Sherie Gee: Scalloping Across the Seafloor, June 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Sherie Gee
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 26 – July 7

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of Cruise:  Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:  June 28, 2013 

Science and Technology Log:

Dredging is the other method of collecting the data needed for this research.  First, I would like to mention that there are predetermined stations that are collected from. Chief Scientist Nicole explained that a computer selects the stations by random and then she basically connects the dots and sets the course.  This way there is no bias in the selection process of the stations and they won’t be used more than once.

Map Showing the Course of Stations
Map Showing the Course of Stations
The Dredge and Platform
The Dredge and Platform
Spare Dredge on Deck
Spare Dredge on Deck

The crew is in charge of bringing the dredge up after towing for 15 minutes at each station.  As soon as the dredge is up on the platform and all of the organisms are lying on the platform, the scientists head out with their rubber work boots, foul weather pants, and life jackets.  They grab two orange baskets, some white buckets and a smaller plastic container.  Everyone stands at the edge of the platform and starts sorting out the organisms.  The pace of sorting is fast and furious as the scientists are quickly placing the organisms in these baskets and buckets.  The organisms are sorted out into sea scallops, small skates, fish, and all other organisms.  The most abundant organisms on most of the dredges were a species of sea stars called the armored sea star, Astropecten americanus.  Some of the other dredges had mostly sand dollars in it.  The combination of these animals varied from station to station.

Once all of the organisms are placed into the baskets and buckets, they are then lined up by the wet lab.  Here is where everything is counted, weighed, and measured. Larry, our watch chief, is in charge of that process making sure everything is done correctly.  The groups of organisms are weighed on scales and entered into the computer with a very remarkable program  called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computing System). It is an application used by four science centers (NEFSC, NWFSC, AFSC, AND SEFSC) to collect at-sea information on the research vessels that go out. Each sea scallop is measured by placing one side next to a backboard and using a magnetic tool to touch the end of the scallop to the fish board which records the length automatically and entered into the computer. You can tell when the length has been recorded because a ringing sound will go off. Then the next scallop is processed. It usually takes two people during this process; one to measure and one to feed the person measuring more scallops from the baskets.

Fish Board In the Wet Lab
Fish Board In the Wet Lab

While this is being done with the sea scallops, the fish are measured in the same way.  It is a very quick way to get this quantitative data.  A sub sample is also taken on each dredge by taking a portion of each basket and compiling it into a smaller container and counted.  In these sub-samples I counted Astropecten americanus, crabs, and whelks.  The reason for counting these species is to look at the populations of the sea scallop’s predators.  This is a very important factor in analyzing the population of a species.

Basket of Goosefish
Basket of Skates
Basket of Sea Scallops
Basket of Sea Scallops

Once the entire process has been completed, all specimens are returned to the ocean to resume their niche in their habitat.

Organisms Seen:

Atlantic Sea Scallop, rock crabs, sand dollars, armored sea star, Asterias sea star, four spot flounder, monkfish (goosefish), ocean pout, gulf stream flounder, red hake, yellow-tailed flounder, little skate, waved wake, mermaid purses (skate egg cases), sea mouse, whelks, clams, hermit crabs, American lobster

Did you know:

The sea mouse is actually a polychaete which is a type of marine segmented worm.

Ventral View of a Sea Mouse
Ventral View of a Sea Mouse

Personal Log:

Being a part of this science team has had a tremendous impact on me.  The scientists prove to be very dedicated to their work, all working for a common goal.  I am amazed at the plethora of animals being dredged up in the Atlantic Ocean.  Of course I am very partial to the fish brought up on board.  I wish I had more time with them to observe them closer and in more detail.  The goosefish also called the monkfish is a type of angler fish with an adaptation that looks like a fishing pole and bait.  It reminds me of my little frogfish that is also a type of angler fish.  I was also excited to find so many skate egg cases also called mermaid purses.  They were empty which meant that the skates had already hatched.

Empty Mermaid Purses AKA Skate egg cases
Empty Mermaid Purses
AKA Skate egg cases

Andrea Schmuttermair: Collecting Data, June 30, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 30, 2012

Ship  Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 2830.05N
Longitude: 8955.4W
Speed: 10 knots
Wind Speed: 7.11
Wind Direction: S/SW
Surface Water Salinity: 29.3
Air Temperature: 28.4C
Relative Humidity: 63%
Barometric Pressure: 1012 mb
Water Depth: 257.19m

Don’t forget to follow the Oregon II at:

Science and Technology Log

fish board
This is the fish board we use for measuring each critter in our sample.

Now that we’ve talked about how we collect, sort, and measure our catch, let’s take a closer look at the way we measure, weigh and sex our critters.

When measuring the critters, we use a fish board that is activated by a magnetic wand to measure the animal to the nearest millimeter.

When the fish is placed on the measuring line, we touch the magnetic wand to the board and the length is recorded into our computer program, FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System).

Depending on the type of fish we catch, there are different ways to measure it.

scorpion fish total legnth
Here is Alex measuring the total length of our scorpion fish.
total length measurement
This is how we would measure a fish for its standard length, which is just before the tail fin starts.
fork length measure
This is how we would measure a fish for its fork length.
Cutlass measuring
For fish such as this cutlassfish, we measure the length from the head down to the anus, as seen here on the board.

When we are done measuring, the fish is placed on a scale to determine its weight to the nearest gram. When we confirm the weight of the fish, that weight is automatically put in the computer for us- no need to enter it manually.

Our last task is to determine the sex of the fish. For many fish, this is done by making an incision in the belly of the fish from their anus to their pelvic fins. It’s easiest to determine the sex when it is a female with eggs. In the males, you can see milt, or sperm, which is a milky white color.

male fish
This is a male fish. Notice the arrow pointing to the testes.
female fish
Here we have a female fish.

For the flatfish, you can see the female’s ovaries when you hold the fish up to the light. Males lack this feature.

male flat fish
This is a male flat fish.
female flat fish
Here we have a female flat fish- notice her gonads.

Because we were catching quite a few shrimp earlier in the leg, I got pretty good at sexing the shrimp. Remember, we take samples of 200 for each type of shrimp, and we often had more than one type of shrimp in each trawl. Male shrimp have a pestama on their first pleura to attach onto the females. The females are lacking this part. Although it’s not necessarily an indication of sex, on average the female shrimp tend to be larger than the males.

male shrimp
Here is a male shrimp.
female shrimp
Here we have a female shrimp, which is lacking a pestama.

You  know from my previous post what we do with the data we gather from the shrimp, but what about the other fish? With the other fish and critters we catch, we use the data to compare the distribution across the Gulf and to compare it to the historical data we’ve collected in the past to look for trends and changes.

Sometimes scientists also have special requests for samples of a certain species. Some scientists are doing diet studies to learn more about what certain types of fish eat.  Other studies include: species verification, geographic range extensions, age and growth, and distribution. Through our program, we have the ability to create tags for the scientists requesting the samples, allowing us to bag and freeze them to send to labs when we return to land.

There are 2 communal showers for our use on the bottom deck.

Personal Log

I’ve had a few people ask me what the living quarters and the food is like on the ship, so I wandered around the ship with my camera the other day to snap some shots of the inside of the Oregon II. There are 17 staterooms on board. Most of the staterooms are doubles, such as mine, and are equipped with bunk beds to sleep on. It makes me reminisce of my days at camp, as it’s been a while since I’ve slept on a bunk bed! We have a sink and some cabinets to store our belongings. Once a week they do room inspections to ensure our rooms are neat and orderly. Most importantly, they want to make sure that our belongings are put away. If we hit rough waters, something such as a water bottle could become a dangerous projectile.

Walter, doing what he loves

My stateroom is on the bottom deck, where there are also communal showers and toilets for us to use. We can do our laundry down here, providing the seas aren’t too rough. Most of the staterooms are on this bottom deck, as the upper 2 levels are the “living areas” of the ship. On the main deck is the galley, where we eat all our meals, or where we head to when we are trying to make it through the shift to grab a snack or a cup of coffee. This tends to be right around 4:30/5:00am for me, especially when we aren’t too busy. I’ve gotten used to the night shift now, but it still can be tiring, especially when we have a long wait in between stations. Our stewards take very good care of us, and there is always something to snack on. Meals have been pretty tasty too, with plenty of fresh seafood. My favorite!

chart room
Junie, one of the NOAA Corps officers, working in the chart room on the navigational charts

On the top deck we have the lounge, a place where we hang out in between shifts. We have quite a good movie selection on board, but to be honest we haven’t had the time to take advantage of it. They’ve kept us very busy on our shifts so far, and today is one of the first days we’ve had a lot of downtime. Outside we also have some workout equipment- a bike and a rowing machine- to use on our off time. When you set the rowing machine out on deck, it’s almost like you are rowing right on the ocean!

LT Harris, LT Miller, and Chris getting ready for the dive. Jeff and Reggie help them prepare.

The other day, 2 of the NOAA Corps officers, LT Harris and LT Miller (who is also the XO for the Oregon II) and 2 of the deck crew, Chris and Tim, got ready to go out on a dive. NOAA Corps officers need to do a dive once a month to keep up their certification. Sometimes they may need to fix something that is wrong with the boat, and other dives are to practice certain dive skills. They dove in the Flower Gardens, which is a national marine sanctuary with a wide diversity of sea life. I was hoping they’d see a whale shark, but no such luck. We stopped all operations for the duration of their dive.

Favorite Catch of the Day: Here are a few cool critters we pulled up today. In addition to these critters, we also started seeing some sea stars, lots of scallops, and a variety of shells.

angel shark
An angel shark
jelly soup
How about some jelly soup?
(there are about 500 jellies in there!)
large flounder
Southern Flounder
roundel skate
A roundel skate

Critter Query: This isn’t a critter question today, but rather a little bit of NOAA trivia. 

What is the oldest ship in the NOAA fleet and where is its home port?

Don’t forget to leave your answers in the comments below!