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Life Aboard the Oregon II

April 09, 2024

Explore the unique challenges and camaraderie of life at sea on research expeditions.

A series of polaroid pictures. Pictured left to right: a whiteboard with station numbers written on it, two volunteers counting fish species, the sunrise on the back of the research vessel, a volunteer taking the length measurement of a fish, a volunteer using a boat hook to pull up a line, and two volunteers in personal protective equipment

Living Conditions on the Oregon II

Two weeks can be a long time to stay on a vessel if you’re not used to tight spaces and being in such close proximity to others, but that is actually some of the crew members’ favorite part about living on the Oregon II. Several crew members and scientists shared gratitude for the close relationships that they form with their colleagues, saying that often it feels more like a family dynamic than a work dynamic. 

During the time spent out at sea, scientists and volunteers sleep in staterooms that are usually shared between two people. The field party chief has many duties which include organizing roommates by the shift that they’re working, so one person will be on the night shift and the other will work the day shift. This allows people to have some alone time and ensures that they’re able to get adequate sleep. The staterooms have bunk beds, a sink, and storage for personal belongings. Each room also has safety equipment for each person such as life vests and survival suits to be used in the event of an emergency. My stateroom was on the lower level, which was nice because this is also where the community showers were. This level even had a small workout room and an area with washers and dryers to do laundry.

Images of a stateroom, laundry area, and showers onboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II.
Images onboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II of my stateroom, the laundry area, and showers.

I felt pretty comfortable with the majority of the adjustments that come with life on a research vessel. Living in a confined space didn’t really bother me too much, and I have some experience working on the water so I already had my “sea legs!” I think the most difficult thing for me was learning how to pack light, which is definitely important when you’re limited on space. Being able to do laundry on the boat was a major help! 

The main deck has the wet lab, dry lab, chemistry lab, additional staterooms, the mess hall, and the galley. The galley is where the chefs prepare the meals for the day. There were three meal times: 7 a.m. for breakfast, 12 p.m. for lunch, and 5 p.m. for dinner. I must say I was really impressed with the quality and diversity of the food. Because of the different shift times, there is a clipboard that you can fill out for lunch and dinner if you want a plate saved. There are also a ton of snacks and different kinds of juice for any time you’re feeling hungry.  

Meet the People on the Oregon II

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, “teamwork makes the dream work” on the Oregon II. There’s a wide variety of people on board that come from different backgrounds. Everybody values the work that their colleagues put in to ensure smooth operations and they also enjoy each other’s company! Let’s meet some of the crew members and scientists on board.

A man using a metal shovel to push fish down a conveyer belt
Alonzo Hamilton on the 2023 fall groundfish survey. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Hannah Shahmoradi.

Alonzo Hamilton

What is your position on the Oregon II?

 am a fishery biologist, and field party chief on board this expedition.

What did you do before working for NOAA and how did you get to where you are today?

Actually this is the only job I’ve ever had. I finished high school in 1976, went to community college and left there in 1978, went to Jackson State University for my Bachelor of Science and my master’s degrees, and then went directly to work for NOAA Fisheries after that in December of 1984. 

What does it mean to be a Field Party Chief? 

It’s an opportunity to express your understanding of what we have committed to accomplish in terms of responding to the mission. My job is to try to meet the letter of the print (ensure the job gets done, work through issues, and solve problems) to the best of our ability and to try to make sure that all participants are doing what they can to help us make that goal come true. That’s what being a field party chief means to me.

What have you learned throughout your years working for NOAA?

Patience. There is a difference between being right all the time and being right when it matters. And patience made the difference for me in accepting the situation that I found myself in at NOAA Fisheries. That’s the best way I can describe it. 

What do you find to be the most challenging part of working out at sea?

Melding personalities. 

What is your favorite part of working out at sea/on the Oregon II?

The most rewarding thing is processing the catch, sorting it, seeing the level of diversity and seeing the alleged predator-prey relationships as you sort the catch. Those little mind games that you play with yourself while you’re sorting the catch kind of help you understand the ecosystem in terms of the trophic structure. It’s a way to pass the time while you’re sorting the catch. It’s a pleasure to see that level of diversity. 

A woman and two men stand over a pile of fish and five orange buckets on the back of a boat
Beverly Barnett getting ready to put sampled fish into the buckets on board. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Hannah Shahmoradi

Beverly Barnett

What is your position on the Oregon II?

I am a research fishery biologist, both on and off the ship!

What did you do before working for NOAA and how did you get to where you are today? 

Before working for NOAA, I worked as a secretary principal for the Cabinet for Human Resources in Barbourville, Kentucky. Prior to that, I was a data entry operator for Appalachian Computer Services in London, Kentucky. I received my Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Kentucky with a major in Biology. During my undergraduate work, I had a great opportunity to work with Dr. Jennifer Rehage, who was at that time a graduate student. studying Gambusia fishes. This experience really piqued my interest in fish biology and ecology. 

When I started at the NOAA Fisheries Panama City lab, I processed fish reproduction samples as a volunteer, then as a contractor, then as a federal employee. At that time, I became more interested in age and growth, and otolith chemistry. From there, I went back to school to get my master’s degree at the University of West Florida working on otolith chemistry. That really expanded my horizon in the sense that we could use otolith chemical signatures to estimate the source(s) of recruits (juvenile fish) to the fishery. After receiving my master’s, I continued to expand my skill set using bomb radiocarbon to validate fish age. I used this knowledge and the fundamentals of radiocarbon in my dissertation research at the University of Florida. Now we’re looking at new technology and machine learning to see if we can rapidly and efficiently provide age estimates for our stock assessments. 

What have you learned throughout your years working for NOAA?

The best part of working for NOAA is that I have had the opportunity to continue learning throughout my career. I started out working on reproduction samples and then on to working with otoliths. Through the years, I have expanded my knowledge and research to include otolith chemistry and otolith shape analysis and how they can be applied to address recruitment and population connectivity questions. I have learned the importance of age validation and how to apply the bomb radiocarbon chronometer to validate our age estimates. More recently, and thanks to the NOAA Fisheries Science Board for funding a 5-year NOAA-wide strategic initiative project, I have expanded my research even further to incorporate new methods and technology. As a result, I am currently learning new skills and mastering new tools to look at the molecular structure of otoliths and reproductive tissue. I am always thinking about how to improve our data and our methodologies for providing the best data available for managing our fisheries. Overall, my primary interest is conducting research to help us better understand our fisheries so that we can have sustainability for years into the future. 

What do you find to be the most challenging part of working out at sea?

Sometimes the seas can be a little challenging. So far I’ve never gotten seasick, but sometimes that can cause some challenges for others on board. 

What is your favorite part of working out at sea on the Oregon II?

Seeing the diversity of species, working with everyone as a team, and enjoying the beauty of nature all around you—realizing the vastness of the ocean and the life that’s in it. I truly enjoy being at sea. The people onboard are great and I enjoy the interactions that we have together. We really work as a cohesive team and it’s a great experience. 

Lieutenant Commander Rachel Pryor

A woman in a NOAA Corps uniform stands smiling in front of the R.V. Oregon II plaque
Lieutenant Commander Rachel Pryor standing in front of the R.V. Oregon II plaque. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Rachel Pryor

What is your position on the Oregon II?

I am the executive officer on the NOAA Ship Oregon II.

What did you do before working for NOAA?

In 2008, I earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of West Florida. I immediately enrolled in a master’s program and in 2010, completed a graduate degree at Florida International University focusing on ecotoxicology. Shortly after graduate school, I was hired as a Student Service Contractor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laboratory in Pensacola, Florida working as a technician in the aquatic toxicology lab. Fortunately, my supervisor approved my request to volunteer on a Scripps Institution of Oceanography research vessel which was doing a NOAA project off the coast of California. It was during this experience that I realized boats were really cool! I met a NOAA scientist there that told me about the NOAA Corps. I felt the NOAA Corps was a career I should pursue and wanted to increase my sea time prior to applying. I applied for and was hired by NOAA as a contract fisheries observer with the Northeast program. After a year as a fisheries observer, sailing on board commercial fishing boats from Maine to North Carolina, I applied to the NOAA Corps and was accepted in 2012. 

What do you enjoy the most about being in the NOAA Corps?

The NOAA Corps offers the opportunity to continuously learn and experience new things. I like the thrill of coming into a new assignment every 2 or 3 years. Being the incoming new officer is always terrifying because I have to learn a whole new set of policies, procedures, and an office full of new coworkers. At first getting into the swing of the new role is daunting; however, with time and patience I eventually settle in. When the time comes for me to rotate to a new assignment, I feel as though I’ve mastered the assignment I’m leaving. Having the ability to continuously learn about NOAA through a variety of assignments is one of the most fulfilling parts of being a NOAA Corps officer.  

How often are you out at sea per year?

The Oregon II is typically assigned 180 days at sea but we are scheduled to be underway for 220 days in the Fiscal Year 2024, from October 2023 through September 2024.

What have you learned throughout your years working for NOAA?

NOAA’s employees are hands down the most passionate individuals who are committed to their science and their agency. One of my past assignments was serving as the Flag Aide to the NOAA Administrator. In this role, I traveled with the NOAA Administrator and I was able to meet scientists from all line offices across the nation, from Miami Florida to San Diego California and from Seattle, Washington to Gloucester, Massachusetts. The common takeaway I experienced was scientists across NOAA are incredibly proud to do good work that benefits the environment and benefits the American people. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit various labs and weather forecast offices nationwide, as getting first-hand exposure to the broader NOAA portfolio is typically rare. 

What do you find to be the most challenging part of working out at sea?

The most challenging part of being out at sea is being away from family and missing out on a lot of things. The NOAA Corps officers are only on a sea assignment for 2 years at a time. For our professional mariners, their career path is strictly on the ships—often averaging 200 days at sea a year. While I feel the stress of missing out on life events for 2 years, I have a deep respect and appreciation for our mariners who are committed to the ships every year. 

What is your favorite part of working out at sea/on the Oregon II?

My favorite part of working out at sea is taking in the really cool moments that not many people get to experience, like incredible moonrises, colorful sunsets, and witnessing well-defined frontal boundaries in the clouds. I will never get tired of seeing marine life, especially dolphins. I’m approaching my 12th year of service and I still squeal with joy every time I see dolphins.

I also have a deep bond with the NOAA Ship Oregon II. I was first assigned to the Oregon II in 2012 and she was my first ship to learn how to drive. For my executive officer sea tour, I wanted to come back here because I knew I would be a good teacher to the incoming junior officers assigned to the Oregon II. The Oregon II takes a special skill set because she isn’t equipped with the “bells and whistles” the other ships have like z-drives and 360° bow thrusters which increases the maneuverability of the other vessels. The Oregon II has a single propeller and a bow thruster that only answers to port and starboard. Officers on the Oregon II learn basic ship handling skills which helped to develop me as a ship handler.

a man standing on a boat smiling and wearing a hard hat, vest, and gloves
Jim Patterson standing on the back of the Oregon II wearing personal protective equipment. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Hannah Shahmoradi

Jim Patterson

What is your position on the Oregon II?

I am a science volunteer on the Oregon II. My normal position is a port agent for NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Daytona, Florida.

What did you do before working for NOAA?

I was a carpenter for about 15 years and a bartender. I kept jumping back and forth in and out of carpentry and I was getting older. I had gone to school when I was 18 but I wasn’t ready for it. When I got to be about 32, I decided I didn’t want to get up on roofs anymore, so I went back to school full-time and got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I became an observer for about 3 years for the Panama City facility then I was promoted to dockside sampler. I did that for about 6 months and then accepted a full-time job focusing on shrimp in Brownsville, Texas. That position was phased out in 2020 so I transferred to Daytona Beach where I was happy to focus on my favorite animals—fish and shark. I started doing these trips because they needed some help on the groundfish survey in 2020 and I hadn’t been out to sea in quite a while. I sent an email and said, “Hey, I’d love to go!” I met some people here and then got picked up for the shark longline survey. Now I come out pretty much every year for sharks and groundfish. 

What have you learned throughout your years working for NOAA?

With my job as a port agent, I monitor the commercial fisheries and take age and growth samples. I’ve learned a lot about regulating fisheries to try to get the maximum sustainable yield so that we can all eat, but also so that fish stocks can recover too. I really respect the commercial fishermen because they are hard-working people that go out and really break their backs to make a living. I want to see them all do well. 

What do you find to be the most challenging part of working out at sea? 

Sometimes it can become a grind when you have back-to-back stations for multiple days, but I don’t really know if I find much of it to be challenging. I really enjoy every aspect of it. 

What is your favorite part of working out at sea / on the Oregon II?

The crew is always awesome. There are good people out here and we always have a lot of fun. I just really enjoy being on a vessel this size and being out at sea. It’s just great. It’s hard to put into words, really. You know how some people enjoy going out to the movies? I enjoy going out and working on a boat. With my background of manual labor, which is what I grew up doing with my dad, it’s just part of who I am. I like sweating and grunting and bleeding sometimes too, you know? I do also enjoy the scientific aspect of it. There’s always something to learn. You can learn navigation, about sea life, and what information we’re learning from it, and there’s always opportunities to do neat stuff like putting out satellite tags. I put out my first satellite tag on a shark in September and it was just really cool. I’m hoping to get more information so that I can follow where that tagged shark goes. That’s going to be really fun. 

Meet the Blogger

A girl smiles while driving a boat

Hannah Shahmoradi

Hannah Shahmoradi is a communications intern with the Directorate at NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami, Florida. Hannah earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science at the University of Maine in 2022, and is currently pursuing a Master of Professional Science degree in Marine Conservation at the University of Miami. Hannah’s research interests include social science and human dimensions in marine conservation, behavioral research on marine megafauna, and media development. Meet Hannah.

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on May 14, 2024