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.


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?

Channa Comer: Crabs and Stars, May 15, 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: Monday, May 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 16.2C, Mostly Cloudy
Wind Speed: 11.6 knots
Water Temperature: 13.4C
Swell Height: 1.0 meters

Science and Technology Log
Question of the Day (See the answer at the end of the post)
How do you count a basket of crabs?

It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the halfway mark of the cruise. Since my last log, we’ve covered a total of 966 nautical miles. Today, we’ve traveled from Hudson Canyon which is 60 nautical miles east of Atlantic City to about 50 nautical miles from the coast of Point Pleasant, NJ.

Bucket of Crabs
Bucket of Crabs

Each day, the boat stops at predetermined points along the route. At each stop, the scallop dredge is lowered to the ocean floor at depths ranging from 15 to 60 fathoms. The dredge is then towed for 15 minutes at a speed of 3.8 knots. When 15 minutes has passed, the dredge is brought up and the catch is dumped onto a platform were we all wait anxiously to see what comes up. Once the empty dredge is secure, we get to work sorting the catch. Scallops and fish get separated, with everything else collected into baskets, cataloged as “trash” and returned to the ocean. The scallops are measured, and the fish are sorted by species, then counted, weighed and in some cases saved for further scientific study back at NOAA labs. Once everything has been counted, weighed and measured, it’s time for my favorite activity – shucking! Scallops are shucked and if there’s time, washed bagged and placed in the deep freezer for Paul to use in the galley for meals. To date, we’ve completed 90 tows and dredged 23,212 scallops.

What comes up at each catch depends on the location of the tow. The southernmost, areas that have been open, or those areas that have recently been closed will usually yield fewer scallops. Scallop yields increase as we head northward and in areas that are closed to fishing. In addition to scallops, our tows have included a variety of deep sea fish, starfish, lots of live sand dollars (with their accompanying green slime), and very often, mud.

At select tows, representative samples of scallops are processed beyond the usual length measurements. The shells are scrubbed clean and weights are recorded for the meat and gonad (reproductive organ). The shells are then labeled and bagged for transport to the lab where they will be aged. The age of scallops are determined by counting the number of growth rings on the shell – similar to counting rings on a tree.

Every three tows is my favorite – Crabs and Stars!! In this tow, in addition to the usual sorting and measuring, all Cancer crabs are collected, counted and weighed and a representative sample of starfish are sorted by species, then counted and weighed. Astropecten, a small starfish is a predator of scallops and the most abundant species of starfish that we’ve counted. Usually, a tow that has large numbers of Astropecten has very few scallops. Being a stickler for detail, having the job of counting starfish has been perfect for me.

Did you know?
Starfish eat a scallop by attaching themselves to the scallop in numbers, forcing the shell open, then extruding their stomachs into the shell and digesting the meat.

Animals Seen
Red Hake
Sea Mouse
Chain Dogfish
Little Skate
Four Spot Flounder
Red Sea Robin
Sea Urchin
Snake Eel
Ocean Pout
Sand Dollar
Sand Lance
Gulf Stream Flounder
Black Sea Bass
Hermit Crab
Sea Raven

Personal Log
Day 3 – Thursday, May 12, 2011
With my sea sickness over after the first day and having adjusted to my new sleep schedule — I actually get to sleep a full 8 hours! — the days are starting to take on a nice flow. It’s been great being part of a team. We’re like a well-oiled machine. Everyone in my crew continues to be generous, sharing the best shucking techniques and giving me a little extra time to take photos and collect samples. We’ve jokingly renamed the “crabs and stars” tow to “crabs, stars and mud”. It’s really hard to count starfish when they’re covered in mud. Dinner was especially delicious today with salmon in pesto sauce with potatoes and broccoli.

Day 4 – Friday, May 13, 2011
The day started out cloudy and overcast, but the sun made an appearance late in the afternoon. The first tow of the day was my favorite — Crabs and Stars!! — with accompanying mud. As part of the Teacher at Sea program, in addition to my logs, I am required to write a lesson plan. I’ve started to draft what I think will be a great unit using the sea scallop as a springboard to explore issues in ecology and the nature of ecological science. Highlights will be an Iron Chef style cooking competition using scallops and a design challenge where students will have to build a working model of a scallop dredge. Vic has been great with providing whatever data, materials and background information that I need for my lessons. Lunch today was chicken burritos with fresh, spicy guacamole.

Day 6 – Sunday, May 15, 2011
Since its Sunday, I decided to take it easy and instead of trying to get a lot done before my shift and during the breaks, I took it easy and watched a little TV. With satellite TV and a large selection of DVDs, there are always lots of options. Although the guys tend to prefer sports or reality TV. The first few tows were back to back which meant little time for breaks, or snacks, or naps. Just enough time to clean up, shuck and be ready for the next tow.

Day 7 – Monday, May 16, 2011
The trip is half over. It’s hard to believe. The tows were once again, back to back with a fair amount of scallops, but I think after today, we won’t need to shuck anymore. Yay! Today was the day that the animals fought back. I was chomped by a scallop and a crab! The scallop was more of a surprise than a pain, but the crab clawed right through my glove. After days with no restrictions, we received the warning from the engineers today that we have to be careful with the faucets. Dripping faucets waste water and it takes time for the water to be converted through condensation in the condenser to usable water. If we’re not more careful, we’ll be faced with restrictions on how much water we can use……… I hope that doesn’t happen since I think we all officially smell like fish. Lunch today was cream of asparagus soup, yummy and reminiscent of my recent trip to Peru. The only thing missing was Quiona. And finally, today was the day that I’ve been waiting for. I found my favorite ice cream. I’ve been rationing myself to one per day, but after I found my favorite – butter pecan ice cream sandwiches – I could not resist a second.

Answer to Question of the Day: Very carefully!

Duane Sanders, June 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Duane Sanders
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: New England Coast
Date: June 16, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: Speed 10 KTS, Direction  50 degrees
Barometer: 1024 millibars
Air temperature: 13 0C
Seas: 3-5 ft.

Science and Technology Log 

A sorting table full of sand dollars!
A sorting table full of sand dollars!

Why is it that we find huge numbers of sand dollars at so many stations?  There have been some stations where our dredge was completely filled with sand dollars.  The sorting table was so full that there was no clear space in which to work. This has piqued my curiosity as a biologist. Some questions come to mind.  Are there any natural predators of sand dollars? What is it about sand dollars that allow them to out-compete other organisms that might otherwise be found at these locations?  What do sand dollars eat? How can there be enough food at a given location to support these huge populations? I talked with Stacy Rowe, the chief scientist for this cruise, and she was not aware of any research being done to answer these questions.  Stacy did know that a species of fish known as the Ocean Pout eats on sand dollars.  I am looking forward to seeing results of some research on these organisms.  Maybe one of my students will follow up.  Who knows?

Duane Sanders with Keiichi Uchida: A fellow scalloper!
Duane Sanders with Keiichi Uchida: A fellow scalloper!

Many different scientists use data taken during this survey.  NOAA staffers come to the ship with a list of types of organisms or samples that have been requested by researchers.  For example we have been setting aside a few scallops from certain stations for special handling.  The gender of each scallop is determined and then they are measured and weighed.  Next, the meat from each scallop is carefully removed and weighed.  The shells are carefully cleaned and set aside to give the scientist who made the request along with all of the measurement data.

I have made a new friend, Keiichi Uchida, of a visiting researcher from Japan. He is doing research that involves tracking the movements of the conger eel, Conger oceanicus, using GIS systems.  Keiichi is here to learn more about how NOAA does surveys like the one we are on now. He is also looking at data similar to his and trying to correlate the different data sets.

Personal Log 

In many ways I am going to miss living and working with people who are interested in the same branch of science as me.  I have had fun talking about all of the things I have observed and the kinds of work being done by this branch of NOAA. There is one thing about this trip that causes me some real sadness.  I have not seen a whale. Two whales have been spotted, but I have always been at the wrong place to see them.  I hope my luck changes before we dock at Woods Hole.