NOAA Teacher at Sea Trevor Hance Soon to be Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp June 12 – 24, 2015
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank Date: May 28, 2015
Personal Log: Permission to Come Aboard?
Greetings from Austin, Texas. In less than two weeks, my grand summer adventure begins. I will be flying out of Austin, and heading to Boston where Peter Pan will magically transport me down the Woods (Rabbit?) Hole and out to sea aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp, where I will support scientists conducting a Sea Scallop Survey.
My Real Job
I teach at a fantastic public school in Austin that incorporates student interest surveys in lesson design and enrichment opportunities across subjects. Although we are within the city of Austin, our campus backs up to a wildlife preserve (30,000 acres, total) that was set aside as land use patterns changed, and threatened habitat and ecosystems of 2 endangered birds, 8 invertebrates and 27 other species deemed “at risk.” We have about 5 “wildspace” acres on our actual campus property that is unfenced to the larger Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. We use that space as our own laboratory, and over the last decade, fifth grade students at our school have designed, constructed and continue to support the ecosystem through ponds supported by rainwater collection (yes, they are quite full at the moment!), a butterfly habitat, water-harvesting shelter/outdoor classroom, grassland/wildflower prairie and a series of trails. In the spring, I post job descriptions for projects that need work in our Preserve and students formally apply for a job (i.e. – resume/cover letter). They spend the balance of the spring working outdoors, conducting research relating to their job, and doing their part to develop a culture and heritage of sustainability on our campus that transcends time as students move beyond our campus during their educational journey. My path through the curriculum is rooted in constructivist learning theory (project-based, place-based and service learning) and students are always outdoors. Parents, of course, always get a huge “thank you” at the end of the year from me for not complaining that I’ve ruined too many pairs of shoes.
Below are a few pictures from our game cameras and shots I’ve taken of my classes in action this spring.
As I write, there are about 5 days left of this school year, which means that most of our big projects are complete and the rain has paused, so we’re spending a few days having a big “mechanical energy ball” competition (aka – “kickball”), and I get the distinct feeling that the students are quite prepared for their summer break!
I was an “oilfield kid” and grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun Country, and about an hour’s drive to the Gulf of Mexico. In college, I worked in the oilfield a bit, and after finishing law school, I was a maritime attorney, so I was able to spend some time aboard vessels for various purposes. My time aboard the Hugh R. Sharp will be my longest stint aboard a vessel, and I’m quite excited for the work!
R/V Hugh R. Sharp (btw students, it is a vessel or ship, not a “boat”) is a 146-foot general purpose research vessel owned by the University of Delaware (go Fighting Blue Hens!). Each summer I get a travel coffee mug from the college where I attend a professional development course, and I’m hopeful I can find one with a picture of YoUDee on it this year!
While aboard the vessel, we will be conducting surveys to determine the distribution and abundance of scallops. My cruise is the third (and northernmost) leg of the surveys, and we’ll spend our time dredge surveying, doing an image based survey using a tethered tow-behind observation vehicle, and some deeper water imaging of lobster habitat. Those of you who know me, know that I am genuinely and completely excited and grateful for the opportunity to “nerd out” on this once-in-a-lifetime get-away-from-it-all adventure! Check back over the summer and see what I’ve been up to!
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 12, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind 12 knots, 005*, Seas 1-3 foot swells, Visibility – unlimited!!
Science and Technology Log:
Maritime meets Science
NOAA has a unique relationship with the shipping industry. Ships are traditionally built with specific uses in mind. The R/V Hugh R. Sharp is owned by the University of Delaware and was completed in 2006 as a state-of-the-art research vessel. Marine architects and engineers designed mechanical and electronic systems to launch scallop dredges, the HabCam, and the CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) scanner. The ship can accommodate 9 crew members and 12 science staff members. The University leases the vessel to the NOAA scientific crew for specific missions or surveys. Each year NOAA sets up research surveys to collect data concerning many aspects of the fishing industry along with studies centered around conservation. The sea scallop survey is one such research project which has been a yearly event since 1977. It began as a bottom trawling event taking place for several legs (mission time periods) between May and July.
Sea scallops are a bivalve subgroup of mollusks. They take years to mature to a size that is sought after by fishermen. As with any species, overfishing is a major concern. Ideally, a species’ survival is dependent upon a consistent population. The Northeast Fisheries Association determines the scope and location of “open” fishing areas for all species of fish and shellfish. NOAA is called upon to collect data concerning the abundance or lack of scallops in a traditionally rich fishing locale or in a closed area. During our leg of the survey, we collected data using the HabCam as well as towing a scallop dredge. A map of the fishing locations is analyzed to determine the dredge or HabCam areas that are to be investigated.
Each dredge “catch” contained a variety of marine species with the inclusion or exclusion of scallops. At one event, we hauled in 16 baskets of baby scallops. These were an encouraging sign that the scallop population is prolific. At other times, no scallops were present but there was a bumper crop of sand dollars. This was because the area that they were collected is considered an “open” scallop fishing area. The range in size of the scallops that were brought in varied between 55 and 155 mm?
Yesterday we completed our dredging events. A glorious sunset was the backdrop for this momentous occasion. Too bad there were no scallops in the dredge. We did, however collect many scallops of different sizes throughout our watch. The fog that was present for most of our dredging days finally burned off to reveal calm seas and a blue sky. The watch team that I was a member of worked like a well-oiled machine. Each member had a specific task to complete to carefully collect scientific data from each dredge event. Science is messy work and handling different species is not for sissies.
I look forward to returning home to be with my family and friends. The life of a sailor/scientist was an incredible experience and I am excited to share all that I have learned with my students at West Genesee. Many thanks go out to the Captain and crew of the R/V Sharp and the NOAA science staff for making my journey unforgettable.
The following quote sums up my experience as part of the Teacher at Sea program.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
NOAA Teacher at Sea Virginia Warren Aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp July 9th – 17th, 2013
Mission: Leg 3 of the Sea Scallop Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Sailing Back to Woods Hole, Massachusetts Date: July 17th, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: Mostly sunny with occasional fog and 1 to 2 foot seas (The weather was perfect for the last two days of the trip!)
I’ve had the most wonderful time on this trip and made some really great new friends! I enjoyed it so much that I almost hated to see it come to an end! I worked with an awesome group of people on my watch who were always full of information! Erin has a marine biology degree, as well as a technology graduate degree. She was great to talk to, learn from, and she always helped me make the right decisions. Adam was our watch chief on the day watch crew, which means that he was responsible for collecting data and directing the rest of the science crew as we sorted the contents of the dredge. He was always very helpful and knowledgeable about the different types of species that came up with the dredge. Jon was the chief scientist for the leg 3 sea scallop survey. Jon had a very busy job because he was in charge of both science crews, communicating with the home lab, collaborating with the ship crew, deciding on dredge spots and HabCam routes, and for showing me the ropes. I really do appreciate all the time he took out of his busy days to help me and teach me! Jared was the HabCam specialist on board for this leg of the sea scallop survey. He has an ocean engineering degree and works for WHOI, which is the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Jared helped design and test the HabCam vehicle so that it would protect the camera and other equipment while underwater. He also kept our crew entertained with ‘tunes’ and laughs. This group of people was great to work with and I would do it again with them in a heartbeat. I really hope that I will get another opportunity to do something like this again in the future!
I also really enjoyed the crew of the Hugh R. Sharp. They were always welcoming and forthcoming with answers to questions about the ship. They also keep their ship clean and comfortable. My favorite place on the ship was the bridge, which is where they steer the ship. The bridge is the best place to watch for whales and sharks. It has panoramic glass all the way around it, plus you can walk right outside the bridge and feel the breeze in your face, or have some very interesting conversations with the ship’s crew.
Science and Technology Log:
As my trip came near to an end, I started wondering what were some of the differences between the research dredge we were using and the dredge a commercial scallop fisherman would use. Our research dredge was an 8 foot New Bedford style dredge, as opposed to the commercial ships who use two 15 foot dredges on either side of the ship. Scallop dredges are made up of connecting rings that keep the scallops in the dredge. The research dredge we used was made up of 2 inch rings. Commercial dredges are required to have a minimum of 4 inch rings. NOAA uses the smaller rings on their research dredges to be able to get an accurate population count of all the sizes of scallops in a given area. The commercial scallop fishermen are required to use the larger rings to allow smaller scallops to escape. The research dredge we used was equiped with a 1.5 inch streched mesh liner to keep other species, like fish, in the dredge because NOAA likes to measure and count them as well. Commercial scallop fishermen keep their dredges in for hours at a time. NOAA only keeps their research dredge in the water for 15 minutes at a time. There are several other dredge regulations that commercial fisherman have to follow. Click here if you would like to read more about the regulations.
I also learned a lot about the anatomy of a sea scallop.
Sea scallops are either male or female depending on the color of their reproductive gland, called the gonad. If a scallop has a red gonad, then that means it is a female scallop. If the gonad is a cream/yellow color, then that means the scallop is a male.
The scallop is connected to both sides of its shell with the large white part called the adductor muscle. This is the part that gets eaten. The adductor muscle is also the part that allows the scallop to clasp its shell shut. Scallops are also able to swim by sucking water into its shell and then quickly clasping the shell shut, which makes the scallop ‘swim’.
Scallops have eyes that line the edges of both top and bottom shells. See if you can spot eyes on the scallops below.
Most of the scallops that we pulled up were only measured for individual length and cumulative weight, however some of the scallops were chosen to have their gonad and adductor muscle weighed, as well as their shells analyzed for age.
Scallops are aged in a way similar to aging a tree. After the first two years of a scallop’s life, they are believed to grow a shell ring every year. In the picture below you can see how the shells age through the years.
Animals and Sights Seen:
Moonlight on the Water
Tons of Hermit Crabs:
Humpback Whales: The last night of the cruise we got to see the most amazing whale show. The pictures aren’t that great because they were a good ways away from the ship and it was right around sunset. I ended up putting the camera down so that I could just enjoy the show.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Virginia Warren Aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp July 9 – 17, 2013
Mission: Leg 3 of the Sea Scallop Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Great South Channel, near Nantucket Date: July 11, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: SW winds 10 to 20 knots, seas 3 to 6 feet, widespread rain and scattered thunderstorms
Science and Technology Log:
The first part of the mission has been to tow the HabCam down the Great South Channel, around Nantucket, and then up part of Georges Bank. If you remember from my previous post, the HabCam stands for Habitat Camera Mapping System, which allows scientists to study the animals’ natural habitat. There are only two HabCams that have been built; the V2 which is an early prototype, and the V4 which is what we are using for this survey. This piece of equipment cost over 1.5 million dollars to design, develop, and build. One of the people on our science crew is the engineer that helped to design the frame built around the equipment to keep it safe. The HabCam has four strobe lights that enable the two cameras to be able to take 6 images per second. Not only does the HabCam have the capability of taking quality underwater images, but it also has sonar and several other data collectors that are capable of testing the water’s salinity, conductivity, pH, and more.
The scientists call the HabCam a vehicle. While the HabCam is deployed in the water, there are two people from the science crew that are always ‘flying’ the HabCam. They are called the pilot and co-pilot. The vehicle is tethered to the ship with a thick, fiber optic cable that also sends data information to the ship’s lab. The pilot uses a joy stick to fly the vehicle. Flying the HabCam vehicle can be a very tricky job because to fly it, the pilot walks a very fine line between having the vehicle close enough to the bottom of the ocean to get clear images and keeping the vehicle from crashing into huge boulders and underwater sand dunes. Pushing the joystick up allows the winch to let more cable out, which sends the vehicle closer to the bottom of the ocean. Pulling the joystick down, shortens the cable and brings the vehicle closer to the ship.
My job for the first half of the trip has been to take turns with the other day shift science crew members piloting and co-piloting the HabCam vehicle. The pilot keeps the vehicle at the correct depth, usually around 1.8 to 2.5 meters from the bottom of the ocean. The co-pilot annotates the images as they come from the HabCam. Annotating HabCam images entails quickly identifying objects in the image, such as a fish, crab, or scallop. This sounds easy enough, except that new images are flashing on the screen every second. Eventually the images will be color corrected on shore and annotated in greater detail.
The HabCam vehicle is also equipped with side scan sonar. In the pictures below (the ones that look like a picture of the desert) you can see the sand waves on the ocean floor and previous dredging marks.
I began my journey by flying from Pensacola, Florida at 6 a.m. Sunday morning into Atlanta, Georgia’s airport. From Georgia I flew into Boston, Massachusetts and landed by about 12:30p.m. (That is 11:30 in Mobile time because Boston is an hour ahead of Mobile.) I was very excited to fly into Boston because as all of my students should know, Boston is a very important city for the American Revolutionary War as it is where the war started. I was able to tour the Old State House, which is where the Boston Massacre occurred, as well as explore the beautiful architecture that Boston has to offer! On my return trip home, I hope to be able to learn more about the history behind the city of Boston!
I stayed Sunday night in a hotel so that I would be able to catch a bus from Boston to Woods Hole bright and early Monday morning. Woods Hole is where I would meet up with the R/V Hugh R. Sharp. Woods Hole is an amazing little research community that is part of Cape Cod and has only one main street with a charming high bridge for the sail boats to enter or exit Eel Pond. I spent most of the day walking around and taking in the beautiful scenery of Wood’s Hole. That afternoon I was able to meet up with some the scientists that participate or have participated in scallop surveys. I slept on the ship that night and was able to get to know the ship’s crew and explore the ship.
My first day at sea was really nice. The ship crew made several comments about the water “looking like glass” because it was so calm. The Hugh R. Sharp has a really awesome ship crew. They were very welcoming and were open to any questions that I asked. As we left woods hole, the ship crew went over the safety procedures to follow should an emergency happen while we are at sea. My students should be happy to know that we even participated in a fire drill. I haven’t had any seasickness to speak of so far, knock on wood. The rocking of the ship actually made for some very sound sleeping!
The science crew shifts are broken into 12 hours. The night shift works from 12 midnight till 12 noon. The day shift works the opposite, 12 noon till 12 midnight. I am on the day shift working with the chief scientist.
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean Date: Thursday, June 27, 2013
Hello, my name is Virginia Warren and I live in Theodore, Alabama. I teach 5th grade science and social studies at Breitling Elementary School in Grand Bay. I am really excited to have been chosen by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to be a part of their Teacher at Sea program! I believe that one of my biggest responsibilities as a teacher is to educate my students about the importance of protecting and conserving the earth and its seas so that they will continue to thrive for many generations to come. Both Theodore and Grand Bay are only minutes from the Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast has abundance of what I think are the prettiest, sugar-white-sand beaches the world has to offer. Growing up on the Gulf Coast has created a love and passion in my heart for the sea and all the wonder creatures that live in it! I’m so thankful to NOAA for giving me the opportunity to be a real scientist and to learn more about the scientific research behind protecting the seas that I love so much.
Science and Technology Log:
I will be sailing from Woods Hole, Massachusetts aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp to participate in an Atlantic sea scallop survey. The R/V Hugh R. Sharp was built in 2006, is 146 feet long, and is the newest vessel in the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment fleet. You can take a virtual tour of the ship by clicking here. If you would like to follow the ship while I am at sea you can track the ship here (Google Earth is required).
The purpose of a sea scallop survey is to protect this important fishery from being over-harvested. Traditionally scientists will dredge the bottom of the ocean with a scallop dredge to collect samples. NOAA uses the information collected from the surveys to make decisions about which areas are okay to harvest scallops.
The R/V Hugh R. Sharp is equipped with a relatively new piece of equipment called the HabCam, short for Habitat Camera Mapping System. The HabCam is a less invasive way to survey populations and allows scientists to see what is on the ocean floor. This is an alternative method of surveying, compared to dredging. I look forward to learning how both methods of surveying work.
What I Hope to Learn:
I am so excited to be able to learn firsthand what it’s like to be a real scientist and to be able to participate in a genuine research experience. I hope to learn more about the scientific process and pass the knowledge I learn on to my students. I am also excited to learn about the different types of sea life found in the North West Atlantic Ocean and compare that with what I know of sea life from home on the Gulf of Mexico.
Please follow me on this adventure as I post my experiences on this blog. Let me know what you think by leaving your thoughts and questions in the comment section at the bottom of every blog entry.
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic; Georges Bank Date: Thursday, July 5, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge* *This data is for July 6, 2012. I was so busy dredging on the 5th that I forgot to record the weather data*
Latitude: 41 49.09 N
Longitude: 69 52.77 W
Relative Wind Speed: 11 Knots
Air Temperature: 21 degrees Celsius
Surface Seawater Temperature: 20 degrees Celsius
Science and Technology Log
Wednesday, July 4: Visiting the Bridge and Flying HabCam
Wednesday was a lazy day on the ship. To make up some lost time and to hit as many dredge and HabCam stations as possible, there were a few long “steams” during my shift today. The ship can’t go full speed when pulling the dredge or the HabCam, so in order to go full speed, the ship “steams” with no scientific tools in the water until it reaches its next destination. We had about five hours of “steam” time today and the rest of the day was spent with HabCam, so I didn’t smell like sea scallops at the end of my shift, but I still prefer the more active days.
I used some of my spare time to go visit the Bridge. Remember, this is where the Captain, engineer, and mates keep the ship moving on the right course and keep everything operating smoothly. Since it was rainy outside, the big windows in the Bridge were a nice substitute to the deck where I usually like to spend my free time. Mary, one of the mates, was on duty. She has been working on boats for more than 20 years and has been on the Hugh R. Sharp for four years. She was kind enough to give me an overview of the function of each of the seemingly limitless computers and buttons that she and the engineer use to do their jobs. I was surprised by how computerized everything is, from steering, to navigation, to monitoring the water and fuel of the ship. There are duplicates of many of the computer systems, in case something doesn’t work and non-technical ways to navigate the ship too, like paper copies of nautical charts.
While flying the HabCam Wednesday, I was struck by the amazing camouflage of some of the creatures that live on the ocean floor, like monkfish, flounder, and skates. If you don’t know what you are looking for or if you blink at the wrong moment, they are very easy to miss. It’s neat to see these adaptations in action! I’m glad that I got to experience this science tool in its early stages and appreciate the relationships that the HabCam allows you to see between different animals and how the animals live on the ocean floor that you can’t tell from a dredge haul.
Thursday, July 5: Dredging Overload and the Scoop on Scallops
Since Wednesday was lazy, Thursday was insanely busy! We made it through nine dredge stations during the day shift and one haul was so large that we had almost 6,000 scallops (not to mention all the rocks, fish, sea stars, crabs, etc.). Everyone worked together to get this giant haul sorted and processed. Mary even came down from the Bridge to help! When a haul is this large, we don’t measure and weigh every scallop. Instead, we count the total number of baskets (about the size of a laundry basket) of sea scallops and randomly select two baskets to measure and weigh. The number and average length of the overall scallop haul is calculated based on this subsample. There’s lots of math involved in this process!
We dredged in an area with lots of big rocks and boulders today, so the crew added rock chains to the dredge to help keep the giant boulders out of the dredge. It doesn’t come close to keeping out all the rocks, though! They also added what looks like a metal slide that goes from the side of the sorting table to the edge of the deck to help get the giant rocks off of the table and back into the ocean. I’m constantly amazed at how the scientists and crew seem to anticipate and have a plan for every possible obstacle we might run up against. I expect that is the result of lots of years of experience and very careful planning.
I mentioned in a previous post that we weigh about 5 scallops from each tow individually and also weigh the meat and the gonad (reproductive organ) of these five scallops individually. As soon as you cut a scallop open, you can tell if it is a male or female by the color of the gonad. Males are white and females are red or pink, as you can see in this picture. Another interesting tidbit about sea scallops is that they have lots of simple eyes that allow them to see shadows and light. You can see a fascinating close-up of sea scallop eyes by clicking here and can learn more about the anatomy of a sea scallop by clicking here.
Since this is a sea scallop survey, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with sea scallops, but I’m still not very skilled at cutting sea scallops to remove the meat quickly. One of the ladies on my watch can shuck about twenty for every one I shuck! She’s offered me lots of pointers, but I’m not going to win a scallop cutting contest any time soon. When we finish sorting and processing each haul, we usually remove the meat from the scallops, wash it, bag it, and put it in a freezer. It can seem like the work is never done when there’s a big haul!
The 4th of July at sea was business as usual; no firework or backyard cookouts for me this year. However, we did make a cake and sing happy birthday for the youngest member of the science group’s 20th birthday.
Since we didn’t do any dredging or anything active on Wednesday, I felt like I needed to run laps around the ship after my shift ended. I settled on trying the stationary bike instead. Riding a stationary bike on a ship that is rocking and swaying means that the bike isn’t really all that stationary! I think I got a nice abdominal workout from trying to keep myself balanced. It felt good to move, though.
On Thursday, we had a fire drill. The Captain was nice enough to schedule it at 12:15 pm, just as one shift was ending and one was beginning, so that people would not be in bed or in the shower when the drill began. During the fire drill, an alarm sounded and the Captain came on the intercom to tell us that it was a fire drill and that all scientists should muster (gather) in their designated spot. All of the scientists met in the dry lab with a life jacket where the chief scientist counted us and reported back to the Captain that we were all accounted for. We waited while the crew finished its part of the drill, then went back to work (or bed, for the night shift). I felt kind of like a student in a fire drill at school!
As I look around the ship, I find it interesting how things are designed for life at sea, like the hooks at the top of every door. If you want a door to stay open, you need to hook it, otherwise the rocking of the door will slam it closed. The table in the galley has about a half inch lip around the edge of it and the drawers of the pantry need to be opened in a special way, because they don’t just slide open. Thanks to these details, you don’t really hear things sliding and crashing around like you might imagine you would when the ship is rocking.
I’m grateful that I have been able to participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program as a part of the science crew. I have worked hard, learned a ton, and can’t wait to share my learning and experiences with my students! However, I miss my family, so I’m glad that we’re headed back toward land soon!
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
Surface Seawater Temperature: 16 degrees C
Science and Technology Log
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 critterswe 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.
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”.
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!
Sometimes my watch chief, Sean, will select a subsample of five sea scallops for us to scrub clean with a wire brush.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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: Saturday, June 30, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge Latitude: 40 55.30 N
Longitude: 068 47.49 W
Relative Wind Speed: 15.6 Knots
Air Temperature: 17.44 degrees C
Surface Seawater Temperature: 14 degrees C
Science and Technology Log
Well, it took a car, two airplanes, an airport shuttle, a bus, and a short walk, but I made it to the ship in Woods Hole, MA at about 8pm on June 26, 2012! I met a few of the ship’s crew who were kind enough to show me to my room and I slept on the ship while it was in port. You can see a rather long, but informative video tour of the Hugh R. Sharp on this website and you can track the ship’s progress here.
Everyone reported to the ship at 8am on June 27, but we didn’t end up leaving port until about 2pm because of last-minute adjustments to equipment, among other reasons, so the first day was pretty much the hurry up and wait game. While waiting to leave port, we did a safety drill and heard a presentation from a NOAA employee named Deborah about the basics of sea scallops. I was intrigued by all the data that she mentioned in her presentation and talked to her about it afterwards. She is a mathematician with a passion for biology who found a way to merge the two into a career. A big part of her job is to make sense of the data collected on the scallop survey and to present it in a way that can make sense to people. She uses lots of graphs and charts to help the data tell its story. She said that estimation, graphing, and numerous math skills play a huge role in her work. She was kind enough to give me her business card so that we can chat more after I return from sea, as she isn’t sailing on this leg of the survey.
Once aboard the Hugh R. Sharp, I learned that this survey will actually be two surveys in one: about half of our time will be spent dredging, sorting, measuring, and weighing scallops. The other half of the time will be spent gathering data with a newly developed underwater camera system called HabCam. The HabCam is about a half-million dollar, 3,000-pound piece of scientific equipment that is controlled by a winch, operated inside the Dry Lab (kind of like a computer lab) of the ship by a joystick and a computer program that shows the depth of the HabCam and its height off the ocean floor. The pilot of the HabCam “flies” it approximately 2 meters above the ocean floor and the copilot keeps an eye on the images coming back from the HabCam. It takes 6 images per second, so there are LOTS of pictures to look at and the clarity is amazing.
The HabCam is a pretty fascinating piece of equipment that has been under development for several years and is a cooperative effort between the sea scallop industry, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), and others. Some of the people that developed the HabCam are on the ship with me and I have had the opportunity to talk to them about its development and uses. Each conversation always seems to have a common theme: the HabCam is a work in progress. We are using version 4 of the HabCam on this scallop survey. As they test the HabCam, they notice issues and make modifications accordingly. It is interesting to see the scientific process in action. Before we left port, they were attempting to correct an issue with pressure and vibration on the winch cable that controls the HabCam while it flies through the water. They thought that covering the portion of the cable directly above the HabCam with zip ties might help break up some of the water pressure and solve the problem. So, my first job as a scientist aboard the Hugh R Sharp involved installing lots and lots of zip ties! I had to laugh when they realized a slight glitch in the plan and had to remove many of the zip ties later. Science is a process!
There are 6 people on my watch and we started with the HabCam. I had the opportunity to pilot and copilot several times. It is fascinating to see images of the seafloor that no one else had ever seen and a bit daunting to be trusted with flying such an expensive piece of equipment through the ocean! We saw skates (like a stingray), sand dollars, sea biscuits, fish, sea stars, and more.
You can learn more about the HabCam by visiting this website.
Life at sea is more relaxed than I expected. For some reason, I expected there to be lots of strict rules and procedures, but so far that has not been the case. This has been a welcome surprise for me, especially since despite my extensive anti-nausea arsenal, I am experiencing a rather nasty bout of seasickness. Everyone aboard has been very sympathetic and shared their personal stories of dealing with seasickness as well as remedies for seasickness that work for them (ginger ale, standing outside, etc.). I’m hoping that spending time outside today while we dredge instead of inside flying the HabCam will help. Enough about that!
I share my berth (room) with four other ladies. There are two bunk beds with curtains around each bed to allow for a little privacy and to help darken the room if needed. The berths are in the “belly” of the ship with no windows, so room darkening really isn’t much of an issue! I do think the curtains are sort of ingenious and wish I had them back when I was living in the dorms in college. I am glad that I packed light, since there really isn’t much of a place to store things in the berth. I’m using every inch of available space and wishing that things (like my towel) would actually dry down here, but not much luck with that so far. I managed to be the first person to get drenched on the ship on the day we left and it took three days for my clothes to dry! It’s all part of the adventure, right?
Two of the people I share a room with are on the day shift (noon to midnight) and the other two are on the night shift (midnight to noon), so there really isn’t a time when all four of us are in the room at the same time. When you leave for your watch (shift), you take everything with you that you might need, so you don’t go back to the room while other people are trying to sleep.
There is a constant sucking noise that sounds a bit like wind that I always hear while in my room. I initially thought it was just the sound of the ship going over the water, but now I’m wondering if it might be some type of pump. I checked with my chief scientist Geoff Shook and he told me that the sound is actually the ship’s stabilizer fins. There are 4 fins (2 on each side) that move back and forth to dampen the vessel’s roll and provide a more comfortable, stable ride.
Question of the Day
What do you think the name “HabCam” means?
You can share your thoughts, questions, and comments in the comments section below.
Economically, sea scallops are an important species; in 2008 the scallop harvest was about 53.5 million pounds and was worth about $370 million. The population is not currently considered to be overfished and has been above minimum sustainable levels since 2001. Formal management began in 1982 with the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fisheries Management Plan. The management plan includes limiting new permits, restrictions on gear and on the number of crew on a boat. Since about 2000, the biomass of scallops has been increasing. Biomass is estimated by using the weight of scallops per tow on cruises like this one. Combinations of biomass estimates and estimates of the commercial catch are used to update and adjust the management plan.
Sea Scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) are filter feeders. They can live up to 20 years and begin reproducing at about 2 years, with maximum fertility reached at 4 years. A single female scallop can produce up to 270 million eggs in her life. This high reproductive capacity has helped the scallop population recover relatively quickly. Gender can be determined by the color of the gonad; females are orange while the male gonad is white. Adult scallops average between 6 and 7 inches from hinge to tip (called height) but can be as big as 9 inches. Age can be estimated by counting the rings on the shell. Scallops can “swim” by opening and closing the two shells. This is a useful adaptation for escaping from predators, including flounder, cod, lobsters, crabs, and sea stars. Scallops are harvested for the adductor muscle (the one that opens and closes the shell). There is no commercial aquaculture of scallops in the US as of August 2009.
A storm moved through beginning on Wed. evening (day 2) and stayed with us most of Thursday. By the end of shift on Wednesday, we were working on deck in full foul weather gear and life jackets. Thursday we had an 8 hour steam between dredge sites and by the end of shift on Thursday, the seas had begun to smooth out. Friday was quite nice, weather-wise.
I am learning to shuck scallops, though I am about half the speed of many on the boat. I am also learning to tell the various types of flounder and other fish apart as well. It’s not always obvious which type of founder or hake is which.
Goose fish (aka monk fish), several more varieties of flounder, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, eel pout, some very large skates, 3 types of sea stars and 1 type of brittle star.