chunk taken out of his left side. In the evening, we hiked down to Pirate’s Cove where we sat up on the rock faces that overlooked Bastendorf Beach and watched the locals set off some impressive fireworks.

Hiking up and down to get to Pirate's Cove: no easy feat!

Hiking up and down to get to Pirate’s Cove: no easy feat!

In addition to the fun of field work and number crunching, I like to try something new each week. This week my friend, Jaron, taught me how to long board. My balance was great but my coordination was what onlookers could call, well, “lacking”. But after a couple hours I was zooming around without falling, a success in my books! It was so much fun and I am definitely going to continue practicing.

Each week here brings so much excitement! Can’t wait to see what this week has in store!

Long boarding for the first time

Long boarding for the first time