Duane Sanders, June 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Duane Sanders
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: New England Coast
Date: June 16, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: Speed 10 KTS, Direction  50 degrees
Barometer: 1024 millibars
Air temperature: 13 0C
Seas: 3-5 ft.

Science and Technology Log 

A sorting table full of sand dollars!

A sorting table full of sand dollars!

Why is it that we find huge numbers of sand dollars at so many stations?  There have been some stations where our dredge was completely filled with sand dollars.  The sorting table was so full that there was no clear space in which to work. This has piqued my curiosity as a biologist. Some questions come to mind.  Are there any natural predators of sand dollars? What is it about sand dollars that allow them to out-compete other organisms that might otherwise be found at these locations?  What do sand dollars eat? How can there be enough food at a given location to support these huge populations? I talked with Stacy Rowe, the chief scientist for this cruise, and she was not aware of any research being done to answer these questions.  Stacy did know that a species of fish known as the Ocean Pout eats on sand dollars.  I am looking forward to seeing results of some research on these organisms.  Maybe one of my students will follow up.  Who knows?

Duane Sanders with Keiichi Uchida: A fellow scalloper!

Duane Sanders with Keiichi Uchida: A fellow scalloper!

Many different scientists use data taken during this survey.  NOAA staffers come to the ship with a list of types of organisms or samples that have been requested by researchers.  For example we have been setting aside a few scallops from certain stations for special handling.  The gender of each scallop is determined and then they are measured and weighed.  Next, the meat from each scallop is carefully removed and weighed.  The shells are carefully cleaned and set aside to give the scientist who made the request along with all of the measurement data.

I have made a new friend, Keiichi Uchida, of a visiting researcher from Japan. He is doing research that involves tracking the movements of the conger eel, Conger oceanicus, using GIS systems.  Keiichi is here to learn more about how NOAA does surveys like the one we are on now. He is also looking at data similar to his and trying to correlate the different data sets.

Personal Log 

In many ways I am going to miss living and working with people who are interested in the same branch of science as me.  I have had fun talking about all of the things I have observed and the kinds of work being done by this branch of NOAA. There is one thing about this trip that causes me some real sadness.  I have not seen a whale. Two whales have been spotted, but I have always been at the wrong place to see them.  I hope my luck changes before we dock at Woods Hole.

Duane Sanders, June 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Duane Sanders
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: New England Coast
Date: June 15, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: Speed 6.8 KTS, Direction 65.7 degrees
Barometer: 018 millibars
Air temperature: 11.33 0C
Seas: 2-3 ft.

Dumping a dredge on the sorting table.

Dumping a dredge on the sorting table.

Science and Technology Log 

We had to change out the dredge during my last watch.  Actually, I watched while the crew did the dangerous work. We have been working in an area with a rocky bottom and the rocks caused substantial damage to the netting in the dredge. Fortunately, we are carrying four dredges plus spare netting. The crew put a new dredge into operation right away so that we didn’t lose too much time.  Geoff, our watch chief, directed the installation of the new mesh into the first dredge.

The scallop dredges we use are eight feet wide. Commercial dredges are sixteen feet wide. The basic design is the same for each.  The mouth of the dredge is a welded steel rectangular frame, with the height about one foot.  The bottom of this rectangle is a heavy steel bar, called the cutting bar. This breaks loose organisms from the bottom.  A steel plate, called the pressure plate, is welded at an angle across the top of the rectangle.  This plate creates a downward swirl of water that directs the organisms into the mouth of the netting. The bag attached to the dredge is made of a net of steel rings. A mesh liner is mounted inside the bag for scientific use. This helps to trap other organisms that make up bottom-dwelling communities.  This gives scientists a more complete picture for the survey.  Commercial dredges do not use a liner and the rings of the bag are larger.  This allows smaller size scallops and other organisms to pass through the bag and remain to help sustain a healthy scallop population.

The business end of a scallop dredge

The business end of a scallop dredge

We have been ‘shadowed’ by another ship, the Kathy Marie for part of the time we have been working.  She is carrying a device known as the “HabCam”, short for Habitat Camera.  This is an underwater camera system that is towed just over the bottom. It makes a photographic record of still images of the bottom taken at a rate of three per second. The HabCam accumulates data at about three terabytes per day. The Kathy Marie runs over the same area dredged by the Sharp after we move on to the next station. Images from these runs provide scientists with an index of dredge efficiency at capturing the bottom dwellers.  Once enough image data has been collected to make useful correlations to dredge data, it might be possible to reduce the number of physical dredge samples taken and use the HabCam to record the community ‘in situ’, that is, in position without disturbance.

Personal Log 

I said in an earlier log entry that fish are not my favorite type of organism.  Because of this bias, I had been avoiding helping with the fish sorting and identification.  After thinking about this for a bit, I decided that I needed to embrace my bias against fish and try to learn something as well as help my colleagues.  Besides, how could I face my students without at least making an effort?  So, I am trying to learn how to identify these critters.  So far, I am pretty good with goosefish, red hake, longhorn sculpin and some of the flounder species.

I wonder how long it will take me to adjust to walking on dry land after being at sea for eleven days. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.  I have been trying to read some before going to sleep, but I find that I can do a few pages at best.  Hard work, sea air and the rocking motion of our ship make powerful sleep inducers.

Duane Sanders, June 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Duane Sanders
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: New England Coast
Date: June 12, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: Speed 15.4 KTS, Direction 171.8 degrees
Barometer: 1008 millibars
Air temperature: 16.56 0C
Seas: 3-5 ft.

Science and Technology Log 

It is the end of my watch and I am ready for a break.

It is the end of my watch and I am ready for a break.

The routine of dredging for scallops 24 hours a day continues.  Since the goal of this survey is to get a good understanding of the entire ecosystem where scallops might live, we take samples from areas closed to commercial scalloping as well as from open areas. Every catch is a little different in the numbers and types of organisms we find.  There is a huge difference in scallop counts between areas that have been open for a time and those areas that have been closed. I can understand clearly the importance of checking this ecosystem on a regular basis. Open areas can become overfished and need time to recoup their losses and should be closed for a period of time.

In terms of dollar value the scallop industry is the most valuable fishery in New England. It would be decimated from overfishing without proper management based on sound, scientifically obtained data.

Personal Log 

I have adapted to standing watch at night and sleeping during the day. This experience has helped me to more fully appreciate the finer things in life: sunrise, good food and sleep. Also, I am proud to report that, thanks to some of my fellow ‘watchmates’ I am now ‘BlueTooth competent.’ They showed me how to use Bluetooth on my computer while we were winding down after our watch.

Duane Sanders, June 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Duane Sanders
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: New England Coast
Date: June 10, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: Speed 19.4 KTS, Direction 86.8 degrees
Barometer: 1013 millibars
Air temperature:  14.2 0C
Seas: 2-3 feet

I’m having fun at the sorting table.

I’m having fun at the sorting table.

Science and Technology Log 

The primary mission of this cruise is to complete the second leg of a three-leg survey of scallop populations along the New England Coast. Other information about the scallop ecosystem is also collected. Scientists evaluate the status of the scallop fishery use data gathered from the survey.  Decisions about which areas to allow commercial scalloping and which areas to close to commercial use are based on these surveys. These science-based management decisions help to promote long-term stability of the scallop industry.

Members of the day watch working at measuring stations.

Members of the day watch working at measuring stations.

After two complete watches, I think I understand the procedure. Stations to be sampled are determined by a stratified random sampling procedure. Computers, following certain parameters set by NOAA staff, determine which area is to be sampled. It is important to be consistent so that each station from each of the three legs of the cruise can be reliably compared other data from this survey as well as from other years.  Once the captain puts the ship on station, an eight-foot wide dredge is lowered to the bottom and dragged for 15 minutes.  The captain keeps the ships speed to a constant 3.8 knots.  When the dredge is hauled in, its contents are dumped on a large steel sorting table that is bolted onto the to deck. The science team on watch sorts through the contents of the catch and separates all scallops into one basket, all fish into a different bucket and all the rest of the haul into another basket.

We then determine the total weight of the scallops and measure the length of each one. Thankfully we use a computerized system for determining the lengths which automatically record them.  All of the fish are sorted by species, and then weighed by species.  The length of each fish is recorded using the same system as for the scallops. The total volume of the remaining haul is estimated with each basket being equivalent to 46 liters. The general contents of the basket are characterized by types of shells found, types of substrate material and other organisms present.

Personal Log 

A sea mouse (Aphrodite aculeate)

A sea mouse (Aphrodite aculeate)

I have been assigned to the night watch. This means we work from midnight to noon. Although I am doing better today, it has been difficult to adjust to sleeping during the day. I am sure that I will continue to adapt. As long as Paul, our cook, keeps preparing his delicious meals I will survive quite nicely!

I have really enjoyed seeing the variety of organisms that come up in the dredge.  My favorites are the invertebrates. Some examples include different species of starfish, other mollusks beside scallops, and sea mice.  A sea mouse is actually a marine worm in the group known as polychaetes. These strange looking creatures grow long, thin scales that looks like fur. Their bodies have the general shape of a mouse with no tail.  There are also many fish species, which I am learning about, but they do not interest me as much as the other organisms.

Duane Sanders, June 8, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Duane Sanders
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: New England Coast
Date: June 8, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: Speed 16.1 KTS, Direction 50.5 degrees
Barometer:  1014 millibars
Air temperature: 16.8 0C Seas: 1-3 ft.

Science and Technology Log 

The Hugh R. Sharp at dock in Delaware

The Hugh R. Sharp at dock in Delaware

I have been assigned to participate in the annual scallop survey in the New England fisheries area. Our ship, the Hugh R. Sharp, is two years old and designed specifically for ocean research. The Sharp is owned by the University of Delaware and is under contract with NOAA for the scallop survey. It has laboratories, a workshop and specialized equipment for handling large or bulky devices. There is a continuous data stream gathered by the ship’s instruments and posted on monitors on the bridge and in the lab. This includes some parameters related to ocean chemistry as well as the usual weather data. There are several other high-tech sensing systems to assist in a variety of research projects. The ship’s flexible design allows for the science team to install computers, servers and ancillary equipment specific to the research project at hand.  Also, modular labs outfitted for specific purposes can be secured to the fantail (rear deck) of the ship.

My favorite piece of technology is the diesel electric drive system.  Diesel generators produce electricity that supply power to the drive motors all other electrical needs on the ship.  Propulsion is provided by thrusters, which are capable of rotating in any direction as needed.  There are two thrusters in the stern and one in the bow.  These three acting together can keep the Sharp within six feet of a specified location.  The ship’s engineer can monitor all systems from his station on the bridge. This system is very quiet and vibration is kept to a minimum.  That means we can sleep much better than with a conventional diesel engine drive. All in all, this vessel seems to me to be an ocean scientist’s dream come true.  It is designed for high-tech applications and configurations that change as the need arises.

Here I am practicing donning my emergency immersion suit.

Here I am practicing donning my emergency immersion suit.

Personal Log 

Today is our first day at sea. We spent the morning hours getting acquainted with each other and learning about safety, emergency procedures and shipboard etiquette. For example, the science team was divided into two watches, midnight to noon and noon to midnight.  The rule is that people coming on watch need to take everything they want to use during watch hours with them. This allows those coming off watch to get some undisturbed rest.  Living in close quarters requires everyone to be considerate and cooperative. We all rely on each other to do their part to help make the cruise a safe and successful one.  While there is always room for some fun, everybody takes their responsibilities quite seriously.  Life and limb often depend on this careful approach to our work.