There are a lot of details that go into running a science-research fishing vessel — and many kinds of careers — students from Juneau-Douglas High School learned Thursday.
Students in Lara Dzinich’s CHOICE science class partnered with the Auke Bay Research Lab and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration with a program called Teacher in the Lab — an offshoot of Teacher at Sea. Bonita Nelson, a fisheries biologist who does outreach for the Auke Bay Lab, said the program has been running for three years. She said Dzinich spent time with them researching plankton, taking photographs and working on a lesson plan for her students. CHOICE is a JDHS alternative program that gives at-risk students a different approach.
The Epic Explorer was docked in Juneau Thursday, and Dzinich’s class had an opportunity to see how exactly things worked and how scientists are studying plankton. The 130-foot commercial fishing vessel sets sail today on a charter.
Captain Dan Carney welcomed CHOICE students aboard and proceeded with safety instructions — what to do if there’s a man overboard, the ship is sinking, there’s a fire, or a whale rams the boat.
Carney said he loves his job because it’s different.
“I never wanted to do a job where I was bored,” he said.
His crew consists of Jake Albinio, Joe “Cujo” Sanford, Scott Jensen and Chris Thurbur. Most of the crew gave the students a bit of background on themselves, and how they got to be involved in commercial fishing and research.
Sanford spent a month trying to get his job — calling the office every other day.
“If you really want to do something stick with it,” he said. “... The people on the boat kind of become your family. It’s a good career. I enjoy it.”
Albinio, who is also a professional cage fighter, tried out working in the commercial fishing industry for two months before college for tuition.
“I did it two months and I absolutely hated it,” he said. “I got home, got my paycheck and said, ‘I’m a fisherman.’ ... It’s a good starting job.”
Jensen took the career on for its adventure and uniqueness.
“I never really cared for school much,” he admitted. “I was kind of a troublemaker, doing all the wrong stuff. ... My parents weren’t real proud of me. Luckily I went into the Army for a little while. I did that for two years and realized it wasn’t for me.”
But he was still faced with the same problem he had before joining the Army — what he wanted to do.
As a somewhat rebellious person, he didn’t want to do a standard “9-5” job, but something different. He tried out the fishing industry, and is first mate until next season when he gets to captain the ship.
Of course, after the crew got to the end of their introductions, the Carney had snuck off and sounded the alarm and “Man overboard, all hands on deck!” was announced through the speakers. The students went out on deck and saw another crew member floating in the water in his survival suit and they practiced what he had told them earlier. Another crew member jumped into his survival suit and jumped in the water and “rescued” his friend.
After the taste of the commercial fishing life, students got test out the science portion. The ship has huge reels of nets, that actually have computerized cameras that detect snags and fish capacity. One netting can bring in 400,000 fish.
Students threw out a mesh net that catches plankton and reeled it in. Nelson wasn’t expecting any plankton, given that it’s January, but the students got the experience of reeling it in.
At the bottom of the plankton net is a plastic container. They dumped it into a bucket once it was back on board.
None could see any visible plankton.
“There are still things alive in there,” Nelson said of the water sample. “Some things could be translucent or hard to see.”
Inside the boat, Nelson showed them samples taken earlier of plankton. Vials and jars were packed full and documented. There also were two containers that had two live plankton each.
“The chemistry of the ocean is changing a bit,” she said. “We captured them and are growing them. Why do we care about plankton? Little fish and whales eat plankton. We study how much they eat. A whale takes in as much water as the size of a Volkswagen car, just to eat these. We want to see what plankton are in the water, how many, what little fish are eating them.”
Students also got to see a device the scientists throw in the water that measures temperature, pH and salinity. They use that in documenting where and how many plankton are found and the same for pollock, a kind of fish that eats plankton.
Carney also took students up to the wheel watch, where he has seven computers that show him radar, bottom depth, an electronic charter, tide tables and other data.
“I’m old school, I still believe in the paper charts,” he said, adding that if the computers were knocked out he would still need to use the old methods to get them home.
So they also had a hand in charting and math, determining how long it would take to get from Juneau to other locations using the latitudes of the charts.
Dzinich felt the day went well, and that students were engaged throughout the field trip. She thought it was valuable for them to not only see how science can be used in careers, but also how other careers fit in that aren’t necessarily college-track.
“There were a lot of people moving around on the boat,” she said. “They got a lot of insight and information and they got to try a plankton tow.”
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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