The little ROVs that could

by Veronica Padula

I felt like a little kid on Christmas when I opened the white box that said OpenROV. Inside that box was a kit that, when assembled, would become a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). ROVs are little robots that can be driven remotely to explore and capture images of the mysterious underwater world. For those who can’t SCUBA dive but want to see more of what lies beneath the surface, ROVs open the door to that world by capturing photos and video of things that live under the sea.

Plus, there were extra special surprises in the box: a red knit beanie with the OpenROV logo embroidered onto it, which made me feel like we were stepping into a scene from The Life Aquatic, and stickers! The stickers were my favorite part.

ROVs have been used by marine scientists for decades but are now becoming more accessible to the public for exploring the depths of the ocean. Photo credit:

We had actually received two OpenROV kits, and I was tasked with transporting the kits from Anchorage to St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea. They were a generous gift from the manager of the Trident Seafoods plant, Bill Briggs. The new instruments are meant for students to use to collect data as part of citizen science projects. I gave Bill one of the red beanies, which I think looks great on him, but I can’t wait to show him the video and photos that come from driving the ROVs around St. Paul harbor, the salt lagoon, and other unexplored territory.

ROV pieces_photo by Veronica Padula

So many pieces!

Our plan was to host an ROV Builder Club, where people from the St. Paul community could come together one night a week over the course of the summer to construct these ROVs. I was supposed to lead the ROV construction and sincerely wish I could say I have lots of experience with building things like ROVs, but sadly I do not. Luckily, Mr. Mac, Walt, and Jacob came to the rescue, contributing their knowledge and expertise to the ROV construction. Kids joined us too, including Zoe, Kadyn, Til, and Brynn.

ROV inventory_photo by Veronica Padula

Jacob and Zoe work together to make sure we have all the parts we need.

It was wonderful to have folks of all ages joining our builder group, and the kids learned a great deal from the adults in our group, including patience. While kids wanted to just jump in and glue all the pieces together, I wanted to go through the entire kit and match every piece of construction material to the pictures in the manual so we were absolutely certain we had everything. You see, while living on St. Paul Island is amazing, sometimes it takes packages a while to reach us. So, if we had to order any parts for our kit, we definitely had to do it at the beginning of the process, because otherwise we would be stalled in our construction.

Team effort_photo by Veronica Padula

This was a team effort!

I had fun watching the kids match the ROV casing’s acrylic shapes to the pictures in the manual. It definitely tested my spatial awareness and likely tested theirs as well. They worked together to identify all the pieces of the kit. Gluing the acrylic pieces together was not an easy task, because we had to make sure the puzzle pieces fit together perfectly. The seals need to be water tight so that seawater doesn’t leak into the ROV and destroy the electronic bits and pieces that make it function. Luckily we had several people on our team who meticulously glued the parts together, so fingers crossed that the seals are water tight!


Kadyn and Walt glue wires down and make sure everything is water tight.

While we have the ROVs mostly built, we are troubleshooting some technical hiccups with the batteries. Thankfully we have a dedicated team of builders that will fix these glitches so they are ready for their maiden voyages. I can’t wait to see the excitement on all the kids’ faces when we drop the little robots in the water for the first time and watch them sink away from us, disappearing into the depths of the ocean. Operating the ROV is a job for video-game aficionados, because we are using a video game controller as the remote driving apparatus for the robot. I just hope that our first mission does not involve donning dry suits to free a stuck ROV underwater. That water is cold!

Almost complete_photo by Veronica Padula

They are almost ready for their maiden voyages!

While I’m still no master ROV builder, I am so grateful for the community members that came together to mentor the students, and champion the ROV construction. Their work and dedication means the ROVs will come to life soon. The best part of the process is yet to come, when the kids can partake in ROV voyages and discover the underwater world that surrounds their home. This amazing technology will bring that world closer to them. Who knows, maybe they will discover new species of invertebrates or fish never seen before in the St. Paul ecosystem (or find someone’s glasses that fell off while paddle boarding). I can’t wait to share that joy and wonder with them. Even if the waters are murky, the kids will be able to experience something extremely special using these ROVs—the excitement of exploration. And the best part is that we can have countless ROV explorations over the years. Imagine all the amazing images we can capture, and the stories we can tell over many years through those images.

Captain Kadyn_photo by Veronica Padula

Kadyn will captain one of our ROVs.

We hope to test the ROVs in October. Zoe will captain one of our ROVs, and Kadyn will captain the other. We haven’t named our ROVs yet, but are open to suggestions. Stay tuned for pictures from their maiden voyage. Can’t wait to see what these little robots will find!

To see an example of some underwater ROV video, check out this vintage highlights reel that Anne put together in 2004 from an ROV survey in the San Juan Islands, Washington:

For more about Veronica’s graduate research, read her article on the impacts of plastics in the marine environment:

All photos in this post were taken by Veronica Padula unless otherwise noted.

From the beltway to the icefield: An East Coaster’s experience in Juneau

by Willem Klajbor

What does the ideal summer vacation sound like to you? The image that pops into most people’s heads probably resembles an island resort somewhere, fully stocked with colorful drinks, and white sand as far as the eye can see. The average person probably wouldn’t come close to thinking about wading into the frigid ocean at 4 am, wearing a rain jacket every day, or evading bears on a hike. And the average person definitely wouldn’t want to be working in those conditions!

Let me back up – my name is Will, and I was lucky enough to spend last summer as a research intern in the Coastal Fisheries Ecology Lab. My hometown is in suburban western New York and I’m currently a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying Marine and Coastal Management, Economics, and GIS. When I was a sophomore, I received the NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship, which gave me the opportunity to assist with research on any NOAA-funded project between my junior and senior years. The good news for me was that it led to ten weeks in the 49th state, where rain, cold, and bears are plentiful.

Business casual_photo by Will Klajbor

Will models “Juneau business casual.”

Specifically, I was working with Ph.D. candidate Maggie Chan to evaluate subsistence harvesters’ responses to a relatively new set of halibut fishing regulations. There are a lot of different terms for what I was: intern, research assistant, apprentice. But for me, all of that just meant working as a Swiss Army knife for the project – sometimes doing background research, other times managing and organizing our data, and even making maps. This was my first experience doing real research of any kind, so I was nervous going in, but Anne and Maggie made me feel at home right away and always kept me challenged with new tasks.

I also got to do some beach seining with Doug Duncan, another graduate student in the lab. There’s a great blog post about what that’s like here (link), and though there were some very early mornings and some very drowsy afternoons as a result, I was grateful that I had the opportunity to get in the water and do some field work while I was up north.

Starry flounder_photo by Phallon Tullis-Joyce

Sharing a moment with a starry flounder. Photo by Phallon Tullis-Joyce.

I was also lucky enough to be living with a group of other interns from around the country who were in Juneau working on projects at UAF. On top of that, we all grew close to the graduate students we were working with, so there was no shortage of people to show us new things about Juneau. And don’t get me started about Juneau – the city really is a hidden gem. Nearly every minute of my free time in Alaska was spent outside trying to find another hidden bike path or spot another bear. If you’re into leg workouts, I can tell you that I got a chance to hike some of the major day trails around the city, and those were usually enough to put us on our butts for the 12 hours that followed. But the view from the top was always worth it.

CFE Lab camping_photo by Maggie Chan

Building a fire in the pouring rain is one of the important life skills you learn in Southeast Alaska. Coastal Fisheries Ecology Lab members, pictured from left: Cheryl, Doug, Aiden, Phallon, Madison, Will, and Nina. Photo by Maggie Chan.

My uncle, who’s a commercial fisherman in Homer, Alaska, warned me before I left that a lot of people catch “Alaska Fever” when they visit. And honestly, I really did think he was exaggerating. Now, I’m back in College Park, and it’s often difficult to go more than a couple of hours without daydreaming about the mountains or the whales that liked to hang out just outside the lab. Even though it rained nearly every day I was there (I’m not exaggerating, I could count the sunny days on one hand) and it never really got above 65°F, Juneau really left its mark on me. I really do love it here in Maryland too, but I can’t ignore the symptoms – I went up north and caught the bug, and now I’m stuck with “Alaska Fever.” Check it out for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

Glacier view_photo by Dana Flerchinger

On rare sunny days, Juneau spoils you with amazing views of mountains, glaciers, and the sea. Photo by Dana Flerchinger.

Fishing for science—A landlubber’s journal

by Matt Callahan

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the final leg of NOAA’s sablefish stock assessment longline survey. I’m starting a Master’s program focused on juvenile sablefish, so taking part in this survey and observing some of the ins and outs of longlining will provide a valuable perspective as I conduct my research. That said, thriving at sea was an adjustment that this landlubber never quite made.

Before boarding the plane to Kodiak, I bought a jump rope at Second Wind Sports so I could keep training for the Klondike road relay on the boat. It turned out to be a kid’s jump rope and since I’m well over four feet tall it didn’t work. “That’s ok,” I thought, “there will be plenty of line on a longliner to make my own jump rope.” This turned out to be a lost cause. Between queasiness and boat rocking that was incompatible with jumping I never got a chance. Fortunately, the Klondike is as much about fun, cheering, and sleep deprivation as running fast.

Sunset_photo by Matt Callahan
“Just think, you could be selling insurance in Detroit for a living, Matt.” –Captain Sam. Photo by Matt Callahan.

Our vessel was a 150-foot longliner, the Ocean Prowler. Captain Sam was a soft spoken, kind, confidence-inspiring seaman who always had a smile on his face. The chief engineer, Frank, counterbalanced Sam’s sometimes reserved manner with a story or opinion for every occasion. Josh joined the crew last minute as the cook and impressed all of us with high-end, restaurant quality food. He can also cut apples so they look like swans, or possibly albatross. The rest of the crew were either deckhands who operated the longlining gear or processors who packaged fish after it was brought on board. There were four biologists on board: chief scientist Karson, Sabrina, Denis, and me.

Juvenile sablefish_photo by Kari Fenske

A juvenile sablefish that was tagged on a different survey near Sitka, Alaska. Photo by Kari Fenske.

The survey samples the same stations annually throughout the Gulf of Alaska over the course of the summer. At each station, we set two lines and a set is divided into 80 skates (lengths of groundline) with 45 circle hooks, each separated by a cannonball weight. We counted and identified every fish caught. Sabrina or Denis stood in a phone booth-sized box on the upper deck, above the roller that pulls in the line, with tablets to record their observations. Whoever was not on deck duty noted the sex of the sablefish and measured all fish with a fancy electronic fish measuring board. Karson and I collected otoliths, which are bones in a fish’s head with annual growth rings that indicate its age. The sablefish otoliths were sent to Seattle for analysis after the survey. (Dear analyst: We tried to clean off the otolith vials and boxes well, but if they’re still foul with fish gore, I’m really sorry!) We also tagged and released some of the sablefish. The deckhand would flick each fish off its hook into a net and we would insert a small numbered tag into its back muscle then release it. Rewards are offered for recaptured fish and the data allows us to track sablefish movement and growth.

Baby octopus_photo by Karson Coutre.JPG

A baby Pacific octopus (later released alive) and me. Photo by Karson Coutré.

Our most exciting catches were two sleeper sharks on shallow, gully stations. These massive predators thrashed around on the bottom and created horrible tangles in the lines. We also caught a lot of giant grenadier, which dominate biomass at the deeper end of the sablefish habitat. Apparently, considerable effort to try to do something useful with their meat has been fruitless.

Seas up to twelve feet tossed us around for much of the leg. I started off taking the king of seasickness medication—the coastguard cocktail. It’s supposed to prevent nausea while keeping you alert, but I still felt like a tired, duller version of myself and slept eleven hours each night at first. I never got violently seasick but never felt fully well either.

Despite the internal malaise, I enjoyed many aspects of the trip. We saw spectacular sunsets, though the weather would often return to gloom by day. Sperm whales swam close to our boat before diving to pluck fish off the longline. These huge, weird, ocean monsters are known to steal commercially caught fish from longlines in an act called “depredation.”

Sperm whale_photo by Karson Coutre.JPG

Time for lunch! Photo by Karson Coutré.

We saw albatross and several other offshore birds. Sabrina is a major bird enthusiast and helped me learn to identify them all. She has a powerful camera and got good pictures of brown and masked boobies, which are among the few confirmed sightings in Alaska of those species. Unfortunately, I missed them but still got to share in her excitement. Thick clouds denied us a view of the much anticipated solar eclipse and made for a very anticlimactic dramatic countdown. It only would have been a partial eclipse up here anyway and apparently no one could see it in Juneau either.

Albatross_photo by Matt Callahan.JPG

Some of the Albatross have identification bands on their legs. Sabrina, one of the biologists, took pictures of the numbers when possible. Photo by Matt Callahan.

After two weeks at sea we finally pulled into Dutch Harbor. The crew were grateful for the amenities of shore. Some of them would go home to see their families, others would re-embark on the Ocean Prowler in a couple of days to fish for Pacific cod (“P-cod”). Karson wished the trip lasted longer—she feels most alive at sea and fieldwork is a major highlight of her job. When I stepped off the boat and felt the ground unmoving under my feet, an irrepressible grin took over my face. I hadn’t transformed into a salty mariner, but I’m still glad I went.

To learn more about what it’s like out on the longline survey, please check out this video made by former fisheries student and first rate human being Phil Ganz:

Read more about the sablefish research being done by the Coastal Fisheries Ecology Lab, including current graduate students Matt and Rhea and alumna Karson, on our current projects page.

Why I love sculpins (and why you should too)

by Anne Beaudreau

Sculpins get a bad rap. Scorned by anglers and scoffed at by scientists, these bottom-dwellers have a host of unflattering nicknames, from “bullheads” to “double uglies.” The array of adjectives used to describe them is reliably disparaging: ugly, useless, homely, drab, and a nuisance.

All that trash talk is pretty unfair, if you ask me. Sculpins are not only a fascinating group of abundant, ubiquitous fishes but they may very well be the silent rulers of coastal marine ecosystems. To show you why, I bring you three vignettes about the wonderful world of sculpins.

The red Irish lord is a real beauty.

One. A Thing of Beauty

Sculpins come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They have lovely and bizarre names, like Myoxocephalus polyacanthocephalus, the scientific name for great sculpin that roughly translates to “muscle-head spiny-head.” Most have spines protruding from their cheeks—shaped like antlers, spikes, combs, and clubs—to protect them from the mouths of predators. They need that protection because, truth be told, most sculpins are less than a foot long. But a few can give anglers a run for their money. The biggest sculpin – the cabezon – can reach sizes of 3 feet and 30 pounds1. I have heard stories of aggressive cabezon head-butting divers who came too close to the egg masses they were guarding. Some sculpins are quite beautiful and lavishly decorated with colorful designs, like the red Irish lord, and others are adorable squat little creatures, like the buffalo sculpin. Sculpins have been inspiration for both art and beer.

Ragga with baby sculpin_photo by Emily Whitney.JPG
Ragga shows off an adorable baby sculpin that was caught in a beach seine near Juneau, Alaska. Photo by Emily Whitney.
Cabezon_photo by Aaron Dufault.jpg

Cabezon were fun to catch in the San Juan Islands, Washington. They put up a fight and are tasty too. Photo by Aaron Dufault.

Crested sculpin_photo by Anne Beaudreau.JPG

Just this week we were fortunate to see this beauty, a crested sculpin that was hanging out in some algae growth on a crab pot line. Photo by Anne Beaudreau.

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I spotted these beautiful Tsimshian dance leggings adorned with sculpins at the Anchorage Museum.

Two. Eat or Be Eaten

Wherever they live, sculpins are leading actors in an ecological drama that unfolds every day, where all creatures must eat or be eaten. They play a central role in nearshore ecosystems as both prey and predators. In my graduate research, I found that sculpins were one of the most common diet items for lingcod, a large toothy predator living in kelp forests of the North Pacific. Some small sculpin species serve another important role for lingcod—they act as cleaners, picking off parasites from inside the open mouth of the lingcod itself! It is a dangerous job and one that sometimes lands the helpful sculpin at the bottom of a predator’s stomach.

Buffalo sculpin_photo by Aaron Dufault.jpg
Buffalo sculpins make up for their small stature with intimidating spines that deter predators. Photo by Aaron Dufault.

Sculpins may make a tasty snack for larger creatures, including people, but they are also terrific predators in their own right. Most sculpins are basically a big mouth with a tail attached. One of the species we’ve been studying, Pacific staghorn sculpin, is armed with antler-like spines on either side of its face and can eat other fish that are half of its own length. Can you imagine swallowing a 2- to 3-foot long animal alive and whole? What a beast! Staghorn sculpins are omnivores, feasting on everything from baby mussels the size of a poppy seed to carcasses of spawning adult salmon. Just like toddlers, staghorn sculpins can be picky eaters too, sometimes chomping only the siphons off the tops of unsuspecting clams. Some staghorn sculpins even have an expensive taste for caviar: we once collected a staghorn sculpin that had gorged itself on 85 salmon eggs!

Stag eating fish_photo by Emily Whitney.JPG
There is no creature so bold as a hungry sculpin. Photo by Emily Whitney.
StaghornHotdogs_Anne Beaudreau.jpg

If you’ve ever wondered which intertidal species would win a hotdog eating contest, look no further—it’s the staghorn sculpin.

Three. Abundant and Adaptable

Sculpins are everywhere. They are found throughout the world, in both freshwater and saltwater. There are over 750 species of sculpin and around 300 species in the family Cottidae alone2, which is the group of sculpins that I know best. Here in Juneau, sculpins dominate fish communities in the nearshore. About 40% of the fish we catch beach seining near river deltas are none other than the Pacific staghorn sculpin. Many sculpins live in harsh, dynamic environments like the intertidal. Tidepool sculpins, tiny creatures no longer than your finger, have a strong urge to stay close to home. Some have been observed in a single tidepool for more than a year3. If they are moved from their home pool, these wee sculpins can find their way back, even after being on an extended vacation (i.e., moved to an “unnatural environment” by scientists for 6 months)3. As for staghorn sculpins, there is so much we still don’t know about where they live, how far they move, or how many of them are out there, chowing down on a smorgasbord of salty snacks. Staghorns live in the sea, but can withstand freshwater and can even breath air to some extent4. Given the challenging environment they navigate every day, perhaps sculpins just might be the most equipped of all to deal with our rapidly changing oceans.

While I may not have convinced you that sculpins are at least as cool as salmon, I hope that you have gained a little more appreciation for them. If nothing else, show those bullheads a little respect. They might take over the world someday, in all their air-breathing, spine-wielding glory. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Big bullhead_photo courtesy of CFE Lab.JPG
Behold, the glorious Pacific staghorn sculpin. Photo by Doug Duncan.

Bonus sculpin fact: Some sculpins can change the shape of their skulls to fit through tiny spaces! Ellen Marsden of the University of Vermont told the story of how she and a student made this amazing discovery:

Froese, R., and D. Pauly, eds. 2017. Scorpaenichthys marmoratus in FishBase. Accessed September 2017.

Mecklenburg, C.W., T.A. Mecklenburg, and L.K. Thorsteinson. 2002. Fishes of Alaska. Am. Fish. Soc., Bethesda, MD.

Green, J.M. 1971. High tide movements and homing behaviour of the tidepool sculpin Oligocottus maculosus. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 28(3): 383-389.

Love, M. 1996. Probably More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast. Really Big Press, Santa Barbara, California.

Three weeks at sea: Life aboard a catcher-processor

by Cheryl Barnes

As a PhD student, I spend a lot of time at the computer, analyzing data on fish predators and their prey in the Gulf of Alaska. The decades of data on fish abundance and diets collected by Alaska Fisheries Science Center, one of NOAA’s research labs, is a wealth of information. For my research, the data are a window into understanding the impacts of predation on walleye pollock, which support the largest single species fishery in the world.

Because it’s generally considered good practice to get out of the office and experience the data collection process, I decided to volunteer for this year’s groundfish survey. The entire Gulf of Alaska bottom trawl survey takes place between May and August every other year and stretches from the U.S.-Canada border in Southeast Alaska to the Aleutians. This summer, I participated in the fourth and final leg of the cruise, which lasted three weeks and ranged from Seward to Ketchikan.

Being slightly claustrophobic and having only experienced day trips at sea, I was a bit concerned about how I might fare on this particular excursion. Whatever happened though, it was going to be quite the learning experience! I was pleasantly surprised when we pulled up to the dock and I set eyes on what would be my home for the next 19 days. The F/V Ocean Explorer was an incredibly spacious 155-foot catcher-processor vessel with lots of room to move about.


F/V Ocean Explorer at the dock in Seward, AK
Photo Credit: Cheryl Barnes

As you might expect, this commercial pollock fishing boat was equipped with a considerably large and open-style trawl alley necessary to accommodate vast amounts of net mesh, bulbous floats, and heavy lead. The deck also provided ample space to sort, weigh, and measure fish after each haul had been brought in. The factory (usually used to process and freeze the catch) was located below deck, but because the vessel was chartered exclusively for scientific purposes, fish were not kept or sold. Instead, we used the area as prep space and dry storage.


Trawl alley and upper deck on the F/V Ocean Explorer
Photo Credit: Cheryl Barnes

On continuing to explore my floating residence, I found a hallway with sizeable staterooms just below the wheelhouse. I’d heard horror stories of five people being packed into a single room where only one of them could get out of their rack at a time. As luck would have it, we were afforded two-person units with roomy bunks, plenty of storage, and enough space to stand…two at a time. Conveniently, I also ended up with the only other woman onboard as my roommate, who happened to be one of the nicest and most considerate people I’ve ever met.

After our tour of the galley and a series of safety drills, I met each of the crewmembers onboard. Immediately, I could tell that our captain was one of the good ones. He was really outgoing, super approachable, and quite the storyteller! During the three-week voyage, I constantly found myself up in the wheelhouse, listening to tall tales and peculiar superstitions at sea. Our captain also wrote the funniest things in his communications to the first mate, which I checked on a daily basis just for a good laugh (sorry, I was sworn to secrecy). In addition to entertainment in the wheelhouse, we could always count on a good joke—typically of the dirty variety—from our first mate. The crew was always excited for a new batch of scientists because the rotation meant that they could retell stories and land their favorite punch line for the umpteenth time. We (the slightly nerdier bunch) loved it because even when we were all working like dogs, the crew helped keep things light and lively. All in all, I’d say that I couldn’t have been stuck on board with a better group of people.

It was a pretty cool experience seeing what a large commercial fishing vessel looks like, both inside and out. Mostly though, I enjoyed the opportunity to identify a wide variety of Alaskan groundfish species. Some of these fish looked familiar from the years I had spent working in fisheries in California, but others I had never even heard of or had only seen in books.

Species caught on different tows. Some hauls consisted of a wide range of species (left) while others were much less diverse (right). Photo Credit: Nancy Roberson

Among my favorite items found on the sorting table were the invertebrates. With deepwater tows, we got to see some pretty gnarly looking sponges, molluscs that look like hot dogs (one is actually called the “sandy hot dog” because it quite literally looks like you dropped an uncooked hot dog in the sand), and the sea mouse, a polychaete worm that I once used as inspiration for a very geeky Halloween costume. We also caught some sad-looking flatfish that we morbidly decided to collect eye parasites from.

Cool finds: some of the more interesting and rarely captured trawl specimens (left: sponge, right: juvenile arrowtooth flounder with eye parasites). Photo Credit: Cheryl Barnes

But it wasn’t always rainbows and roses. Occasionally, we’d get really “lucky” and bring up a net completely full of super sticky mud that we’d have to struggle through to find its biological inhabitants. One such tow took us four and a half hours to get through. Because we worked well past lunch, it made for a lot of very hangry scientists.


One of three net dumps on the sorting table resulting from a “mud tow”
Photo Credit: Cheryl Barnes

Of the more feel-good moments was when I could immediately release live fish from the haul. This, I loved, probably because I’ve spent so much time using catch and release survey methods. Rockfishes experience barotrauma, where the air in their swim bladder expands as they are brought through the water column, making it difficult for them to swim back to depth after processing. Like flatfishes, it is also difficult to identify their sex without cutting them open to get a good look at their internal organs. However, lingcod and spiny dogfish come up in relatively good condition and their sex can be easily determined from the outside (yes, we love checking out fish junk). This made is possible to quickly collect the data we needed and let them go alive. And even though this meant getting the occasional tail slap to the face, it was well worth it to watch them swim away after we were done with them.


Cheryl Barnes posing with a big lady lingcod just before processing and release
Photo Credit: Nancy Roberson

Though we mostly enjoyed processing fish day in and day out, everyone was pretty stoked when we pulled up the last tow of the survey. It signified our imminent ability to step foot on land, grab a cold beer, and sleep in our own beds. Even without the constant rocking of the boat that lulled me to sleep every night during the survey, I was ready to spread out again, return to my own space, and close my eyes without hearing the ever-present clanking and engine noise.


Science crew celebrating our final tow of the survey
Photo Credit: Nancy Roberson

It’s been two weeks since I got home and I definitely miss the sunshine out on the open ocean. It’s been an exceptionally rainy summer here in Juneau and I am no longer able to simply climb to the upper deck when I want to bask in the glory of blue skies and calm water. I also miss chatting with our gregarious captain and crew, though I hope to stay in touch. And instead of flinging fish, listening to wise crack after wise crack, selecting from unreasonably diverse ice cream flavors, and passing by magically refilled bowls of bite-sized chocolates in the galley, I’ll be staring at a computer screen, reading scientific papers, and writing code for the rest of my days (or the next two years…it’s yet to be determined).


Sunset captured from the F/V Ocean Explorer in Ketchikan, AK.
Photo Credit: Cheryl Barnes

Read more about Cheryl’s research on our current projects page. For more information about NOAA’s research program in Alaska, visit the Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering Division (RACE) and Resource Ecology and Ecosystem Modeling Division (REEM) online.

The 7-Minute Workout: Beach Seining Edition

by Anne Beaudreau

A few years ago, I learned about a too-good-to-be-true workout plan that is scientifically proven to do as much for your body in 7 minutes as several hours of running or biking. The so-called 7-Minute Workout is high-intensity interval training, involving 12 exercises that are done for 30 seconds each with 10 second breaks in between. According to the experts, you need to “hover at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10”1 to make it really effective.

That sounds pretty good, but don’t you think there’s a more enjoyable way to get a full-body workout? I’m here to tell you that there is, and it’s called beach seining in the intertidal. On 4-8 days each month during spring and summer, Master’s student Doug Duncan and his crew (sometimes including me) get up at the crack of dawn, load up the truck, launch the skiff, and venture out to estuary sites along the Juneau road system to catch fish. We didn’t want to keep our great workout plan a secret, so here’s the scoop. There are only 8 exercises, because that is all you need to hit 8 on the discomfort scale!

Exercise 1. Wader donning (really, doing anything in waders)

Once we arrive at the boat launch, the workout begins with a careful balancing act: donning the waders. This doesn’t necessarily take exertion, but it does require some balance and coordination, which may be hard to come by at 4 in the morning. The waders add a nice resistance to the rest of the day’s activities.

Pregnant in waders_photo by Emily Whitney

The author in the field at 5 months pregnant. If you think bending down in waders is hard normally, try doing it with a bowling ball for a belly.


Exercise 2. Bucket wrangling

Beach seining involves a lot of bucket maneuvering: hauling heavy buckets of water to the beach, returning buckets of water and fish to the boat. On a bad weather day, when it’s too windy to use the skiff and we need to carry full buckets down long stretches of beach, bucket wrangling takes on a whole new level of intensity. You will discover muscles in your wrists and forearms you never knew you had.

Exercise 3. Zombie walk

This is the bread and butter of the beach seining workout. First, loop the end of the leadline around your wader boot. Next, start walking the net through the water, keeping a nice steady rhythm. As you walk, drag your foot along the bottom to keep the leadline down and the fish in the net. This gives you both the appearance of a zombie and a wicked inner thigh workout. Can you feel the burn? Be sure to alternate your seining leg to work both sides.

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Emily demonstrates perfect “zombie walk” form.

Exercise 4. Algae resistance

This is full body resistance training, algae-style. When conditions are right, the intertidal is green with ulva. The thin, green sheets of “sea lettuce” clump together and aggregate in the center of the net, making it heavier and heavier as you drag it to shore. Target muscle groups include: everything from your neck down.

Remember, you are doing all of this in stiff, completely non-breathable waders (see Exercise 1). On a rare sunny day, this makes for a somewhat stifling endeavor. If you want to increase the intensity of any exercise, add in a quick jog up the beach to scare ravens away from the buckets of fish.


Always remember to hydrate.

Exercise 5. Bucket lift

Have you ever tried lifting a 5-gallon bucket full of seawater and fish above your chest and up over the side of a skiff without spilling? It’s harder than you think. This is best done as a group: one, two, three, buckets up!


Exercise 6: Bucket pull

This exercise creeps up on you suddenly. Let me set the scene for you. Two people are pulling the net onto the beach and you can see that it’s a big haul of fish. You’re going to need a lot more buckets. Quick, let’s pull these two apart and fill them with water! But the already-wet buckets have decided to adhere to each other like superglue. Hence, a vigorous attempt at bucket separation ensues, as shown below. This is one challenge you can’t face alone!



Doug and Emily exert themselves during the bucket pull.

Exercise 6. Bug swat

You didn’t think we were going to enjoy this beautiful day without a slew of no-see-ums to keep us company, did you? Better start swatting! The more vigorously you do it, the closer you’ll get to your VO2 max.

Exercise 7. Boat pull

The boat pull is a rather elegant exercise, involving – you guessed it – manually towing a boat full of muddy sampling gear, soggy nets, and buckets brimming with water and sea life. The goal is to keep within throwing distance of the seiners, so that you can quickly anchor up and bring them buckets and measuring boards as they begin to haul in the fish. It gets tough when the wind and currents try to fight your progress.


Doug makes the boat pull look easy.

Exercise 8. Quicksand hop

We have learned the hard way that the only way to traverse river delta quicksand is quickly and decisively. So, pick up those hefty wader boots and hop, hop, hop back to the safety of the water! Incentive for not stopping is that you won’t lose your boots to the mud of the Mendenhall River estuary. Simple as that.

Congratulations! You have completed the beach seining workout in a mere 3 hours. Wasn’t it fun to huff and puff among beautiful glacier views, nets teeming with the next generation of salmon, and the company of good fisher folk?

Eating donuts_photo by Anne Beaudreau

On the ride back to campus, all that hard work is quickly negated with a post-seining donut from Breeze-In, courtesy of our fearless leader Doug. But, at least we got our heart rates up while experiencing another beautiful morning in Juneau.


If you’d like to learn more about the science itself, please visit our current research page and scroll down to the projects titled “Navigating the predator gauntlet: Impacts of nearshore marine fishes on hatchery and wild juvenile salmon in Southeast Alaska” and “Tracking energy flow to fishes in glacially-influenced estuaries of Southeast Alaska.”

1Reynolds, Gretchen. 9 May 2013. The Scientific 7-Minute Workout. NY Times.

Film, Fish, and Family: A Conversation with Composer Lou John B

by Anne Beaudreau

This past spring, my collaborators and I created a short film called Knowing Fish that celebrates the importance of fishing in Alaska’s coastal communities and the value of fishermen’s knowledge for science and management. The film also highlights the research our team has been doing to document ecological knowledge of recreational and subsistence fishers and use it in combination with scientific knowledge to better understand long-term change in coastal ecosystems.

There were many wonderful aspects of working on the project, but among the highlights for me was having the opportunity to collaborate with my brother Lou, an LA-based musician who composed the music for the film. I sat down with him recently to talk about his work in music and film and get his take on the experience of writing a score to a story about Alaskan fisheries.


ANNE BEAUDREAU: Tell me about your experience in music and film.

LOU JOHN B: I’ve been playing music since I was around six. The first instrument that I really gravitated towards was classical guitar. I didn’t get into electric until middle school, where I more or less taught myself blues, rock, and jazz. Post high school, I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, where I took a few film scoring classes and learned about composition. College was when I really started getting into film. I wanted to learn everything about it, and I made it my goal to see as many films as I could. I probably watched On the Waterfront and Cool Hand Luke the most during those years.

ANNE: What is your favorite film score?

LOU: It’s probably Taxi Driver. It was the first score that made me pay close attention to what the music was doing in the film. The composer, Bernard Herrmann, did something to Scorsese’s masterpiece that didn’t seem possible. He made a perfect film even better. Unfortunately, Herrmann died before the film was even released. It was his last score. There are only a few cues in Taxi Driver repeated throughout the film, but they are dark, beautifully low-voiced, and very memorable.

ANNE: In terms of professional music, how you would describe what you’ve done since college?

LOU: Almost a full year after I left college, I moved out to LA to play guitar in the band Shaimus. That lasted about two years. There’s so much I did in Shaimus that I never thought I’d get to do, like touring and making a record in a professional studio. After the band ended, I started writing music for commercials, which is my main gig these days.

ANNE: Have you done any other film scoring before Knowing Fish?

LOU: The first project I worked on was for a short film a friend of mine did, called Animal Fiction. About six months after he released that, he shot a promotional video for a charity in Los Angeles called The Giving Keys, which I scored. That one was interesting because it was set up like a video triptych, consisting of really beautiful shots of LA without dialogue.

ANNE: For Knowing Fish, what was your process for scoring?

LOU: I think I watched it four or five times before you and I talked on the phone. I chose not to think about music the first couple times I watched it because I wanted to know what the film was really about and what it was saying. I knew that the film had a specific purpose, so I made it my goal to pay close attention to that before considering what the music would sound like. Then I soaked up moods from scenery, characters, and colors and started formulating what I thought would be appropriate music for the picture. Visually, almost everything in the movie could have so easily been accompanied by acoustic instruments, so I figured, let’s not do that. I decided to go all electric.

ANNE: It seems like you made a choice to not use acoustic instruments, but to make them sound acoustic, to still give it that feel. In some of those moments, it feels like it could have been somebody strumming a guitar at a campfire…

LOU: …with a big amp in a cave…

ANNE: …yeah, but it still evokes that feeling of organic-ness.

LOU: Well, that’s what I thought was interesting about the film – the juxtaposition of old wisdom and new thought. Perhaps the reason I wanted to go full electric, and not do what was expected, was to bring out those ideas. Old wisdom and new thought aren’t in opposition. As a viewer, you’re happily surprised at the outcome of the film because perhaps you didn’t necessarily expect how hopeful and cooperative the message would be. In a way, that’s what I was thinking when I wrote the music. I knew I didn’t want to do what you’d expect with the music because the film didn’t really do what I expected. I liked the idea of using electric, but still creating that acoustical hominess. It’s like looking at something old through a new lens.

ANNE: The feeling you put on the music was more modern, and I suppose the message that I put on the film was more hopeful than you typically hear when you’re hearing about environmental issues. Musically speaking, were there any parts of the film that were especially easy to write to or especially inspiring?

LOU: The end took the least amount of time to write because of Daniel. What he says brings it down to a real, personal, but also universally relatable level. For that reason, I wanted a lone, washed out guitar leading into the tune at the end. He’s talking about being out there on the open ocean every day, and he says something to the effect of, “I’m not a religious man, but this is like my religion.” I liked the idea of the single guitar there. That’s the nice thing about guitar – you can make something sound important and big if you have the find the right tone and manipulate the sound enough.

ANNE: Can you tell me more about how you mixed the sound?

LOU: I had four tracks to mix: the music, the narration, the interviews, and the B roll sound. I pretty much treated the full sound mix like I do mixing music, making sure each element comes through enough to be heard or felt. It was just as important to choose when to ride up the volume of the score as it was to let the music sit on the bottom of the mix. I spent lots of time making little adjustments to make sure the more dramatic moments were dramatic and the more subdued moments were subdued, sonically.

ANNE: So, what does music do for a story?

LOU: It can completely change the way a story is emotionally or intellectually interpreted by the viewer. It can elevate any situation, driving you to tears or to laugh or to feel afraid. And there are maybe infinite ways to do this, musically. For this film, I tried to use music as a supplemental enhancement to the picture. Certain moments in a film can be just that much weightier if you support them with even the slightest of simple tones.

ANNE: Given that you’re not a scientist and you don’t think about fisheries that much, what did you learn from the film?

LOU: I think the main thing I learned was basically the main point of the film: science and culture can be married pretty easily, philosophically. I kind of feel stupid for realizing that now. As much as I admire science and look to science for the hope of the future, there still seems to be a disconnect in my brain between the world of science and the real daily grind. I don’t know why that is exactly.

ANNE: I don’t think that’s stupid at all. Even though science touches everything in our lives, there’s sometimes an idea perpetuated that science is out of reach unless you’re an expert. Speaking to what you’re staying about science meeting the real world, in ecology and in fisheries, science is about observing the natural world and that’s basically what fishermen do every day. Even though they don’t document that knowledge in the same way that scientists do, these two different processes of developing knowledge can come to the same place ultimately.

LOU: That’s right, and that actually reminds me of another thing I learned from the film. You have two different schools of thought – there’s an analytical side, and there’s a practical side. Both see that things are changing through different lenses, but there’s not necessarily a discrepancy between the two points of view.

ANNE: What connection do you have with fishing and the marine environment?

LOU: I grew up fishing. Dad took us fishing. When I was somewhere between 7 and 10 years old, we fished off Barrington Beach in Rhode Island, and I caught a bluefish. It’s still the biggest fish I’ve ever caught. I struggled with it for almost an hour and a half. My whole body was on fire. There was a point when a gathering started to form, and every time Dad started to help, there was this guy who said “Let ‘im do it, let ‘im do it!”

ANNE: Would you ever want to collaborate again on something?

LOU: Absolutely.

To learn more about Lou John B’s music and other creative projects, visit his website:

Faculty Focus: Anne Beaudreau

by Barb Hameister

This article was originally posted on on July 21, 2017. It was re-posted with permission from the author.


It takes some people a long time to discover what they want to be when they grow up—but Anne Beaudreau knew from an early age that she wanted to be a marine biologist.

Originally from Rhode Island, Anne now lives in Juneau, where she is an associate professor of Fisheries at the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. She was the eldest of four in a family that was very focused on the arts and education, and grew up playing the violin and studying drawing and painting.

She also spent many happy days at the shore with her family, and the beach was an infinite source of wonder. “I would get a sore neck from walking along with my head down, searching intently for shells, rocks, sea glass, and other treasures,” she says. “My fascination with the sea and marine life just grew from there.”

Anne went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biology at Harvard University. In her junior year, with the romance of the sea still beckoning, she spent a semester in the Sea Education Association program. Anne and her fellow students spent six weeks studying topics such as oceanography, maritime history and celestial navigation, followed by six weeks on a tall ship in the Atlantic. It was a pivotal experience that introduced her to the excitement of life at sea and the vibrant history of New England fisheries, thus setting the trajectory for her future career.

After graduating, Anne put her training to work as a fishery analyst for the New England Fishery Management Council, synthesizing information to support federal fishery management plans. It wasn’t always easy going, but she says despite the sometimes contentious atmosphere of New England fishery management, she found herself inspired by the scientists and fishermen who were working together on research that would help build sustainable fisheries. So inspired, in fact, that she decided she wanted to become one of those scientists, and moved across the country to Seattle to learn how.

At the University of Washington, Anne earned a Ph.D. studying the biology and ecology of lingcod, working closely with the recreational fishing community to collect her samples. In turn, these relationships inspired her postdoctoral research at UW and NOAA, where she sought to reconstruct historical abundance of Puget Sound species from fishermen’s local knowledge.

Alaska had first captured Anne’s imagination in 1989 after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, when, as a 10-year-old, she was moved by the plight of oiled sea otters. While living in Washington, with Alaska practically in her back yard, she kept finding ways to visit—first as a volunteer scientist on a NOAA cruise in the Aleutians, then as an unofficial cook on board a purse seiner in Southeast Alaska and a conference attendee at a groundfish meeting in Juneau. When a UAF faculty position opened up, Anne was quick to apply, and she has been happily based in Juneau since January 2012.

At CFOS, Anne and her students study the ecology and human dimensions of coastal fisheries. Much of their work focuses on change, from the dynamics of food webs in estuaries to the impacts of social and environmental change on fishing communities.

One recent study, funded by EPSCoR and Alaska Sea Grant, focused on understanding how receding glaciers and changes in rainfall in the Juneau area will impact the nutrition and growth of estuarine and nearshore marine species. A related ongoing study is investigating the impact of predation by nearshore species on hatchery salmon smolts in estuaries. This work will help guide future management decisions and hatchery release strategies.

Another project has been looking at the effects of regulatory change on charter halibut fishermen in Alaska. Through interviews, the research team found that charter captains are targeting a wider number of species than in the past, and are using different fishing grounds. In some areas these changes are attributed to more restrictive regulations driven by a decrease in the average size of halibut, while in other areas shifts in target species are driven by customer preferences.

While the research being done in Anne’s lab covers a wide variety of topics, a common thread is the use of approaches and perspectives from multiple disciplines, including fisheries science, ecology, and anthropology.

“I truly believe that addressing complex, multidimensional problems in resource management requires approaches and ideas that are not drawn from one discipline alone,” Anne says. “Academia often creates silos in our training and thinking; depth is essential for becoming an expert, but breadth fosters creative problem-solving. Both are important.”

With her early grounding in music and art, Anne is also inspired to explore synergies between the arts and science. She recently directed and produced her first short film, about the value of fishermen’s local knowledge to science and management. While she had many collaborators on the project, perhaps the one most dear to her was her brother Lou, who composed the musical score and mixed the sound. Anne says she is eager to continue finding ways to bring together science, art and storytelling.

This interest in storytelling has also inspired Anne to delve into science communication, and help others learn how to tell their story. She developed and now teaches the course Communicating Science to the Public, in which students practice talking about their research with non-scientists. They learn how to tell science stories that connect with an audience, how to put more humanity into science, and explore ways to personally be ambassadors for science.

“The experience is rigorous, challenging, and, at times, transformative for both the students and me,” Anne says. “I am looking forward to many more years of teaching and learning!”

Anne and James_photo by Cheryl Barnes

Anne and her son James in Juneau, 2017. Photo by Cheryl Barnes.