Alicia Gillean: Strange Ocean Critters and Science at Sea, July 3, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alicia Gillean
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 27 – July 7, 2012

 

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic; Georges Bank
Date: Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 41 13.20 N
Longitude: 066 35.21 W
Relative Wind Speed: 2.3 Knots
Air Temperature: 18.72 degrees C
Humidity: 78%
Surface Seawater Temperature: 15 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

The HabCam-ing and dredging continue here in the North Atlantic in calm seas and clear skies!

Alicia Star Oddi

Alicia installing sensor on dredge

I learned a new part of the data collection process with the dredge.  Each time the dredge goes out, a sensor that tracks the pitch and roll (side to side and up and down movement) of the dredge on the ocean floor needs to be installed on the dredge.  When the trawl is complete, the sensor is removed and the data is uploaded to the computer.  It is automatically plotted on a line graph that visually tells the story of the dredge’s movement on the ocean floor.  This data is eventually combined with all the other data gathered at each dredge station.  Installing and removing the sensor has been my job for the last couple of shifts.  To do this, I have to climb up on the sorting table when the dredge is first brought to the surface, remove a metal pin and plastic holder that keeps the sensor in place, remove the old sensor and add a new sensor, then reinstall the holder and pin.  This all happens before they dump the dredge. On a funny note, on my way to the sorting table to add the sensor to the dredge earlier today, I managed to trip on a hose that was on deck and turn it on, watering myself and the lab technician that was on the deck with me and entertaining everyone else watching, I’m sure!  Luckily, we were all wearing our foul weather gear, so no one was soaked!!

It’s interesting to experience all the different pieces that make a successful dredge tow.  Before coming to sea, I guess I just assumed that you lowered a big net to the ocean floor and hoped to catch something.  I had no concept of how methodical and detailed each deployment of the dredge really is, from the locations, to the timing, to the number of people involved, to the detailed data collection.  The process is still being refined, even on this third leg of the sea scallop survey.  One of the scientists on my watch is an engineer who helped design and build the latest version of HabCam.  When a part that holds the sensor in the dredge was not working correctly, he was asked to use his engineering skills to create a better way to hold the sensor, so he made the needed modifications right on the ship.

Sorting

Day shift starting to sort a dredge haul

While sorting the haul from dredging stations, I sometimes run across ocean critters that I’ve never seen before.  I usually set these to the side to snap a picture after we finish sorting and to ask a scientist, usually Karen or Sean, to identify it for me.  It turns out that the strange hairy, oval-shaped creature I keep running across is a type of worm called a sea mouse. In my pictures it looks like a grassy ball of mud, but it’s much more interesting in person, I promise!  I consulted a field guide in the dry lab to learn a little more about it.  Its scientific name is Aphrodita hastate and it is usually about 6 inches by 3 inches and can be green, gold, or brown.  There are 15 gills hidden under the bristly fur.  They like muddy areas and often live in the very deep parts of the ocean, so they are only seen when brought up with a dredge or after being tossed ashore in a storm.  I haven’t seen any of them in the HabCam images, so I’m wondering if they tend to burrow in the mud, if their camouflage skills are really impressive, or if we just haven’t flown over any. The HabCam moves so quickly (remember, it takes 6 pictures per second) that it’s impossible to see everything in enough time to figure out what it is.

 

Sea mouse

Belly of a sea mouse

Another item that keeps coming up in the dredge looks like a clump of pasta shells and cheese and it crumbles easily.  My initial guess was that it is some type of sponge, but I was wrong. It turns out these are moon snail egg cases. Once I’m back ashore, I think I’ll have to find out more about these.

moon snail eggs

Moon snail eggs

We’ve seen lots of sea stars, scallops, sand dollars, crabs, clams, hermit crabs, flounder, several species of fish called hake, and skates (relative of the stingray) in the dredge hauls.  We’ve also seen most of these on the ocean floor with the HabCam.  One of the scientists found a whale vertebrae (part of the backbone) while sorting. It’s at least a foot and a half wide and 8 inches high! Can you imagine the size of the whale when it was alive?  Each haul usually has a monkfish or two in it.  I’ve heard that these fish are pretty tasty, but they sure look mean!  I was warned early on to keep my hands away from their mouths unless I want to get bitten!

 

Alicia with monkfish

Alicia with monkfish

Today is supposed to be a day of mainly flying the HabCam, so I’m hoping to be able to interview a few people on the ship about their jobs for use back at school when I’m not flying the HabCam or co-piloting.

Sea stars

Pretty sea stars that came up in the dredge

Personal Log

I ate my first real meal in the galley tonight and it was pretty tasty!  The steward, Paul, has worked on this ship for eight years and seems to have cooking a sea down to a science.  He has to work and sleep some unusual hours to keep everyone aboard well-fed, but he does it with a smile on his face.  Between the meals, snacks, and limited space to exercise, I imagine that keeping fit while at sea for long periods of time can be a challenge. There is a stationary bike next to the washer and dryer, but other than that you have to be creative with getting your exercise.  I saw one crew member on the deck this morning with a yoga mat doing crunches and using a storage container to do tricep dips.  He said that it’s a challenge, but that you can find ways to keep in shape at sea if it’s a priority for you.

I actually slept better the first few days at sea when I was seasick than I do now that I’m feeling better, thanks to the anti-nausea medication, I expect.  I’ve found that earplugs are essential for catching sleep aboard the ship when I’m not medicated!  There is one washer and dryer aboard the ship and I’ve had a bit of trouble finding a time when it’s not in use, so I decided to do my laundry at 5 am a day or so ago when I was having trouble sleeping. I figured I may as well use insomnia to my advantage and it was so nice to use a towel that is finally completely dry for the first time in a week!

There are 22 people aboard this ship; 12 scientists and 10 crew members.   Four of the scientists and two of the crew are women.  Because of watch schedules, most of the time I see only two other women while I’m awake.  All that to say, the ship is a pretty male-dominated arena, with lots of ESPN, toilet seats left up, and guy humor.  I feel very welcome aboard the ship, but I find that I spend most of my down time doing my own thing, like working on this blog or just enjoying the view, since I’m not much of a movie or sports watcher.  With fabulous views of the Atlantic Ocean and beautiful weather, this doesn’t bother me a bit!  In fact, I find that I see the most animals swimming in the ocean during these down times.  Today it was a huge group of jellyfish swimming next to the ship!

I’m still enjoying my time at sea and am looking forward to learning even more in my last few days.

View from science lab

View from the science lab at night

Alicia Gillean: Adventures in Dredging; July 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alicia Gillean
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 27 – July 7, 2012

 

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic; Georges Bank
Date: Sunday, July 1, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 40 48.43 N
Longitude: 068 04.06W
Relative Wind Speed: 8.9 Knots
Air Temperature: 17.61 degrees C
Humidity: 92%
Surface Seawater Temperature: 16 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

Dump dredge

Dumping dredge onto sorting table

My last shifts have been a mix of HabCam work and dredging. Remember, dredging is when we drag a heavy-duty net along the ocean floor for fifteen minutes, then bring it up and record what ocean critters we catch.  Dredging involves a lot more physical work and is much dirtier than flying the HabCam, so time goes much faster when we are dredging and it’s exciting to see what we will catch.  However, it is also kind of sad to see all the animals we bring up in the dredge, because most of them are dead or will soon be dead.  You can watch a video about sea scallop dredging here and here.

There are three two-week legs to this sea scallop survey.  I am on the last leg.  Before the first leg began, a computer program, with the assistance of a few people, decided which spots in the sea scallop habitat we should dredge and fly the HabCam.  These points were all plotted on a computerized map and the chief scientist connects the dots and decides the best route for the ship to take to make it to all the designated stations in the available time.

Here’s how our typical dredging process works:

About 10 minutes before we reach a dredge station, the Captain radios the lab from the Bridge (fancy name for the place at the top of the ship where the Captain and his crew work their magic) to let us know we are approaching our station.  At this point, I get on a computer in the dry lab to start a program that keeps track of our dredge position, length of tow, etc.  I enter data about the weather and check the depth of our dredge station.  When the engineer and Captain are ready, they radio the lab and ask for our depth and how much wire they need to send out to lower the dredge to the ocean floor.  I get the wire length from a chart hanging in the dry lab that is based on the depth of the ocean at the dredge site and use the radio to tell the engineer, who lets out that amount of wire until the dredge is on the ocean floor.  When the dredge hits the ocean floor, I use the computer program to start timing for 15 minutes and notify them when it is time to bring the dredge back up.

Alicia sorting fish

Alicia sorting the haul

The lab technicians and engineer raise and dump the dredge on a giant metal table, then secure it for the scientists to come in and begin sorting the haul.  Meanwhile, the scientists get dressed in foul weather gear to prepare for the messy job ahead.  That means I’m wearing yellow rubber overalls, black steel-toed rubber boots, blue rubber gloves, and a lovely orange lifejacket for each dredge.  Sometimes I add a yellow rubber jacket to the mix, too.  Science is not a beauty contest and I’m grateful for the protection!  Each scientist grabs two orange baskets, one large white bucket, and one small white bucket and heads to the table. The lab technicians shovel the catch toward each scientist as we sort.  Scallops go in one orange basket, fish go in the white bucket, crabs go in the small white bucket (sometimes), and everything else goes into the other orange basket.  This is considered “trash” and is thrown back overboard, but the watch chief keeps track of how many baskets of “trash” are thrown overboard during each haul and enters it into a computer database along with other data. After sorting the haul, much of the data collection takes place in lab called a “van”.

Research Van

Research “van” where we gather data from haul

The fish are sorted by species, counted, weighed, sometimes measured, and entered into a special computer system that tracks data from the hauls.  Sometimes we also collect and count crabs and sea stars.  The baskets of sea scallops are counted and weighed, and then individual scallops are measured on a special magnetic measuring board.  You lay the scallop on the measuring board, touch the magnet to the board at the end of the scallop, and the length is automatically entered into the database.    Some hauls have lots of sea scallops and some don’t have very many.  We had a couple hauls that were almost completely sand dollars and one that was almost completely sea stars.  I learned that sea stars can be quite slimy when they are stressed. I had no idea!

Sand dollar dresge

Dredge haul with LOTS of sand dollars

Sometimes my watch chief, Sean, will select a subsample of five sea scallops for us to scrub clean with a wire brush.

Alicia scrub scallops

Alicia scrubbing scallops at about 11pm

Next, we weigh and measure all five sea scallops before cutting them open to determine the gender.  We remove the gonad (the reproductive organ) and weigh it, then do the same with the “meat” (the muscle that allows the scallop to open and close its shell and the part people like to eat).  All of this information is recorded and each scallop is given a number.  We write the number on each shell half and bag and tag the shells.  The shells and data will be given to a scientist on shore that has requested them for additional research.  The scallop shells can be aged by counting the rings, just like counting the rings on a tree.

Alicia scrub scallops 2

Scrubbing scallops is dirty work!

Meanwhile, other people are hosing off the deck, table, buckets, and baskets used.  The dredge ends by shucking the scallops and saving the meat for meals later.  A successful dredge requires cooperation and communication between scientists, lab technicians, the Captain, and the crew. It requires careful attention to detail to make sure the data collected is accurate. It also requires strategic planning before the voyage even begins.  It’s an exciting process to be a part of and it is interesting to think about the different types of information that can be collected about the ocean from the HabCam versus the dredge.

Personal Log

Hallway to shower

Hallway to the shower and bathroom

Living on a ship is kind of like living in a college dorm again: shared room with bunkbeds, communal shower and bathroom down the hall, and meals prepared for you.  I can’t speak to the food prepared by the steward (cook) Paul, as I haven’t been able to eat much of it yet (I’m finally starting to get a handle on the seasickness, but I’m not ready for tuna steaks and lima beans just yet), but I do appreciate that the galley (mess hall) is open all the time for people to rummage through the cabinets for crackers, cereal, and other snacks. There’s even an entire freezer full of ice cream sandwiches, bars, etc.  If my husband had known about the ice cream, he probably would have packed himself in my duffel bag for this adventure at sea!

Taking a shower at sea is really not much different than taking a shower at the gym or in a college dorm… in the middle of a small earthquake. Actually, it’s really not too bad once you get used to the rock  of the ship.  On the floor where the scientists’ berths (rooms) are, there are also two heads (bathrooms) and two showers.  The ship converts ocean water into water that we can use on the ship for showering, washing hands, etc.  through a process called reverse osmosis.  Sea water is forced through a series of filters so small that not even the salt in the water can fit through.  I was afraid that I might be taking cold showers, but there is a water heater on board, too!   We are supposed to take “Navy showers”, which means you get wet, press a button on the shower head to stop the water while you scrub, then press the button to turn the water back on to rinse.  I’ll admit that I find myself forgetting about this sometimes, but I’m getting much better!

Shower

Shower on Hugh R Sharp

Today there was about an hour and a half of “steam” time while we headed to our next dredge location and had nothing official to do.  Some of the people on my watch watched a movie in the galley, but I decided to head to one of the upper decks and enjoy the gorgeous views of ocean in every direction.  I was awarded by a pod of about 15 common dolphins jumping out of the water next to the ship!

I’m starting to get a feel for the process of science at sea and am looking forward to the new adventures that tomorrow might bring!

Question of the Day

Which way do you think is the best way to learn about the sea scallop population and ocean life in general: dredging or HabCam?  Why do you think so?

 You can share your thoughts, questions, and comments in the comments section below.

Janet Nelson: Steaming for Home, June 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janet Nelson Huewe
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 13 – 25, 2012

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Area: North Atlantic
Monday, June 25, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 41 24.21 North
Longitude: 069 54.98 West
Wind Speed: 13.7 kt
Air Temperature: 17 C                    

Final Log:

We are steaming for home. Woods Hole, MA that is. In the past ten days we have conducted 71 scallop dredge tows and processed 15, 979 scallops. We also took over 4 million images with the HabCam in 691 nautical miles of this leg. We have been a little busy.

A tow of scallops

This morning (0600 hrs.) we mustered in the dry lab and began our assignments, ranging from swabbing the decks to vacuuming our state rooms. Tonight I will be in Boston and then on my way back to Minnesota. I am ready to go home, but I know I will think back fondly on a few things. The rocking of the boat when I’m going to sleep.  Meals prepared for me. The sound of waves and water. The hum of the engines. Seeing what comes up in the scallop dredge. Being on deck and on the bridge. A hap chance at seeing whales or dolphins. New friends and fun banter. Even though this journey began with an unpleasant introduction, it is ending with fond feelings.

Me and a barndoor skate!

Me and a barn door skate!

Being on this boat has been interesting for several reasons. I have learned new things about ocean life that I can take back to my classroom as well as a few souvenirs. I can honestly say I have never seen more scallops in my life, not to mention sand dollars and sea stars! I am looking forward to sharing this experience with my family, students, and friends. As I write this last blog, I am thinking of what a privilege it has been to be a member of this team of researchers. I am honored to learn from them. To my team: Jon, Nicole, Mike, Jess, Alexis, Ted, Nick (TG), and TR, thank you!! This experience would not have been the same without you! I will remember you fondly for many, many days to come.

Cheers!

L to R, TR, Ted, Mike, Jess, Jon, Nicole…my crew

Janet Nelson: Third Day at Sea – June 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janet Nelson Huewe
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 13 – 25, 2012

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Area: North Atlantic
Sunday, June 17, 2012

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 39.48.57 North
Longitude: 07226.9 West
Wind Speed: 12 kt
Air temp: 17.8 C
Approximate wave height: 4-6 feet

Science and Technology Log:

Current time: 1630 hours. We have been operating the HabCam since I came on duty at 1200 hours. It is interesting watching what the HabCam is flying over. Depending on the area, it might be littered with sea stars (a predator of small scallops) or it may be littered with hundreds of sand dollars (a food of ocean pout – ugly looking fish). In the case of sea stars, you won’t see many adult scallops, which, makes sense if the young ones are getting eaten. All in all, the research here is pretty straight forward. We are looking to see what predation is affecting the scallops, basically, food chains and habitat. On the side scan sonar, you can see past dredge marks from fishing vessels that have come through. We have passed over some old fishing nets, gear, a shoe, a can, odd things like that.

I have been “flying” the HabCam which is pretty cool. You need to keep the cam approximately 2.5 to 1.5 meters off the sea floor which can be a tricky thing to do. Fun, but tricky. While the cam is flying, the “co”pilot” is scanning images looking for various critters, specifically scallops. It can be a process that makes your eyes go buggy after about 1/2 to 3/4 hours so we switch off every now and then. This specific episode of the HabCam has been running for approximately 14 hours and has traveled about 177 nautical miles. That is a lot of sea floor!!

In approximately 35 minutes we will deploy the scallop dredge. The dredge will run for 15 minutes spurts. We will run six of them back to back. When the dredge comes up we will sort all the species into their buckets, count and measure the scallops, count and measure the fish, toss back the sand dollars, star fish and most often the crabs. The scallops that are two years old or younger we measure and toss back into the sea. The older scallops get measured, sexed, weighed and sometimes shucked. Word is there will be scallops for supper!

Personal Log:

I now understand what it is like to be in a washing machine with no end! I have not been able to blog prior to now because I have been spending a great deal of time in my bunk and in the head. My diet consists of saltine crackers and water. Occasionally, I can sneak in a piece of fruit, but not often. So far, this experience has not really begun yet. I have, however, been able to go 24 hours with no loss of stomach content. That’s a good sign, I hope. Sleep has been good and I feel rested (for the most part). The crew on the ship is awesome and I could not ask for a better chief scientist! Everyone was very understanding when I was sick and cut me slack for not being able to pull my weight. I think the crying helped soften them up. I was looking forward to big seas and water, not so much any more. I beg for calm seas and light winds. Perhaps I will be able to get some photographs of me working for the next blog, but until then, I will be happy with just keeping my lunch down!

Cheers!


Janet Nelson: Introduction – NOAA Teacher at Sea – June 14-25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janet Nelson Huewe
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 13 – 25, 2012

Pre-Cruise:

Greetings from Lewes Delaware! I am Janet Nelson Huewe. I live in Bemidji, MN with my husband, Gary. Together we have five grown children and two grand children. Bemidji is the home of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

Good thing Mr. Bunyan left so many footprints that created lakes because my husband LOVES to fish! I have been teaching biology for ten years at Red Lake High School on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. I enjoy learning and doing new things that I can bring back into my classroom. I am very excited to have been selected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to participate in their Teacher at Sea program. I will be working on the R/V Hugh R. Sharp in the North Atlantic conducting a sea scallop survey.

I arrived into Lewes on June 13th and boarded the ship. The winds have been high, blowing anywhere from 25 to 40 mph causing waves to reach around 12 feet, so we are still in port, waiting for calmer seas. When we do set sail, we will be using a device called a HabCam (HABitat mapping CAMera system). HabCam is a tool that will provide us with a unique glimpse at the seafloor through optical imaging.

The HabCam vehicle is lifted over the edge of the ship by a winch and then “flies” over the ocean bottom taking six images a second creating a continuous image ribbon. On the surface we will get real-time images and data in a completely non-invasive way.  From the images we can learn about ecosystem change over different time and space scales, calculate biodiversity, classify habitats, map hard to survey species, learn about invasive species, and promote interest in ocean and ecosystem science. HabCam can also provide data to scientists and fishery managers to help them make more informed decisions and to help understand ecosystem change.

We will also deploy a scallop dredge (on the right). This device, however, is more invasive. The dredge will physically skim the bottom of the ocean to collect live specimens. From there, I will help sort and count the scallops and any other critter that gets taken up by the dredge. Maybe I will be able to eat a few scallops later? We’ll see. Until then, keep checking my blog to find out more exciting news from the R/V Hugh R. Sharp!

Alicia Gillean: Introduction, April 29, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alicia Gillean
Soon to be aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 27 — July 8, 2012

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Sunday, April 29, 2012

Personal Log

Alicia Gillean

Alicia Gillean, 2012 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hello from Oklahoma!  My name is Alicia Gillean and I am ecstatic that I was selected as a 2012 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) Teacher at Sea!  I am passionate about adventure, lifelong learning, and the ocean.  I can’t wait to merge these three passions together for twelve days at sea this summer and to share my learning with all of my students and coworkers back in Oklahoma. I will be blogging about my adventure and learning while aboard the ship and you are invited to follow my journey and get involved by asking questions and posting comments. I’ll start by telling you a little bit about myself, then I’ll fill you in on the details of my Teacher at Sea adventure.

A Bit About Me

When I’m not pursuing adventure on the high seas, I am the school librarian (also known as a library media specialist) at Jenks West Intermediate School, a school of about 600 5th and 6th graders in the Jenks Public Schools District, near Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I might be a bit biased, but I believe that I have the best job in the school and that I work with some of the finest teachers and students in the world.

You are probably wondering, “How did a librarian from Oklahoma become part of an ocean research cruise?”  I’m glad you asked.  It just so happens that this blog entry answers that very question.

I’ll admit it; I was born and raised a landlubber. There just aren’t many opportunities to visit the ocean when you grow up in the Midwest.  Rumor has it that I touched the ocean once when I was about 3, but I didn’t touch it again until I was 21. More on that later.

My passion for the ocean began in high school when I took a Marine Biology class where my mind was blown by the diversity and beauty of life in the sea and the complex network of factors that impact the health of an ocean environment.  I took Marine Biology 2 and 3 the following years where I set up and maintained aquariums in elementary schools and taught ocean-related lessons for elementary students.

Aquarium newspaper photo

Alicia showing a shark jaw to a three year old at the Oklahoma Aquarium

I started to become a little obsessed with marine life, went to college to become a teacher, and did a happy dance when I learned that an aquarium was going to open in Jenks, Oklahoma.  I landed a job as a summer intern in the education department of the Oklahoma Aquarium and was overjoyed to be a part of the team that opened it in 2003.  When I graduated from college, the aquarium hired me as an education specialist, where I worked with learners of all ages to promote our mission of “conservation through education” through classes, camps, fishing clinics, sleepovers, animal interactions, crafts… the list goes on and on. 

In 2006, I became a 6th grade teacher in Jenks Public Schools, then I earned my Masters degree and became the school librarian in 2010.  I love to work with all the kiddos in my school as they learn to develop as thinkers, scientists, and citizens who have the power to impact the world.  They are just the kind of advocates that the environment needs and I want to help prepare them for this important role any way possible.  My experiences as a Teacher at Sea will certainly help!

Let’s go back to my actual experiences with the ocean for a moment.  After graduating from college and marrying my high school sweetheart David, I hightailed it to an ocean as fast as possible.  We honeymooned in Hawaii where we snorkeled, explored tidepools, went on a whale watch, and temporarily filled the ocean-shaped void in my heart.

Alicia in ocean

Alicia on a Maui Beach

I’ve been back to the ocean several times and each time I am reminded of the delicate balance that must be maintained for the fascinating world under the waves to survive and thrive.  It is critical we protect the oceans and that people realize that their actions impact the oceans.  Even in the landlocked state of Oklahoma, our actions matter.

So, that’s why a school librarian from Oklahoma will spend the summer of 2012 on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, counting sea scallops.  I can hardly wait for the adventure to begin!  Enough about me, let’s talk about the research cruise now.

Science and Technology Log

I’ll be participating in a sea scallop survey in the Atlantic Ocean, along the northeast coast of the United States, from Delaware to Massachusetts.  My adventure at sea will begin June 27, 2012 and end July 8, 2012.

What is a sea scallop?

A sea scallop is an animal that is in the same category as clams, oysters, and mussels. One way that sea scallops are different from other animals with two shells (bivalves) is that a sea scallop can move itself through the water by opening and closing its shells quickly.  How do you think this adaptation might help the sea scallop?  Watch these videos to see a sea scallop in action:

 

Importance of  Sea Scallops/Sea Scallop Survey

People like to eat scallops, so fishermen drag heavy-duty nets along the ocean floor (called dredging) to collect and sell them.  Most of them are harvested in the Atlantic Ocean along the northeastern coast of the United States. The United States sea scallop fishery is very important for the economy.

Sea Scallop Habitats

Map of sea scallop habitats from NOAA’s fishwatch.gov

The problem is that sometimes people can harvest too many scallops and the sea scallops can’t reproduce quickly enough before they are harvested again.  Eventually, this could lead to the depletion of the sea scallop population, which would be bad news for the ocean and for people.

This is where the NOAA Sea Scallop Survey comes in.  Every year, NOAA sends scientists out in a ship to count the number of Atlantic sea scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) in various parts of their habitat.  The sea scallops live in groups called beds on the ocean floor 100-300 feet deep, so scientists can’t just peer into the ocean and count them.  Instead, they have to dredge, just like the fisherman, to collect samples of scallops in numerous places.  The scientists record data about the number, size, and weight of sea scallops and other animals. Based on the data collected, decisions are made about what areas are okay for people to harvest scallops in and what areas need a break from harvesting for a while.  I’m considered a scientist on this cruise, so I’ll get to participate in this for 12 hours a day.  I hear it is messy, smelly, tiring, and fascinating.  Sounds like my type of adventure!  I think most good science is messy, don’t you?

The Ship

I’ll be sailing on the research vessel Hugh R Sharp. You can take a virtual tour of the ship here.  It was built in 2006, is 146 feet long (a little bit shorter than the width of a football field), and is used for lots of different scientific research expeditions. When I’m out at sea, you can see where I am on the journey and track the ship here.

RV Hugh R. Sharp

R/V Hugh R. Sharp; photo from NOAA Eastern Surveys Branch

What I hope to Learn

I’m very interested to experience what daily life is like on an ocean research vessel, how scientists use inquiry, data-collection, math, and other skills that we teach our students in a real-world setting.  Of course, I’m also hoping to see some fascinating ocean critters and get my hands dirty doing the work of a real scientist.

I’d love for you to join me on this adventure by following this blog and leaving your thoughts and questions in the comment section at the bottom of each blog entry.  Let’s make this a learning experience that we will all remember!

Jessie Soder: Drag It Along, Dump It Out, Count ‘Em Up, August 14, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessie Soder
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
August 8 – 19, 2011 

Mission: Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northern Atlantic
Date: Wednesday, August 14, 2011 

Weather Data
Time:  16:00
Location:  41°47N, 67°47W
Air Temp:  18°C  (64°F)
Water Temp:  16.5°C  (62°F)
Wind Direction:  SE
Wind Speed:  6 knots
Sea Wave height:  0
Sea Swell:  0

Science and Technology Log

A fellow volunteer, Rebecca, and myself measuring clams

When I found out that the Teacher at Sea trip that I would be on was a clam survey, I thought, “Oh, clams.  I see those on the beach all the time.  No problem.”  I learned that the clams are collected using a hydraulic dredge.  I knew  that a dredge was something that you dragged along the bottom of the ocean.  That seemed simple enough.  Drag it along, dump it out, count ‘em up, and you’re done.

Quickly, I learned that this project is not that simple!  A few questions came to mind after we had done a couple of tows:  How many people are needed to conduct one tow for clams and quahogs? (operate the machinery, the ship, sort through a tow, collect the data, etc.)  How many different jobs are there during one tow?

Sorting through contents of a dredge

Those questions are hard to answer, and I don’t have a precise answer.  What I have learned is that it takes a lot of people and everyone that is involved has a job that is important.  I asked the Chief Scientist, Victor Nordahl, how many people he preferred to have on a science team per watch.   He told me that it is ideal to have six people dedicated to working on sorting the contents of the dredge, processing the catch, and collecting data per watch.  Additionally, he likes to have one “floater,” who can be available to help during each watch.  This seems like a lot of people, but, when there is a big catch this number of people makes the work much more manageable.  There are six people, including myself, on my watch.  Four of us are volunteers.

Each time the dredge is lowered, pulled along the ocean floor, and then brought back onto the ship it is called an “event.”  In my last post I included a video of the dredge being hauled up onto the deck of the ship after it had been pulled along the bottom.  An entire tow, or “event,” is no small feat!  During my watch Rick operates the machinery that raises and lowers the dredge.  (Don’t forget the dredge weighs 2500 pounds!)

There are also two people working on deck that assist him.  (You can see them in the video from my last post.  They are wearing hard hats and life vests.)  Additionally, an officer on the bridge needs to be operating and navigating the ship during the entire event.  There are specific times where they must speed up, slow down, and stop the ship during a tow.  They also have to make sure that the ship is in the correct location because there are planned locations for each tow.  Throughout the entire event the science team, deck crew, and the bridge crew communicate by radio.

Rick, in front of the controls he uses to lower and raise the dredge

As I said, this project is not simple!  To make it more complicated, equipment often breaks, or is damaged, which means that the deck crew and the science team have to stop and fix it. On this trip we have stopped to fix equipment several times.  Various parts of the dredge get bent and broken from rocks on the ocean floor.  Before the dredge is lowered, the bottom is scouted with a depth sounder to try to avoid really rough terrain.  On the screen of the depth sounder different substrates are shown in different colors.  For example sand is shown in green and rocks are shown in red.  We try to avoid a lot of rocks.  However, all the rocks cannot be avoided and sometimes we hit them!

Personal Log

Vic getting a hair cut

Before coming on this trip I was told that the work can be strenuous and, sure enough, it is.  Sometimes a tow brings up hundreds of pounds of rocks (with some clams mixed in!) that we need to sort through and, as you know, rocks are heavy!  The work is also a bit, well, gross.  We have to measure all the clams, whole and broken and we also have to collect weights of “clam meat.”  That means that we have to open the shells and scrape the meat out.  I have a pretty high tolerance for gross things, but I am starting to grow weary of clam guts!

In between tows there is a little bit of down time to catch your breath, drink coffee and eat cookies, watch the ocean, and read a book.  During one of these breaks, the Chief Scientist Victor Nordahl, took the moment and had his hair cut!