Emily Whalen: Station 381–Cashes Ledge, May 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: May 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Winds:  Light and variable
Seas: 1-2ft
Air Temperature:   6.2○ C
Water Temperature:  5.8○ C

Science and Technology Log:

Earlier today I had planned to write about all of the safety features on board the Bigelow and explain how safe they make me feel while I am on board.  However, that was before our first sampling station turned out to be a monster haul!  For most stations I have done so far, it takes about an hour from the time that the net comes back on board to the time that we are cleaning up the wetlab.  At station 381, it took us one minute shy of three hours! So explaining the EEBD and the EPIRB will have to wait so that I can describe the awesome sampling we did at station 381, Cashes Ledge.

This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine.  The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam.  This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!

This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine. The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam. This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!

Before I get to describing the actual catch, I want to give you an idea of all of the work that has to be done in the acoustics lab and on the bridge long before the net even gets into the water.

The bridge is the highest enclosed deck on the boat, and it is where the officers work to navigate the ship.  To this end, it is full of nautical charts, screens that give information about the ship’s location and speed, the engine, generators, other ships, radios for communication, weather data and other technical equipment.  After arriving at the latitude and longitude of each sampling station, the officer’s attention turns to the screen that displays information from the Olex Realtime Bathymetry Program, which collects data using a ME70 multibeam sonar device attached to bottom of the hull of the ship .

Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges in trawling has been getting the net caught on the bottom of the ocean.  This is often called getting ‘hung’ and it can happen when the net snags on a big rock, sunken debris, or anything else resting on the sea floor.  The consequences can range from losing a few minutes time working the net free, to tearing or even losing the net. The Olex data is extremely useful because it can essentially paint a picture of the sea floor to ensure that the net doesn’t encounter any obstacles.  Upon arrival at a site, the boat will cruise looking for a clear path that is about a mile long and 300 yards wide.  Only after finding a suitable spot will the net go into the water.

Check out this view of the seafloor.  On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges.  That's where we dragged the net and caught all of the fish!

Check out this view of the seafloor. On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges. We trawled right between the ridges and caught a lot of really big fish!

The ME70 Multibeam uses sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean at specific points.  It is similar to a simpler, single stream sonar in that it shoots a wave of sound down to the seafloor, waits for it to bounce back up to the ship and then calculates the distance the wave traveled based on the time and the speed of sound through the water, which depends on temperature.  The advantage to using the multibeam is that it shoots out 200 beams of sound at once instead of just one.  This means that with each ‘ping’, or burst of sound energy, we know the depth at many points under the ship instead of just one.  Considering that the multibeam pings at a rate of 2 Hertz to 0.5 Herts, which is once every 0.5 seconds to 2 seconds, that’s a lot of information about the sea floor contour!

This is what the nautical chart for Cashes Ledge looks like. The numbers represent depth in fathoms.  The light blue lines are contour lines.  The places where they are close together represent steep cliffs.  The red line represents the Bigelow’s track. You can see where we trawled as a short jag between the L and the E in the word Ledge

The stations that we sample are randomly selected by a computer program that was written by one of the scientists in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who happens to be on board this trip.  Just by chance, station number 381 was on Cashes Ledge, which is an underwater geographical feature that includes jagged cliffs and underwater mountains.  The area has been fished very little because all of the bottom features present many hazards for trawl nets.  In fact, it is currently a protected area, which means the commercial fishing isn’t allowed there.  As a research vessel, we have permission to sample there because we are working to collect data that will provide useful information for stock assessments.

My watch came on duty at noon, at which time the Bigelow was scouting out the bottom and looking for a spot to sample within 1 nautical mile of the latitude and longitude of station 381.  Shortly before 1pm, the CTD dropped and then the net went in the water.  By 1:30, the net was coming back on board the ship, and there was a buzz going around about how big the catch was predicted to be.  As it turns out, the catch was huge!  Once on board, the net empties into the checker, which is usually plenty big enough to hold everything.  This time though, it was overflowing with big, beautiful cod, pollock and haddock.  You can see that one of the deck crew is using a shovel to fill the orange baskets with fish so that they can be taken into the lab and sorted!

You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge.  How many different kinds of fish can you see?

You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge. How many different kinds of fish can you see? Photo by fellow volunteer Joe Warren

 

At this point, I was standing at the conveyor belt, grabbing slippery fish as quickly as I could and sorting them into baskets.  Big haddock, little haddock, big cod, little cod, pollock, pollock, pollock.  As fast as I could sort, the fish kept coming!  Every basket in the lab was full and everyone was working at top speed to process fish so that we could empty the baskets and fill them up with more fish!  One of the things that was interesting to notice was the variation within each species.  When you see pictures of fish, or just a few fish at a time, they don’t look that different.  But looking at so many all at once, I really saw how some have brighter colors, or fatter bodies or bigger spots.  But only for a moment, because the fish just kept coming and coming and coming!

Finally, the fish were sorted and I headed to my station, where TK, the cutter that I have been working with, had already started processing some of the huge pollock that we had caught.  I helped him maneuver them up onto the lengthing board so that he could measure them and take samples, and we fell into a fish-measuring groove that lasted for two hours.  Grab a fish, take the length, print a label and put it on an envelope, slip the otolith into the envelope, examine the stomach contents, repeat.

Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets

Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets waiting to get counted and measured. Photo by Watch Chief Adam Poquette.

Some of you have asked about the fish that we have seen and so here is a list of the species that we saw at just this one site:

  • Pollock
  • Haddock
  • Atlantic wolffish
  • Cod
  • Goosefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Alewife
  • Acadian redfish
  • Alligator fish
  • White hake
  • Red hake
  • American plaice
  • Little skate
  • American lobster
  • Sea raven
  • Thorny skate
  • Red deepsea crab

 

 

 

 

I think it’s human nature to try to draw conclusions about what we see and do.  If all we knew about the state of our fish populations was based on the data from this one catch, then we might conclude that there are tons of healthy fish stocks in the sea.  However, I know that this is just one small data point in a literal sea of data points and it cannot be considered independently of the others.  Just because this is data that I was able to see, touch and smell doesn’t give it any more validity than other data that I can only see as a point on a map or numbers on a screen.  Eventually, every measurement and sample will be compiled into reports, and it’s that big picture over a long period of time that will really allow give us a better understanding of the state of affairs in the ocean.

Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow

Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow

Personal Log

Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!

Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!

It seems like time is passing faster and faster on board the Bigelow.  I have been getting up each morning and doing a Hero’s Journey workout up on the flying bridge.  One of my shipmates let me borrow a book that is about all of the people who have died trying to climb Mount Washington.  Today I did laundry, and to quote Olaf, putting on my warm and clean sweatshirt fresh out of the dryer was like a warm hug!  I am getting to know the crew and learning how they all ended up here, working on a NOAA ship.  It’s tough to believe but a week from today, I will be wrapping up and getting ready to go back to school!

Kathleen Brown: First Days at Sea, June 8-9, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Brown
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 7 – 18, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Dates: June 8-9, 2011

June 9, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 10:00 am
Winds 10 to 20 knots
Seas 3 to 4 feet 

Science and Technology Log

R/V Hugh R. Sharp

R/V Hugh R. Sharp

This morning is the first day that I have awoken on board the ship. It will be my first twelve-hour shift. The scientists work either from noon until midnight or from midnight to noon. Kevin, the chief scientist, has assigned me to the day shift. I am very happy about this! We suit up in our foul weather gear. Those who have done this before explain to me that it is easiest to slip on the black rubber boots and rain pants like a firefighter who just got a call might do. We eagerly wait for the winch to pull the catch out of the water. The net drops everything out on the table. When we receive word from the engineer that all is clear, I don a hardhat, and hop up on the table with a white board that lists the station, strata and tow. My shipmate, La Shaun, snaps a photo record of the catch. We stand around the table and begin the inventory. We are looking for sea scallops and any we find go into a big orange basket. Other species that we separate out include: red hake, monkfish, haddock, skate, and ocean pout. We measure the length of the fish that we have separated. I imagine how the data might be used by scientists back on land to indicate the health of that portion of the ocean. As soon as we finish the haul and clean up, it is time to do it all over again. Every third catch we count the number of starfish and cancer crabs. I am excited to hold sponges, sea urchins, and hermit crabs. I am surprised to learn that the sand dollars are red.

Scallops!

Scallops!

Once all the sea life on the table has been sorted, it is time to head to the wet lab. There, the buckets of animals are counted and measured. Two persons work at each table measuring the fish. The fish is laid flat against the scale and one scientist uses a magnetic tool to capture the length electronically. During one catch, Aaron and I measured the length of 37 skate. I am impressed by the knowledge of the scientists who can easily tell the difference between a winter skate and a little skate. I hope by the end of the trip, I will be able to do so as quickly as they can.

Personal Log

I hardly notice the rocking of the ship while we are working. I think I may be starting to get my sea legs. On this first day there is very little time in between stations, and there is no real down time. I have learned how to shuck a sea scallop and seen the anatomy of the animal for the first time. I had been promised that I would get to work hard out on the open ocean and I am not disappointed.

Question of the Day Do you know the shape of the sea scallop shell? If you open the shell of a sea scallop you can immediately tell if it is a male or a female. How?

June 8, 2011

Personal Log

I reported to the Woods Hole dock at 7:30 in the morning. The day was bright and sunny, with temperatures in the 70s. The sight of the ship docked next to the NOAA building was so exciting. I climbed on board and introduced myself to Captain Jimmy who showed me right to the galley and offered me a cup of coffee. He was so welcoming! The ship had arrived in port at about 5:00 am and the crew and scientists were working to get everything ready to go by noon. I was shown my room, which is meant for four persons and has two sets of bunk beds. The room is so much bigger than it appeared in the photographs I saw! I chose a lower bunk and stowed my duffel bag underneath the bed in a cubby that was designed just for that. As more of those traveling on the journey arrived, I was interested to find that five of us have ties to Maine. We gathered to hear a briefing on the research that we will be supporting while on board the ship. Did you know that the American Sea Scallop is the most valuable fishery in the United States? Then we went off to lunch in the galley. The cook, Paul, served us an amazing lentil soup and sandwiches. The galley is full of snacks, a fridge with ice cream, and milk juice, coffee and tea, all of which are available day and night. As we were eating, I felt the ship start to move. We were told our first station is about eight hours away. (A station is a place where we collect a sample of the sea life.) Away we go!

Question of the Day What is the reason that Woods Hole became the location on Cape Cod for ocean research?

Anne Byford: June 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Byford
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 8 – 15, 2010

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Location: off the coast of New England
June 11, 2010

Weather Data at 1:30pm EDT: Clear and sunny, 14.5˚C
Location at 1:30pm EDT: Lat: 4123.78 NLong: 6656.64 W
Water Depth: 68.2 m

8th Day at Sea

What kinds of things are you going to catch?Part 2 – non-fish along with a few new fishes

There are many more species in the areas than I have listed here; these are simply the ones that I found most interesting. There are several different types of bivalves, sea weeds, etc. Material about the species on this page came from several sources, including the Bigelow and Schroeder’s book referenced in the previous posting. Also, Kenneth Gosner’s A Field Guide to the Atlantic Seashore published by Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston, Ma, 1978. I also used Norman Mein-Koth’s Field Guide to North American Seashore Creatures published by Alfred A. Knopf in New York in 1990.

Sea Stars (aka starfish) – Every third dredge, the contents of the dredge are sampled and the sea stars are separated by species and counted. Most sea stars can regenerate a lost arm, but a few can regenerate an entire organism from the lost arm as well. All sea stars are predators; many species do eat scallops.

Hippasteria phygiana

Hippasteria phygiana

Hippasteria phygiana – a cushion star with a much wider central disk and shorter arms than the other types of sea stars.

Northern Sea Star

Northern Sea Star

Northern Sea Star (Asterias vulgaris) – is one of the more common sea stars found. It can have a radius of up to 20 cm.

Blood Star

Blood Star

Blood Star (Henricia sanguinolenta) – is a thin armed sea star that ranges in color from bright red to orange. This particular blood star shows some aberant regeneration occurring on one arm.

Leptasterias tenera

Leptasterias tenera

Leptasterias tenera – smaller sea stars than the others. They are usually whitish-tan. Some have purple centers and arm bands.

Sclerasteras tanneri

Sclerasteras tanneri

Sclerasteras tanneri – are spinier than the other sea stars seen. They are bright red with thin arms.

Spiny Sun star

Spiny Sun star

Spiny Sun star (Crossaster papposus) – is the only sea star that I’ve seen here with more than 5 arms. It has concentric rings of color radiating from the central disk of the sea star.

Green Sea Urchin

Green Sea Urchin

Green Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) – can grow up to 8.3 cm wide and 3.8 cm high. The shell (test) is usually a greenish color and the spines are all approximately the same length.

Sand Dollar

Sand Dollar

Sand Dollar (Echinarachnius parma) – the common sand dollar. This species does not have openings in the test like the Keyhole type that is commonly found off the coast of the Carolina’s, but does have the flower-like markings on the dorsal side. A great many of these (hundreds of thousands) are found in the dredge on some tows.

Hermit Crabs

Hermit Crabs

Hermit Crabs (various species) – move from shell to shell as they grow.

Northern Lobster

Northern Lobster

Northern Lobster (Homarus americanus) – can grow up to 90 cm in length. Lobsters are scavengers and can be cannibalistic. Claws and tail are highly prized for meat.

Winter flounder

Winter flounder

Winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) – are darker than the other flounder. Like summer flounder, they can change color to match the underlying ocean floor. Winter flounder can live up to 15 years. They can reach a maximum size of 64 cm and 3.6 kg, with the average being 31-38 cm and 0.7-0.9 kg. Winter flounder eat mostly small invertebrates, like polychaetes and shrimp and some small fishes. They are preyed upon by cod, skates, goosefish, and spiny dogfish.Winter flounder are the thickest of the flatfish, but are considered over-exploited.

Haddock

Haddock

Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) – a silvery fish that is dark grey on the dorsal side with a dark patch behind the gills. The largest recorded haddock was 111.8 cm long and 16.8 kg. The average haddock is 35-58 cm long and 0.5-2 kg. Small haddock eat crustaceans, polychaetes, and small fish, while larger haddock eat more echinoderms, but will eat most anything. Predators include spiny dogfish, skates, cod, other haddock, hakes, goosefish, and seals. Haddock aquaculture was begun in 1995. The biomass of haddock was considered below maintenance levels in the late 1990s.

Fawn Cusk-eel

Fawn Cusk-eel

Fawn Cusk-eel (Lepophidium profundorum) – are greenish with light green or tan spots down the sides and, unlike true eels, have pectoral fins. They average about 26 cm in length. They eat sea mice, shrimp, and echinoderms. Larger fawn cusk-eels eat flatfish as well. They are eaten by skates, spiny dogfish, hakes, flounders, and sea ravens.

Winter Skate

Winter Skate

 

 

Winter Skate (Leucoraja ocellata) – large, heart-shaped skate. Like the barndoor skate, winter skates can be quite large, up to 150 cm long. They eat bivalves, shrimp, crabs, echinoderms, and many types of fishes. They are eaten by sharks, other skates, and grey seals. They are considered to be commercially important.

Personal Log

I have to admit, when I first went up to the bridge of the ship, with its wrap-around windows, the first words that came to mind were the lines from Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner (which I may have not remembered entirely correctly)

Water, water everywhere
And not a drop to drink
Water, water everywhere
And all the boards did shrink

At the time that I was there, no land and no other ships were within sight; there was nothing but water and wavelets as far as I could see.We’ve see several ships on the horizon, and two container ships close enough to get a good look at. One of those passed quite close as we had a dredge down.

Anne Byford, June 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Byford
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 8 – 15, 2010

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Location:  off the coast of New England
June 15, 2010

Aboard: R/V Hugh R. Sharp

Weather Data at 1:30pm

EDT: Clear and sunny, 14.5˚C

Location at 1:30pm

EDT: Lat: 41 23.78 N

Long: 66 56.64 W

Water Depth: 68.2 m

8th Day at Sea

What kinds of things are you going to catch? Part 2 – non-fish along with a few new fishes

 There are many more species in the areas than I have listed here; these are simply the ones that I found most interesting. There are several different types of bivalves, sea weeds, etc. Material about the species on this page came from several sources, including the Bigelow and Schroeder’s book referenced in the previous posting. Also, Kenneth Gosner’s A Field Guide to the Atlantic Seashore published by Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston, Ma, 1978. I also used Norman Mein-Koth’s Field Guide to North American Seashore Creatures published by Alfred A. Knopf in New York in 1990.

Sea Stars (aka starfish) – Every third dredge, the contents of the dredge are sampled and the sea stars are separated by species and counted. Most sea stars can regenerate a lost arm, but a few can regenerate an entire organism from the lost arm as well. All sea stars are predators; many species do eat scallops.

Hippasteria phygiana – a cushion star with a much wider central disk and shorter arms than the other types of sea stars.

H. phygiana dorsal

Northern Sea Star (Asterias vulgaris) – is one of the more common sea stars found. It can have a radius of up to 20 cm.

Northern Sea star dorsal

Blood Star (Henricia sanguinolenta) – is a thin armed sea star that ranges in color from bright red to orange. This particular blood star shows some aberant regeneration occurring on one arm.

Blood Star

Leptasterias tenera – smaller sea stars than the others. They are usually whitish-tan. Some have purple centers and arm bands.

L. tenera

Sclerasteras tanneri – are spinier than the other sea stars seen. They are bright red with thin arms.

S. tanneri

Spiny Sun star (Crossaster papposus) – is the only sea star that I’ve seen here with more than 5 arms. It has concentric rings of color radiating from the central disk of the sea star.

Sun Star

Green Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) – can grow up to 8.3 cm wide and 3.8 cm high. The shell (test) is usually a greenish color and the spines are all approximately the same length.

Green Sea Urchin

Sand Dollar (Echinarachnius parma) – the common sand dollar. This species does not have openings in the test like the Keyhole type that is commonly found off the coast of the Carolina’s, but does have the flower-like markings on the dorsal side. A great many of these (hundreds of thousands) are found in the dredge on some tows.

Sand Dollar

Hermit Crabs (various species) – move from shell to shell as they grow.

Hermit Crabs

Northern Lobster (Homarus americanus) – can grow up to 90 cm in length. Lobsters are scavengers and can be cannibalistic. Claws and tail are highly prized for meat.

Lobster with eggs

Winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) – are darker than the other flounder. Like summer flounder, they can change color to match the underlying ocean floor. Winter flounder can live up to 15 years. They can reach a maximum size of 64 cm and 3.6 kg, with the average being 31-38 cm and 0.7-0.9 kg. Winter flounder eat mostly small invertebrates, like polychaetes and shrimp and some small fishes. They are preyed upon by cod, skates, goosefish, and spiny dogfish. Winter flounder are the thickest of the flatfish, but are considered over-exploited.

Winter Flounder Dorsal

Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) – a silvery fish that is dark grey on the dorsal side with a dark patch behind the gills. The largest recorded haddock was 111.8 cm long and 16.8 kg. The average haddock is 35-58 cm long and 0.5-2 kg. Small haddock eat crustaceans, polychaetes, and small fish, while larger haddock eat more echinoderms, but will eat most anything. Predators include spiny dogfish, skates, cod, other haddock, hakes, goosefish, and seals. Haddock aquaculture was begun in 1995. The biomass of haddock was considered below maintenance levels in the late 1990s.

Haddock Large

Fawn Cusk-eel (Lepophidium profundorum) – are greenish with light green or tan spots down the sides and, unlike true eels, have pectoral fins. They average about 26 cm in length. They eat sea mice, shrimp, and echinoderms. Larger fawn cusk-eels eat flatfish as well. They are eaten by skates, spiny dogfish, hakes, flounders, and sea ravens.

Fawn Cusk eel dorsal

Winter Skate (Leucoraja ocellata) – large, heart-shaped skate. Like the barndoor skate, winter skates can be quite large, up to 150 cm long. They eat bivalves, shrimp, crabs, echinoderms, and many types of fishes. They are eaten by sharks, other skates, and grey seals. They are considered to be commercially important.

Winter Skate Female Dorsal

Personal Log

I have to admit, when I first went up to the bridge of the ship, with its wrap-around windows, the first words that came to mind were the lines from Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner (which I may have not remembered entirely correctly)

Water, water everywhere

And not a drop to drink
Water, water everywhere
And all the boards did shrink

At the time that I was there, no land and no other ships were within sight; there was nothing but water and wavelets as far as I could see. We’ve see several ships on the horizon, and two container ships close enough to get a good look at. One of those passed quite close as we had a dredge down.