Anne Artz: August 2, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Artz
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 25 — August 5, 2011

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 30, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Location:  Georges Bank off the New England coast
Latitude: 42.634N
Longitude: 68 00.801 W
Conditions: Cloudy today, somewhat cooler but with sun most of the day

Science and Technology Log

This being the beginning of a new month we all did our safety drills on August 1 – that means everyone, including all the crew.  First we did the fire drill then the “Abandon ship” drill where we had to put on our “gumby” suits in one minute.  I did much better this time!  We’ve moved away from the New York-New Jersey coast and are now on the Southern Georges Bank.  We ran into a problem this morning when the cable that runs the pump for the dredge got tangled around the dredge during one of the drops.

A damaged power cable on the dredge

It necessitated cutting the cable that was twisted around the dredge then reconnecting it.  The cable itself is a series of copper wires twisted into 6 coils, surrounded by a neoprene “skin”, then surrounded by a Kevlar sleeve, and finally a synthetic woven casing.  It will take somewhere of 6-8 hours to repair the cable during which time we cannot do any dredging.  I’m going to use the down time to introduce you to some of the crew here on the Delaware II.

LCDR Richard Hester and ENS Carl Noblitt

There are three groups of workers: the NOAA Commissioned Corps which run the ship, the crew members who perform day-to-day work on board, and the science crew who are responsible for performing the scientific experiments for each expedition.  The NOAA Commissioned Corps on the Delaware II consists of the Commanding Officer (CO), LCDR Richard Hester, Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Sean Cimilluca, LT Fiona Matheson in charge of operations, ENS Shannon Hefferan, the Navigations Officer, and ENS Carl Noblitt, Junior Officer.

LCDR Sean Cimilluca

I interviewed Ensign Hefferan and asked her how she got into the NOAA  Commissioned Corps and what her job was like.  I’ll be posting that interview once we are back in Woods Hole since internet connections are not that good out at sea.

Personal Log

I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to our outstanding cooks on the Delaware II.  Both of the men who work in the galley do an amazing job.  Other than the first day I haven’t made it for breakfast but lunch and dinner have been wonderful.

Top chefs Jonathan Rockwell and James White on the Delaware II

We’ve had everything from BBQ chicken, lasagna, a full turkey dinner, scallops, shrimp, and lots of different kinds of fish.  Besides all that, they cook vegetables that even my husband might eat and he won’t eat anything but a baked potato!  They feed all 30 of us every day and it’s a good thing we work so hard otherwise I’d definitely have to be dieting when I get home!

Anne Artz: Introduction, July 14, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Artz
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 25 — August 5, 2011

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 14, 2011

Personal Log

I’ve spent most of my life on the west coast, about a mile from the beach.   I teach Environmental Science and Biology to high school students and we frequently visit the Pacific Ocean to collect data.  This summer, I am doing research on the east coast leaving from Woods Hole, MA aboard the NOAA Ship Delaware II as part of NOAA‘s Teacher at Sea Program.

NOAA Delaware II

NOAA Ship Delaware II

I’m excited about our experiment – collecting data about the Sea Clam and Ocean Quahog.  My students already have a summer reading project about the particular species we are looking for and I hope to be able to share some new information with them when school begins in August.

I love the outdoors and am looking forward to a new adventure at sea in the Atlantic Ocean. I’m guessing it’s going to be different seeing the sun rise over the ocean instead of setting.

Lollie Garay, May 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lollie Garay
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
May 9-20, 2009 

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: May 13, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 13.5˚ C
Wind: E-SE 8.9 KT
Seas: 3-5 Ft.

Science and Technology Log 

“Monkey Dung”

“Monkey Dung”

The seas have been favorable to us again and we begin work under sunshine skies. We are still sampling in the Elephant Trunk area.  At this writing we are approaching station #75. We have had a variety of different catches today; in fact most dredges are different. One might be full of starfish, another full of sand or mud and crabs, and others full of scallops – every one of them is different. The biggest dredge of the day brought up about 4000 scallops!

Starfish and crab are also sorted and counted at every third station. There are primarily 3 different types of starfish in this area. Researchers do a representative sampling to estimate what types are out here. So far the biggest starfish I have seen had arms about 24 cm long (Asterias vulgaris); the smallest about .5cm. (Asterias forbesi). Starfish are natural predators to scallops. I have noticed that when the catch has lots of starfish, the numbers of scallops goes down. I asked Vic Nordahl about this and he said that it may be possible that the number of starfish suggests the results of predation, or it could simply be that this area is not good for scallops. Crabs are counted to determine numbers and distribution. The majority of crabs in this area are from the Genus Cancer: Rock crabs (Cancer irroratus) and Jonah crabs (Cancer borealis).

A Robin Fish—look at those eyes!

A Robin Fish—look at those eyes!

Sulphur sponges, or Monkey Dung, also come up in the dredges. It‘s a yellow thick sponge with pores so small that there don’t appear to be any. It smells like sulphur and looks like monkey dung! Are sponges plant or animal?  There is still some question about whether a sponge is an individual or a colony of sponges. Sponges are the most primitive of multi-cellular animals, and lack organs or systems. What we see in the dredges is only a very small sampling of the variety and numbers of species that call the sea “home”. And every organism that comes up in the dredges validates the reason for conducting fishery surveys.

Personal Log 

The 12 hours of work we put in each day goes by fairly quickly. My shift crew members lighten up the long day with their sense of humors and laughter.  But make no mistake, they take their work very seriously. I am always asking questions (as usual) and they always respond patiently. I really feel like a contributing member of this team now, not just a visitor. The night was cold on deck, so I head to my cabin with a cup of hot tea at the end of my shift. Tomorrow is a new day!

Answer to the question: What’s the difference between a Deep Sea scallop and a Bay scallop? 

Unusual eggs—what kind are they?

Unusual eggs—what kind are they?

A deep sea scallop is orange or cream colored, is a larger scallop and has a larger meat (adductor muscle).  The shell is not as concave and lacks the ridges of the bay scallop shell. They are distributed in depths from 20 meters to 150 meters.  A Bay scallop is smaller in size and has a smaller meat in proportion to the shell size. The shell is ridged and usually mottled colored in shades of red, white, brown and tan.  They tend to be distributed in depths from right at shore to 20 meters.  They occupy different habitats.

New Question of the Day 
What is the connection between false Quahogs and the Wampanoag people of Massachusetts?

Animals Seen Today 
Razor clams, Ocean Quahogs, False Quahog, Pod of Dolphins (racing around the ship again!), Cragmon shrimp, Red spiked Sea Urchin, Storm Petrels, Sheer water gulls, and Common gulls.

Mike Lynch, June 30, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Lynch
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
June 20 – July 1, 2005

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 30, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 3726.163N
Longitude: 07444.980W
Wave Height: 1 foot
Swell Height: 1
Foot Weather: clear
Visibility: unlimited
Wind Speed: 7 mph

lynch_log10Scientific Log

The last couple of days aboard the DELAWARE II have been a constant buzz of activity. We have moved north to the New Jersey Coast. This is prime surfclam territory, and sure enough we are into them. Our chief scientist Victor Nordahl has selected this site for a depletion survey. A depletion survey is an event that starts with finding an area of heavy population density. For our purposes and equipment, this was an area that yielded five bushels of clams in a single tow. Once the location is found, the exact GPS coordinates of longitude and latitude are used as a locator for each successive tow. Using the information recorded by the Ship’s Sensor Package (SSP), the exact trackline of the tow is ascertained and becomes the template for the depletion event. The concept of the depletion is to repeatedly cover the same track line for as many as 40 to 60 tows. With each tow, clams are counted and on every fifth tow, they are measured and samples are taken. The purpose of this event is to monitor how quickly the dredge reduces the population. Through this process, the scientists can calculate the effectiveness of the equipment in capturing the species. In essence we are calibrating the equipment. In fact, we are running non-stop stations in one of the muddiest areas we have seen. It is an exhausting process that goes on 24 hours a day and works the bridge, deck crew and science teams very hard. I have developed a real respect for how strenuously this crew works. Everyone pitches in, and works as a team.

The depletion event is rapidly coming to an end. It will be followed by our last duty at sea. Our next mission will take us off the coast of Massachusetts, where we capture clams and take samples to determine the levels of Red Tide infection. Closure of fisheries for red tide, is usually a job for state agencies, but it is also an opportunity for NOAA to do further scientific research. While steaming to our destination, we are working on swapping out the SSP package on the dredge. The second unit will be used on these final tows to ensure its reliability for future surveys. On our next watch, the DELAWARE II will be concluding the third and final leg of the Clam Survey. The ship will steam to its homeport of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The ship will be in port for four days. During this time, much of the equipment that is used in the clam survey will be disassembled and moved into storage for three years, when the next clam survey will be once again conducted by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

lynch_log10aThe three and a half ton dredge and the Crane carriage will be stored, but other technological devices will be used in an DELAWARE II, however seems to never be at rest. In three days, the ship is scheduled to leave on a Marine Mammal Observation Cruise for the next two months. This survey will be conducted in order to measure and monitor marine mammals in the Georges Bank, Southern New England, Long Island, New Jersey and Delmarva Regions. An Autumn Trawl Survey will follow this. The trawl survey is a multi species finfish survey that collects biological data, such as maturity stages, food habits, predator/prey relationships and migratory patterns. This same Trawl survey will also be conducted in the spring. The regions to be surveyed will be the Mid-Atlantic (inshore and offshore), the Georges Bank and the Gulf on Maine. This winter, the DELAWARE II will be conducting a Winter Trawl Survey that uses a modified net system that targets flatfish such as summer fluke and yellowtail flounder. The Winter Trawl Survey will focus on the Mid-Atlantic, Southern New England and the Georges Bank regions. The DELAWARE II will also participate in a Fishing Power Survey that are a series of experiments designed to yield a correction factor for changes in either survey equipment or vessels. This year the DELAWARE II will be conducting these tests with the HENRY BIGELOW, a new vessel being built in Mississippi, and scheduled to replace the DE II’s sister ship, the ALBATROSS IV.

To find out where the DELAWARE II is, at any given time, NOAA provides a web site that includes a track line of all of its research vessels. Wherever these vessels are you can be assured that they are working diligently to accomplish the goals of the Northeast Fisheries Research Center. The goals start with research and monitoring fish stocks and their environments. The surveys endeavor to provide data that will assist in understanding and predicting changes in marine ecosystems, living marine resources, fisheries, habitats, ecosystem condition, and the generation of national benefits. The outcome of this research is the production and dissemination of scientific advice for management programs based on an ecosystem framework, and finally, you can be assured that NOAA will be endeavoring to engage stakeholders in the process of decision-making. NOAA is a team builder in stewardship. You can also be assured that NOAA will be involving educators in order to provide outreach to students and society at large.

lynch_log10bIn closing, I need to extend my thanks and appreciation for the opportunities that were afforded me aboard the DELAWARE II. True to NOAA’s goals of education and outreach, the crew extended tremendous courtesy and patience while indoctrinating me into the area of marine science, research and life at sea. Without exception, all of the crew were helpful and willing to share their expertise and time. I must extend particular thanks to Charles Keith, Kris Ohleth, Richard Raynes, Erin Kapcha and Jeff Taylor. Each of these crewmembers extended themselves way beyond the call of duty in helping me to understand the shipboard policies, routines and the goals and objectives of our research. Also a special thanks to Cindy Travers, a Coast Guard Cadet who taught me a great deal about seamanship and positive attitude.  Each of these people embodies a dedicated spirit that goes well beyond the parameters of their specific duties. Special thanks also goes to Dennis Carey, the Chief Steward who is the most important, and hardest working person on the vessel. I also wish to extend my thanks to all aboard the DELAWARE II, the crew believes in their mission and are sacrificing personal gain for public service. In short, they are an inspiration.

Life at sea is arduous. It is hard work, long hours, inclement conditions and deprivation of creature comforts. Life at sea is also a community, a brotherhood and a commitment. To NOAA, and the crew of the DELAWARE II, thank you, I learned a great deal and am deeply grateful.

Mike Lynch, June 29, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Lynch
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
June 20 – July 1, 2005

lynch_log9Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 29, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 3726.163N
Longitude: 07444.980W
Wave Height: 1 foot
Swell Height: 1
Foot Weather: clear
Visibility: unlimited
Wind Speed: 7 mph

Scientific Log

lynch_log9aToday’s Log will focus on the scientific work being done on the stern deck. The Chief Scientist, Victor Nordahl, coordinates the 2005 Clam Survey aboard the DELAWARE II. One of Victor’s many jobs is to oversee the collection work done by the two scientific crews aboard the vessel. Each crew works two six hour shifts, the scientific data collection and cataloguing goes on twenty four hours a day. Each crew is made up of a crew chief and five supporting workers. Our crew chief is Chad Keith. Chad is an engaging young man who has worked for NOAA for a number of years and has just finished his Masters degree in Geography at the University of Oregon. Kris Ohleth is our Marine Biological Seagoing Technician. Kris is soon to start her graduate program on Marine Policy at the University of Rhode Island. Kris is in charge of data and the daunting task of training people, like myself, in the intricacies of the onboard FSCS and SCS computer systems. Richard Raynes is an equipment technician for NOAA, and a net maker by trade, he is the equipment guru of our crew. Erin Kapcha is also a NOAA employee, who coordinates the observer program that places observers on board commercial fishing vessels. Erin is stretching her legs and doing some work outside the office. Cindy Travers is an energetic 20 year old, Senior Cadet from The United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Cindy is doing a summer practicum on board and will be following this cruise with another on board the ALABATROSS IV. I, Mike Lynch, am the last member of the crew, and a participating member of the Teacher at Sea Program. I am a flatlander from Moses Lake, Washington. I am here to learn more about the role NOAA plays in the formulation of policy and regulation. I am also here due to NOAA’s commitment to education and outreach. Our mission, as we have accepted it, is to gather and input data on the Atlantic Surfclam and the Ocean Quahog. Today’s journal will be a synopsis of the processes of data collection and the responsibilities of our crew.

lynch_log9bIn an earlier log, I outlined my duties on the Bridge. This was the process of reporting data for each station on the Shipboard Computer System. This is the step that monitors the location and duration of each tow of the dredge. The next step happens on the stern work deck and the wet lab. Once the dredge is brought back to the surface, brought up on the crane carriage, and secured to the deck by the deck crew, it’s show time for our science crew. Our first job is to inspect the dredge and determine if the contents need to be washed. If they do, we adhere a mesh gate to the front of the dredge and it is released by the work crew for a tow behind the boat. Once washed, the contents of the dredge are released on to a large worktable for sorting. One of our crewmembers, usually Richard, goes up into the dredge to clear it of all debris. The contents of the dredge are pulled with rakes down the length of the worktable. The crew sorts surfclams and quahogs and places each species into bushel baskets at the end of the table.

lynch_log9cAnother bucket is in place for other species such as starfish, crabs, fish and other varieties of clams. Two other buckets are in place for broken clams and quahogs, and clappers. Clappers are clams or quahog shells that are called shell hash, is also collected into bushel baskets. Once the table is cleared, it is time to clean the dredge area, count the baskets of shell hash, and catalogue the species data into the FSCS database. Ocean quahogs and surfclams are taken and weighed on electronic scales. The scales have been calibrated to zero for the weight of the bushel basket. The clams are then moved to one of three workstations. The stations are long stainless steel tables equipped with Limnos boards, electronic scales and interactive FSCS computer monitors. The limnos boards are used to electronically measure the length of each specimen and catalogue the data into the database. The scales are used to measure the specimen weight in shell and the meat weight of shucked specimens. The computer terminals are touch screens that are interactive consoles, which allow the recorder to select species and data categories. The console also notifies the worker of special instructions and requests for specimen samples that have been requested by the chief scientists. The species are catalogued by station, which has been programmed at the bridge to indicate exact location, time, depth, weather, etc.

A hearty bunch

A hearty bunch

For the purpose of data collection, the areas that we are investigating are divided into regions and strata. The Clam Survey is collecting data in five regions: Georges Bank, Southern New England, Long Island, New Jersey and the Delmarva Peninsula (an offshore area of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia). We are participating on the third leg of the survey, and have spent most our time, thus far, off the coast of Virginia. These large geographical regions are subdivided into smaller areas called strata, and the specific areas of each tow are called stations. In each of the strata, we are asked to collect age data and meat weights as well as numbers and weight volumes. For Ocean Quahogs, we are asked to collect meat weights and samples of ten specimens for each 10 mm. class in length measurement. These samples are shucked weighed, catalogued for the location of their capture, bagged, labeled and frozen. These will go to Jim Weinberg, who is the Principle Investigator for this survey. Essentially these samples are to be analyzed in the NEFSC labs in Woods Hole. Atlantic Surfclams receive far greater scrutiny. Samples of meat weights must be kept for specimens within 10mm. classes on every tow. The requests for these samples are preprogrammed into the computer base, and as the “cutter” enters the length on the Limnos board into the computer, the recorder will be told which specimens must be kept for meat weight collection. The NEFSC division of Age and Growth also requests Surf Clams. The computer will alert the recorder that an age tag is requested. In this scenario, The cutter will take a meat sample, but the actual clam shells will be marked by station number, strata, and ID number. These shells are bagged, tagged and frozen for the A&G lab. Age samples are one clam within a 10 mm class at every site. How’s that for confusing. Between our crew chief Chad, our Sea going Technician Chris, and the demanding FSCS computer terminal, mere mortals like myself can participate in scientific data collection.

Aside from the data collected for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, we are collecting surf clam samples for a member of our other crew. Adriana Picariello is collecting samples as part of research for her Masters Thesis at the University of Virginia Marine Science department. Her research will be comparing growth rates in different regions. It’s interesting what you can learn from clams, about the environment and possible changes in the environment such as global warming. Cool Stuff!

Personal Log

The weather has become hot and humid. Yesterday we did part of a depletion survey where we did repeated tows non stop for the entire shift. It was a real marathon, I could have been part of a research on the sweat capacity of a human being. There was no time for interviews, logs or breathing. I slept well! Go figure. Still having fun, and have I mentioned the food?

Mike Lynch, June 27, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Lynch
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
June 20 – July 1, 2005

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 27, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 3938.834N
Longitude07316.810W
Wave Height: 1 foot
Swell Height: 3 Foot
Weather: cloudy
Visibility: obscured
Wind Speed: 14 mph

Science and Technology Log

Today’s log will continue the exploration of the DELAWARE II, her crew, and the concept of an ocean going vessel as a self-reliant community. This log, like the last on this theme, is inspired by a sudden revelation; Clams can be stinky. Actually, clams themselves probably aren’t all that stinky, but constant application to clothing over a prolonged period of time at accelerated temperature certainly produce stink. Having come to this hypothesis, I concluded that the solution was laundry. (Pretty scientific, huh?)

Using the hose

Using the hose

Laundry on board the DELAWARE II, in itself, doesn’t pose a large problem. You wait until about 2 AM, go down past the galley and into the Ship’s Store, and you find two sets of washers and driers. Simple, there is really nothing to it, until you begin to investigate the processes that are involved in providing laundry service. Where does all the fresh water come from? How does the onboard electrical system work? Where does the wastewater and soap go? To find answers to these questions I interviewed Lieutenant Jeff Taylor, who is scheduled to become the X.O. (Executive Officer) off the DELAWARE II.

The first question dealt with fresh water. “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink”. I’m not exactly sure who said that, but it pretty much explains where we are. We have not seen land in over a week, so where is all this fresh water coming from? Lieutenant Taylor explained the process. Fresh water is used onboard for drinking, washing, cooking, and of course, laundry. Initially the answer is simple, 5,000 gallons of water is taken onboard when dockside. This water is supplied to different areas of the ship using an electrical pumping system; the electricity is supplied by generators that are powered by diesel… simple! But what happens when we start to deplete the water? The answer to this is an onboard water purification process that uses an evaporation system to create fresh water. Jeff explained that sea water was taken onboard through what are called sea chests. The seawater is then run through coils that are heated to boiling by the diesel power plant that powers the ship. The resulting steam produces fresh water and the remaining salt solution is returned to whence it came. Simple, we have just distilled fresh water from salt. The newly created water is now pumped into the holding tanks to replenish the water source. The potable water tank is subjected to a bromine treatment, and we are good to do laundry. The creation of fresh water in this manner really is a big deal. It in essence removes one of the three elements that limit the time a ship may stay out at sea: water, food, and fuel. Fresh water is in constant supply to the thirty-man crew of the ship. Fresh water is pumped to each of the staterooms, two common bathrooms, the galley, the ship’s store, the emergency showers, and the wet deck in the science area. The nine fire stations and the onboard hydrants on each of the decks use seawater.

Part of the waste disposal system

Part of the waste disposal system

The second question deals with power generation. Power generation onboard the DELAWARE II is supplied by two “Ship’s Service Generators”. These are diesel powered 375 amp generators. On this survey, one of the generators is used to power the ship’s electrical needs and the other is dedicated to the Clam Survey equipment, primarily the winches and the 440 service to the underwater pump. Usually only one generator is used at a time, and runs for 250 hours between oil changes. There is also an emergency generator onboard that supplies a 70-amp service. The generators, as well as the ship’s two powerful engines, are diesel powered. The ship’s diesel capacity is approximately 40,000 gallons, enough for 19 days at full operation, 24 hours a day. The last component of the laundry equation is the matter of wastewater. There are two distinct wastewater systems onboard the DELAWARE II. These are “grey water” and “black water” systems. Grey water comes from sinks, showers, and laundry. Disposal of grey water is a simple enough process, it can be pumped overboard. The Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Coast Guard, however, strictly regulate black water, or human waste disposal. No black water may be disposed of within three miles of the United States’ coastline. Beyond three miles, processed waste may be disposed of, and beyond the twelve-mile mark; untreated human waste may be pumped overboard.

Aboard the DELAWARE II, a Marine Sanitation Device (MSD) treats all black water. The sewage treatment is essentially a large holding tank, with a macerator. Biologicals are added (yeast), and the black water is treated and released. There are also regulations and protocols for the disposal of garbage at sea. A wet and dry garbage log is kept on the bridge. If the galley wants to dispose of left over food, they must request permission; specify the amount, the type, the time and the day on the report. These items would fall into the category of wet garbage. For things like cardboard and paper, a similar log with similar notations is kept. For dry garbage, it must be reduced to pieces 1” or smaller if released between 3 to 12 miles of the coast. Oil and plastics can never be dumped at any location. The wet and dry garbage logs are routinely checked and cross-referenced to the materials that were taken aboard. The DELAWARE II does not dump much, if any, dry garbage, but instead uses a compactor, bags and wire gages to store the garbage for shore disposal. Well, my laundry is done, and what seems like an everyday mundane task turns out to be a wonder of applied science. Things smell better now.

Mike Lynch, June 26, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Lynch
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
June 20 – July 1, 2005

lynch_log7Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 26, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 3726.163N
Longitude: 07444.980W
Wave Height: 1 foot
Swell Height: 1
Foot Weather: clear
Visibility: unlimited
Wind Speed: 7 mph

Scientific Log

Navigation from the bridge

Navigation from the bridge

Today’s log will be an outline of a typical day aboard the DELAWARE II Clam Survey. Our day begins with an 11:10 wakeup call. A quick routine and I am out the door. Coffee in  the galley, a few guys watching the final minutes of game seven of the NBA finals. I quickly take advantage of the time to organize my folder of materials that has fallen into disarray. There is very little space other than the galley to do any written work on board. Every available space is filled with equipment of some sort related to our survey. There are no tables or chairs in our staterooms, these are only for sleeping. It’s now 11:50 PM, and time to go aft to relieve the other crew. There are six people on this crew, and they are all busy measuring clams and weighing meat weights. They are happy to see us and noticeably tired.  Within minutes, we are coming on to our first station. Stations are either randomly selected by the computer or selected by our chief scientist. Unlike a commercial fisher, we survey many different strata and depths. We are not exclusively concerned with the areas of highest concentration of biomass, but instead want to obtain data that will give an overall glimpse of the entire ecosystem. It is my job to go up to the bridge as we approach the station and coordinate the Shipboard Computer System (SCS) with the activities of the deck crew and the Officer On the Duty (OOD). This morning, Ensign Nathan Priester, Navigator, is on duty.

Radar navigation

Radar navigation

The first activity on the SCS is to synchronize the computer clock to a constant satellite feed and software called Dimension Four. Once I am assured that the computer clock has not drifted I open the program software to the clam survey data. This screen requires that I enter information that will catalog the data for each specific event at designated areas called stations. Station numbers are related to exact coordinates of latitude and longitude for the desired tow. Today we are off the coast of Virginia at Latitude: 33651.231N. Longitude: 07526.591W. Next to be entered are the numbers for strata (general area) and the tow number (the number of tows in that strata). The computer will then use this data to not only monitor the aspects of the tow, but also as a file to catalogue the species data that will later be recorded on deck. The next information has to do with the depth of the tow. A number is entered that correlates to the length of the hauser that is to be released. A hauser is a 3” rope that is used to tow the dredge once it is on the bottom. Today the hauser length will be 110 ft.; I also need to enter the information for the winch cable. The winch cable is heavy wire that is used to lower and raise the dredge.

Charting our course

Charting our course

The length out is slightly longer than the designated hauser length; this means that when the dredge reaches the bottom the tension is transferred over to the more flexible hauser for the tow. Today’s cable information is designated 125 ft and the Crane. Having entered this info, my next job is to go to the back of the bridge and activate two switches that will lower the hydrophone. This is a device that is lowered down beneath the ship that communicates with the Survey Sensor Package (SSP) adhered to the dredge. This sensor package provides a constant stream of information regarding dredge position, attitude to the bottom, speed, depth, temperature, and more. This communication will also provide a track line that can be monitored on the bridge and the wet lab.  Now we are ready for a crew is on the radio and the OOD, on the bridge, has a video feed of the stern deck. The crew calls in that the dredge is being taken off the chains, and I input the start of the “event” in the computer. An internal clock starts running and monitoring data. When the dredge is 10 meters out the crew asks for “Power On”, I now enter this into the SCS, and the 440-volt power is turned on to the pump and the sensor package.

More ship equipment

More ship equipment

At this point the sensor package is being read by the hydrophone, and a constant stream of data is being entered. The pump is now delivering water at high pressure through a manifold with a dozen nozzles. This pressurized water is blown onto the substrate (ocean floor) creating a slurry of clams, substrate and shell hash in front of the oncoming dredge. When the dredge comes to the end of the cable, the tension is transferred to the shorter hauser line and the crew announces “on the hauser”. This is my cue to enter “start tow”. This command starts an internal clock that measures a tow of exactly five minutes. With five minutes to spare, I now need to enter further cruise information and input weather data. The OOD keeps the vessel going a constant 1.3 knots. He then tells me the average rpm of the tow. Today we are averaging 135 rpm’s.  The weather data consists of the percentage of cloud cover (20%), the visibility (clear), the wave height (2ft.), the swell height (3ft.) and the swell direction (160 degrees). At the end of the five-minute tow, the deck crew announces, “haul back”, and I input “end timed tow”. The next command I input will indicate off the hauser, meaning that the cable winch has now retrieved the tension. The next command is ‘off the bottom”, and then power off. When I input each of these commands into the computer I await the call for last ten meters. This signals the end of the computer event and I exit the program, cross off the station on the log so that the number is not inadvertently reused, and electronically retrieve the audio phone back onboard. This part of my job usually takes about 25 to 20 minutes. It is now time to go aft, put on my oilers, and go out to sort the dredge contents, and input species data. That will be the subject of a future log. This process is repeated on an average of eight times per shift. There are four shifts; each crew has two shifts per day. The vessel and data collection operates 24 hours per day.

Personal Log

We are now off the coast of Virginia. There is lots of military traffic out of Norfolk. We are fishing the shallower waters of the Delmarva Peninsula. We are in surfclam territory. We are having limited success which is consistent with the data of previous surveys that would suggest that clam populations are moving to colder off shore locations and further north. We are doing a lot of measurements of meat weight and saving samples in various strata for universities and scientists that have requested samples for research. All is well, the weather is great the people on board are super, and, have I mentioned the food is great?