Channa Comer: If Sand Dollars Were Real Dollars, May 19, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Channa Comer

On Board Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
May 11 — 22, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Leg 1
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: Thursday, May 19, 2011

Science and Technology Log
I started this post at just before my shift started and from the portholes (windows) in the conference room it looks like a beautiful, sunny day. I’ve learned to enjoy the sun while its out since the weather can change very rapidly. We’ve had some rough weather over the last few days. It was rough enough on Tuesday that dredging was suspended from 11:30 in the evening until 5am Wednesday morning. Since then, the tows have been proceeding as scheduled and we are on track to complete the 155 scheduled tows by Saturday.

Sand Dollars
Sand Dollars

Yesterday was sand dollar day. We completed 12 tows during the day shift and each tow seemed to have more sand dollars than the last. In our final tow of the shift, there were 48 46-liter baskets of sand dollars and one basket of scallops. If only they were real dollars, everyone on the boat would be able to retire.

All the data that we collect is entered into the Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS). The FSCS is the system that is used on the Sea Scallop survey to collect station and biological data for each tow. The SCS collects data during each tow via vessel sensors and manual data entry. At a random location the operator starts a program that logs the station location data into a series of files during the 15 minute tow. Examples of the data collected are, latitude, longitude, ocean depth, vessel speed, time, and various meteorological measures. The data is then compiled and additional values are calculated from the 1 second interval files, tow length, tow duration, average speed, etc. The additional data is important for monitoring and standardizing each tow to a set of default parameters. With a tow duration of 15 minutes, at a speed of 3.8 knots the dredge should cover about 1 nautical mile of distance on the bottom of the ocean. The raw files from the SCS are sent to the mobile sampling van and made available to users there.

After the dredge is brought up and the catch has been sorted, we break up into three teams of two and head to the van. Each work station has an electronic fish measuring board to measure each species, a touch sensitive monitor used to pick the species to work on, and a motion compensating digital scale to weigh individual fish. The main workstation has an additional large scale. The large scale is use to measure each species as a whole rather than an individual within one species. The three computers are interconnected and each workstation can observe the entire list of species being processed.

There are additional FSCS computers in a second, “dry” lab. The computers in the dry lab log data during the measuring process. Each workstation in the dry lab is wired through the ship to the van. All data is backed up immediately to the main FSCS server. Once all data is collected after a tow, the Watch Chief loads the data into a database and audits the data for accuracy. While it is a complex system, we are generally able to process a catch within 30 to 40 minutes.

New Animals Seen
Winter Skate
Witch Flounder
Conger Eel
Small Mouth Flounder
Winter Flounder
Snail Fish
Windowpane Flounder
Spotted Hake
Spider Crab
Yellow Tail Flounder
Silver Hake
Sea Grape
Sea Squirt

Personal Log
Day 9 – Thursday, May 19, 2011
Today Vic gave us a lesson in putting together the iron rings that are used in the construction of the scallop dredge. Two inch diameter iron rings are connected with small iron compression links. The rings are put together with a tool called a link squeezer which looks like a giant bolt cutter. I felt very strong after putting a few together and I may use them to make a nautical themed belt. We brought in the largest eel of the trip today, a 64 cm long Conger Eel. Steve who held the fish so that I could photograph it had a hard time since it was pretty strong, slippery and wiggling furiously.

As the cruise draws to a close, while I’ve had a great time, I am anxious to return to NY. I can’t wait to share my photos, experience and the samples that I’ve collected with my students and friends. I also can’t wait to sleep in my own bed, have a long shower in my own bathroom, and have a big bowl of broccoli — seriously. I’m sure that I’ve gained at least 10 lbs on this trip.