NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
July 5 – 14, 2014
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey, Third Leg
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 9, 2014
Weather data from the bridge: Wind 204* 15 knots, Seas 4-6-10-12 ft. mixed directions, Visibility – overcast
Science and Technology Log:
Today we began dredging for scallops. The ship follows a predetermined path and the dredge is lowered to the ocean floor at specific locations along the path. These locations are chosen by the Scallop Assessment Biologist at NOAA because they are an accurate representation of the scallop population in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. The area that we are focused on is known as Georges Bank. It is a broad, shallow submarine plateau forming the seaward boundary of the Gulf of Maine. The average depth is between 30 and 75 meters deep. It is home to an assortment of marine life including the Atlantic Sea Scallop. Several computers are employed to record all of the data that is pertinent to each dredge event. These include: ocean depth, air temperature, salinity, barometer, air speed, wind direction, fluorometer, and wind direction. The lab is in constant communication with both the bridge and the engineer who operates the winch system. Depending upon the ocean depth at the dredge station location, a specific amount of dredging cable (called line) to which the dredge net is attached, is released in order to create the best angle for the dredging operation.
After 15 minutes the dredge is hauled up to the surface and the net is emptied out onto the sorting table. All members of the science team are poised and ready to sort the catch. Each sorter is outfitted with foul weather gear. This consists of rubberized jacket, coveralls and rubber boots. Also required is a life vest, heavy duty gloves, and a hard hat (if the winch is in use). Several baskets and buckets are arranged around the sorting table. One is reserved for scallops, one for assorted fish and skate, one for crabs and whelk, and the last is for items that are not part of the study. This is known as trash.
When everyone has completed their preliminary sorting, it is time to count and sort each species that was collected. Trash is also accounted for. Each basket that is returned to the ocean is counted and data is recorded. The sorting and trash data is entered into the computer system inside the wet lab (also known as the van). At the three stations inside the van, a measuring tray is utilized to quickly measure and record the length of certain fish, scallops and skate. The first large scallop from each dredge event is photographed as a representation of that event. All large scallops are then weighed and shucked and the scallop is sexed (recorded as a male or female). The sex organ is weighed as well as the meat. The shells of the large scallops are cleaned, labeled, and placed into a muslin bag in order to be further analyzed at a NOAA laboratory back on shore. At the conclusion of the dredge event and sorting process, the lab is cleaned and prepped for the next event.
During our first watch, our team completed seven dredge events. Each event can take more than an hour from start to finish. Our catches included a variety of marine species: scallops, sand dollars, ocean pout, windowpane flounder, yellowtail flounder, four spot flounder, and gulfstream flounder, silver and red hake, quahogs, barn-door and winter skate, haddock, sand lance, cancer and hermit crab, sea mouse, sea sponge, fawn cusk eel, wave whelk, and monkfish (goosefish).
As an inexperienced sailor and scientist, the NOAA staff all worked hard to train me to complete many of the tasks required during our watch. Scientific method and protocol was followed to a “T”. It was an awesome and intense responsibility to fly the HabCam, annotate images recorded by the HabCam, monitor environmental data, set up the dredging event on the computer system, and record the sample data. Throughout the scheduled watch we witnessed whales spouting and breaching, and porpoise antics. During our down time we enjoyed the company of each other as well as the delicious meals prepared by Chef Paul.
Life at sea can be challenging. The weather is checked often in order to adjust the dredging route. High waves can make a dredge event difficult. They can also be a safety issue out on deck. For this reason, each person is required to wear a life vest and boots. Anyone on deck during a dredge drop or haul back is also required to wear a hard hat.
After a long, hard day, sleep is usually the best thing that you can do for yourself. The cabin area is quiet at all times because everyone is on a different shift. I am in a 4-person cabin but my roommates are all on the opposite shift. The rocking of the ship, and background engine noise makes it easy to fall asleep for long periods of time.
Did you know?
Scallops can be male or female. The simplest way to determine the sex is to open the scallop shell and examine the gonad. Female scallops have a pink gonad and males are cream-colored.
Answer to last poll:
The R/V Hugh R. Sharp has at least 88 computer monitors on board. An equal number are part of the navigational and monitoring systems as well as the scientific research components.