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.

Bruce Taterka, July 7, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Trawling in Deeper Waters

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2015 (8:15pm)
Position: Latitude = 27.20.39 N; Longitude = 096.35.21 W
Present Weather: Could cover 90%
Visibility: 4-6 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.6 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 28.5 C; Wet bulb = 26.7 C
Barometric Pressure: 1008.27 mb

Science and Technology Log

Since setting out on Friday we’ve headed south along the Gulf coast of Texas almost to the Mexican border, and now we’re heading back north but farther offshore, in deeper water. As a result our trawls are pulling up a deep-water assemblage of species different from those we saw in shallower waters a few days ago. There is still no sign of oil in this part of the Gulf, but we’re still taking samples of fish and shrimp for analysis to make sure there’s no contamination here from the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Ten-foot seas are predicted for tonight so we’re heading north along the Texas coast, away from the storm, and we’ve put away the fishing gear until it gets calmer.

Last log we talked about FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System). So what is it, how is it used, and what is so great about it?

FSCS, pronounced ‘fiscus’, is an automated system for recording the massive amount of biological and oceanographic data generated 24 hours a day by NOAA scientists during fisheries surveys. During a trawl survey, fish and invertebrates from each haul are sorted, counted and weighed by species. Scientists record data from individual fish, such as sex, weight, length and even stomach contents, resulting in tens of thousands of new data points every day. Before NOAA rolled out FSCS in 2001 aboard the ship Albatross IV, scientists recorded all data by hand, an incredibly tedious process. With FSCS, however, data are recorded digitally which is much faster, allows integration of biological and oceanographic data. It also enables NOAA to obtain critical real-time information to assess and manage the health of the marine ecosystem and individual fish stocks.

FSCS uses a Limnoterra FMB4 (fish measuring board) which has a magnetic pen to upload the length of an organism within a millimeter, and software that annotates all of the data on length, mass, sex, etc. The software has an index of species scientific names and can print labels for specimen samples that are to be shipped to other scientists and to the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory in Pascagoula, MS.

We use FSCS 24 hours a day, and I can’t imagine how NOAA scientists did this work without it.

Personal Log

I’m enjoying my 12-hour shifts processing fish, shrimp and invertebrates on theOregon II. Our noon-to-midnight watch is working well together and starting to bond.

My watch-mates in the Oregon II wet lab.

I’m seeing lots of very cool marine life that we’re hauling up from the bottom of the Gulf with our trawling net. Here are just a few of the things I’ve seen in the past two days:

Singlespot frogfish – Antennarius radiosus.

Note the lure on its snout.

Examining the stomach contents of a catfish.
Red snapper – Lutjanus campechanus.
Camouflage in the Sargassum. Can you spot the crabs?