Terry Maxwell: Scallop Pails and Humpback Whales, June 7, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Terry Maxwell

Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp

June 6 – 21, 2017

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 7, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 41 30.90 N
Longitude: 69 18.76 W
Air Temp 14.1° Celsius ( 57.3° Fahrenheit)
Wind speed 4.7 Knots (5.4 mph)

Science and Technology Log

Due to the poor weather delay on the 6th, June 7th was our first day out for the crew I am working with. Our ship is divided into two crews so we can work our operations around the clock.  The crew I am working with works from noon to midnight, while the other crew works midnight to noon.  On the 7th, were able to drop the dredge and attempt to collect scallops to assess the health, size, and population of those organisms.

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Sometimes the dredge brings up more than scallops!  This goosefish uses it’s illicium which act like fishing lures to attract fish close enough to be gulped by its large mouth.

We work those hours mainly using the collection process of dredging the ocean floor for scallops, but along the way, several other bottom dwelling ocean creatures are caught in the dredge.

A crane operator with the help of two deck workers lowers the dredge into the water.  Once the dredge is in place to go into the water the crane operator releases cable until the dredge reaches the ocean floor.  Depth readouts are calculated beforehand to determine how deep the dredge will need to drop.  With this information the dredge cable is let out at a 3.5:1 ratio, meaning for every meter of ocean depth we are in, 3.5 meter of cable is let out.  With this ratio the dredge is dropped with an angle that keeps it flat to the ocean floor.  The crane operator is also reading a line tension readout in the crane booth to determine when the dredge has hit the ocean floor.  We are typically in 200–350 ft of water when these dredges occur.  The dredge travels behind the boat for 15 minutes, and is then pulled in.

On the dredge is a sensor called the “Star-Oddi.” This sensor detects the pitch and roll to make sure it was lying flat on the bottom of the ocean.  The Star-Oddi also collects temperature and depth information as the dredge is traveling.  The sensor is taken out of the dredge once it is brought up so watch-chief can see if the dredge was functioning properly throughout the tow.

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University of Maine student Dylan Benoit is taking out the Star-Oddi after a dredge.

Once the dredge is hauled up, it is dumped onto a large metal table that the science crew stands around.  Two of the Hugh R Sharp’s vessel technicians then scoop the collected haul to an awaiting science crew.

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The dredge is unloaded with a good haul of scallops.

The science crew will then divide the haul into several different collection pails.  The main objective of this crew is to collect scallops.  Scallops collected are organized into different sizes.  Fish are also collected and organized by a NOAA scientist who can properly identify the fish.  At some of the dredge stations we collect numbers of crabs, waved whelks, and sea stars as well.

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This dredge was especially sandy.  In a typical day we reach around 6-8 dredge stations during our twelve hour shift.  Here I am sorting through the sand looking for scallops, fish, crabs, and wave whelks.

Once the haul is collected and sorted, our science team takes the haul into a lab station area.  In the lab, several pieces of data are collected.  If we are at a station where crabs and whelks are collected, then the number of those are recorded as well.  Fish taken from the dredge are sorted by species, some species are weighed and measured for length. Some of the species of fish are measured and some are counted by NOAA scientists.

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In the dry lab the midnight to noon science crew takes measurements and records data.

 

Also in this lab station, all of the collected scallops are measured for their shell height.  A small sample of scallops are shucked (opened) to expose the meat and gonads, which are individually weighed and recorded.  Once opened we also identify if a scallop is diseased, specifically looking for shell blisters, nematodes, Orange-nodules, or gray meats.

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Scallop disease guide posted in the dry lab.

Also at this station, the gender of the scallop is identified.  You can identify the gender by the color of the gonad.  Males have a white gonad, while a female’s looks red or pink. Finally at this station, commensal organisms are checked for.  A common relationship we have seen during this trip is that of the scallop and red hake.  The red hake is a small fish that is believed to use the scallop shell as shelter while it is young.  As they get older, red hake have been identified to be in the depression around the scallop, still trying to use the scallop for shelter, even though it can no longer fit inside.

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A shucked clam that had a red hake living inside of it when it was collected in the dredge.


After that has happened the shells are cleaned and given an ID number.  These scallop shells are bagged up, to be further examined in NOAA labs by a scientist that specializes in scallop aging.

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These scallops have been shucked, and now their shells will be researched by a scallop aging expert at NOAA.  My job is to be the recorder for the cutter.  I do the final cleaning on the scallop shells, tag them, and bag them.

If you’d like to know how this process works, watch the video below.   The watch-chief, Nicole Charriere, of the science crew members I work with, explains the process in this short clip.

 

Transcript:

(0:00) Nichole Charriere. I’m the watch chief on the day watch, so working with Terry. I’ve been working at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center for about 6 ½ years. When we’re out here on deck, basically, we put a small sensor on the dredge that helps monitor the pitch, the roll, and kind of whether the dredge is fishing right side up or upside down. And we offload that sensor after every tow, put a new one on, and that sensor will tell us basically how that dredge is fishing, because we always want the dredge to be in contact with the bottom, fishing for the entire 15 minutes if we can.

(0:45) The dredge is deployed 15 minutes for the bottom and then it comes back up and then the catch is dumped on the table. Then depending on how far away the next station is, sometimes we take out crabs and whelks, and we account for the amount of starfish that are in each tow because those are predators of scallops. So we want to make sure that we’re kind of tracking the amount of predation that’s in the area. And you usually find if you have sometimes a lot of starfish, a lot of crabs of certain sizes, you’ll find less starfish. I mean you’ll find less scallops. 

(1:22) After the entire catch is sorted, we’re bringing it to the lab. We have scallops, we have scallops “clappers,” which are dead scallops that still have the hinge attached, and that’s important for us because we can track mortality. Once the hinge kind of goes away, the shell halves separate. Can’t really tell how recently it’s died. But while that hinge is intact, you can tell it’s basically dead recently. So you kind of get a decent idea of scallop mortality in that area like that.

(1:52) Scallop, scallop clappers, we kind of count fish, we kind of measure usually commercially important ones as well. Then we take scallop meat weights, so we open up the scallop– Terry’s been doing a lot of that too– open up the scallop, we kind of blot the meat weight so it’s like a dry meat weight, and we measure, we weigh the gonad as well, and that kind of tracks the health of the scallop.

(2:21) And then the rest of us are doing lengths of the scallop, and that’s so that we get a length frequency of the scallops that are in the area. Usually we’re looking for about… if you look at the graph it’s like a bell curve, so you kind of get an average, and then you get a few smaller scallops and a few larger scallops. And that’s pretty much it. We’re taking length frequencies and we’re looking at the health of the scallops. 

 

Personal Log

From the time I woke up on Tuesday till about the time I went to bed that night, sea-sickness was getting the best of me.  I listened to the advice of the experienced sailors on board, and kept working through the sickness.  Even though I felt sick most of the day, and I just wanted the day to end at that point.  However, I was rewarded by sticking it out, and not going to my room to lay down, by one of the most incredible sites I’ve ever seen.  From about 4pm til about 8pm, many humpback whales were all around our boat.  We had a little down time waiting to get to the next dredge spot, so I was watching the horizon just trying to get my sea-sickness in check.  As I was sitting by the side of the boat, I saw a whale towards the bow of the ship.  I got out my camera and was in the right place at the right time to get a video of it.   It was one of the most amazing sites I’ve ever seen.

 

Video of a humpback whale diving near R/V Hugh R. Sharp

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Fluke of a humpback whale diving next to R/V Hugh R. Sharp

Did You Know?

The typical bleached white sand dollars that most people are accustomed to seeing as decorations are not the actual look of living sand dollars.  In one of our dredge catches, we collected thousands of sand dollars, and only a couple were bleach white in color.   Sand dollars are part of the echinoderm family.  They move around on the ocean floor, and bury themselves in the sand.  The sand dollars use the hairs (cillia) on their body to catch plankton and move it towards their mouth.  The bleached white sand dollars that most people think of when they think of a sand dollar is just their exoskeleton remains.

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Sand dollars brought up in the dredge

 

Virginia Warren: Let the Dredging Begin, July 15, 2013

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: Georges Bank
Date: July 15, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: South to south-west winds 10 to 20 knots, seas 4 to 6 feet, showers and scattered thunderstorms, areas of fog with visibility of 1 nautical mile or less early in the morning

Science and Technology Log:

After two days of using the HabCam to view the animals in their natural habitat, we moved to viewing the actual animals. We used a scallop dredge to bring the animals on deck so that we can count and measure them. The main goal is to find scallops, but we also sort other animals and measure them as well. In the dredge we have found sand dollars, different types of fish, crabs, sea stars, and of course scallops. The dredge gets pulled behind the ship for 15 minutes. Once the 15 minutes are up, the ship crew will pull the dredge onto the boat and then dump the contents onto the sorting table. Before sorting the contents of the dredge someone from the science crew is responsible for taking a picture of its contents. To keep the pictures separated from dredge to dredge, another person holds a white board that tells the number of the tow in front of each pile before the picture. Then the sorting begins!

Holding the Sign for the Station Picture

Holding the Sign for the Station Picture

Sorting the table can be very interesting because the things that come up depend on the location and how deep the water is. At times we sort through scallops and rocks, then the next dredge might be sand, or another time might be mostly sand dollars. While sorting the dredge contents, we sort all of the fish and skates from the scallops and put the fish and/or skates in a bucket to be sorted later. The items on the table that we are not sampling are considered to be trash. We have to keep up with each time we throw a ‘trash’ bucket overboard because a person on my crew has to count up the total amount of trash. Sometimes we also do a subsample of the number of starfish in the trash and the amount of crabs that came up in the dredge (hermit crabs not included). Crabs and starfish are natural predators  of scallops.

Once the sorting table is clear, we separate the types of fish based on species and then start weighing and measuring in the scientific ‘van’ on the ship. The watch chief takes the weights of everything and then passes it down to be measured by length. Before we can start measuring the length, we have to get the computer ready to receive the measurement data. The names of the people working the station are put into the computer and then the species is selected. To measure the length of an item, we spread it out on a measuring board starting at the beginning of the board. This board is connected to the computer and has a magnet that goes down the length of the ruler that is all the way down the middle of the board. Next, we take a hand-held magnet and press down on the board at the end of the item. The magnet picks up the measurement and sends it to the computer program. This will continue until everything that needs to be measured is complete.

Yellow Tale Flounder Being Measured

Yellow Tale Flounder Being Measured

Another station in the van is responsible for taking meat weights from a sample group of three to four scallops. The sample scallops first have to be scrubbed down with a wire brush to clean off anything growing on it. After the shell is clean, then the scallops get weighed and measured for length. Then the scallop gets shucked. The gonad gets taken out and weighed and then the muscle gets taken out and weighed. The muscle is the part of the scallop that gets eaten. Then the shells are dried off and bagged up for age testing when the ship gets back to port.

Personal Log:

It has been foggy here on Georges bank, but work still continues on a ship. This ship constantly has either the HabCam in the water, or is dredging for scallops and the science crew is responsible for keeping the science research going 24 hours a day. This is the reason for the science crew to be split into two groups. The people in my crew are great to work with and are very helpful!

Close to the beginning of one of my shifts, we came across a dredge that was full of scallops. It had at least 10 baskets full of large scallops. We only measured a subsample of four baskets, but in the subsample alone we had over 400 scallops that were measured in. Then in the very next dredge, we had another dredge that was better than the first one. The baskets of scallops filled up the side of the ship and we were actually searching for baskets to put more scallops in.

I have had several ‘firsts’ on this trip. I got my first experience being on a research vessel. This was my first time shucking a scallop. It was also my first time being brought into a fisherman’s tradition. Apparently it’s tradition for all newbie scallop shuckers to shuck their own scallop and then eat it raw. This is not the best tradition in my mind because I have a very easy gag reflex and of course I started gagging, but I was able to keep it down. The cook on the ship taught me how to fillet a fish called whiting. Then as a special treat, he took the fish and fried it up for us to snack on. This was a great treat, because the fish came straight from dredge to be filleted and cooked up to be eaten. It was fresh and delicious!

Virginia Shucking Scallops

Virginia Shucking Scallops

Virginia Holding the 20 Pound Monk FIsh

Virginia Holding the 20 Pound Monk FIsh

Did You Know… that when dredging for scallops the part of the dredge that drags the bottom of the sea floor will come up looking polished.

The Dredge Coming Up Looking Polished

Look closely at the side of the dredge facing the camera and you will see that it is polished to a silver color because it is dragged over the bottom of the ocean floor. The rest of the dredge that doesn’t touch the ocean floor looks a rusted red color.

Animals Seen Recently:

–       Dolphins

Dolphins

Dolphins

–       Blue Shark

–       Lobster

–       Octopus

–       Monk Fish

–       Skates

Winter Skate

Winter Skate

–       Basking Shark

–       Pilot Whale

Pilot Whale

Pilot Whale

–       LOTS of scallops

Extra Pictures:

Alicia Gillean: Introduction, April 29, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alicia Gillean
Soon to be aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 27 — July 8, 2012

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Sunday, April 29, 2012

Personal Log

Alicia Gillean

Alicia Gillean, 2012 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hello from Oklahoma!  My name is Alicia Gillean and I am ecstatic that I was selected as a 2012 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) Teacher at Sea!  I am passionate about adventure, lifelong learning, and the ocean.  I can’t wait to merge these three passions together for twelve days at sea this summer and to share my learning with all of my students and coworkers back in Oklahoma. I will be blogging about my adventure and learning while aboard the ship and you are invited to follow my journey and get involved by asking questions and posting comments. I’ll start by telling you a little bit about myself, then I’ll fill you in on the details of my Teacher at Sea adventure.

A Bit About Me

When I’m not pursuing adventure on the high seas, I am the school librarian (also known as a library media specialist) at Jenks West Intermediate School, a school of about 600 5th and 6th graders in the Jenks Public Schools District, near Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I might be a bit biased, but I believe that I have the best job in the school and that I work with some of the finest teachers and students in the world.

You are probably wondering, “How did a librarian from Oklahoma become part of an ocean research cruise?”  I’m glad you asked.  It just so happens that this blog entry answers that very question.

I’ll admit it; I was born and raised a landlubber. There just aren’t many opportunities to visit the ocean when you grow up in the Midwest.  Rumor has it that I touched the ocean once when I was about 3, but I didn’t touch it again until I was 21. More on that later.

My passion for the ocean began in high school when I took a Marine Biology class where my mind was blown by the diversity and beauty of life in the sea and the complex network of factors that impact the health of an ocean environment.  I took Marine Biology 2 and 3 the following years where I set up and maintained aquariums in elementary schools and taught ocean-related lessons for elementary students.

Aquarium newspaper photo

Alicia showing a shark jaw to a three year old at the Oklahoma Aquarium

I started to become a little obsessed with marine life, went to college to become a teacher, and did a happy dance when I learned that an aquarium was going to open in Jenks, Oklahoma.  I landed a job as a summer intern in the education department of the Oklahoma Aquarium and was overjoyed to be a part of the team that opened it in 2003.  When I graduated from college, the aquarium hired me as an education specialist, where I worked with learners of all ages to promote our mission of “conservation through education” through classes, camps, fishing clinics, sleepovers, animal interactions, crafts… the list goes on and on. 

In 2006, I became a 6th grade teacher in Jenks Public Schools, then I earned my Masters degree and became the school librarian in 2010.  I love to work with all the kiddos in my school as they learn to develop as thinkers, scientists, and citizens who have the power to impact the world.  They are just the kind of advocates that the environment needs and I want to help prepare them for this important role any way possible.  My experiences as a Teacher at Sea will certainly help!

Let’s go back to my actual experiences with the ocean for a moment.  After graduating from college and marrying my high school sweetheart David, I hightailed it to an ocean as fast as possible.  We honeymooned in Hawaii where we snorkeled, explored tidepools, went on a whale watch, and temporarily filled the ocean-shaped void in my heart.

Alicia in ocean

Alicia on a Maui Beach

I’ve been back to the ocean several times and each time I am reminded of the delicate balance that must be maintained for the fascinating world under the waves to survive and thrive.  It is critical we protect the oceans and that people realize that their actions impact the oceans.  Even in the landlocked state of Oklahoma, our actions matter.

So, that’s why a school librarian from Oklahoma will spend the summer of 2012 on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, counting sea scallops.  I can hardly wait for the adventure to begin!  Enough about me, let’s talk about the research cruise now.

Science and Technology Log

I’ll be participating in a sea scallop survey in the Atlantic Ocean, along the northeast coast of the United States, from Delaware to Massachusetts.  My adventure at sea will begin June 27, 2012 and end July 8, 2012.

What is a sea scallop?

A sea scallop is an animal that is in the same category as clams, oysters, and mussels. One way that sea scallops are different from other animals with two shells (bivalves) is that a sea scallop can move itself through the water by opening and closing its shells quickly.  How do you think this adaptation might help the sea scallop?  Watch these videos to see a sea scallop in action:

 

Importance of  Sea Scallops/Sea Scallop Survey

People like to eat scallops, so fishermen drag heavy-duty nets along the ocean floor (called dredging) to collect and sell them.  Most of them are harvested in the Atlantic Ocean along the northeastern coast of the United States. The United States sea scallop fishery is very important for the economy.

Sea Scallop Habitats

Map of sea scallop habitats from NOAA’s fishwatch.gov

The problem is that sometimes people can harvest too many scallops and the sea scallops can’t reproduce quickly enough before they are harvested again.  Eventually, this could lead to the depletion of the sea scallop population, which would be bad news for the ocean and for people.

This is where the NOAA Sea Scallop Survey comes in.  Every year, NOAA sends scientists out in a ship to count the number of Atlantic sea scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) in various parts of their habitat.  The sea scallops live in groups called beds on the ocean floor 100-300 feet deep, so scientists can’t just peer into the ocean and count them.  Instead, they have to dredge, just like the fisherman, to collect samples of scallops in numerous places.  The scientists record data about the number, size, and weight of sea scallops and other animals. Based on the data collected, decisions are made about what areas are okay for people to harvest scallops in and what areas need a break from harvesting for a while.  I’m considered a scientist on this cruise, so I’ll get to participate in this for 12 hours a day.  I hear it is messy, smelly, tiring, and fascinating.  Sounds like my type of adventure!  I think most good science is messy, don’t you?

The Ship

I’ll be sailing on the research vessel Hugh R Sharp. You can take a virtual tour of the ship here.  It was built in 2006, is 146 feet long (a little bit shorter than the width of a football field), and is used for lots of different scientific research expeditions. When I’m out at sea, you can see where I am on the journey and track the ship here.

RV Hugh R. Sharp

R/V Hugh R. Sharp; photo from NOAA Eastern Surveys Branch

What I hope to Learn

I’m very interested to experience what daily life is like on an ocean research vessel, how scientists use inquiry, data-collection, math, and other skills that we teach our students in a real-world setting.  Of course, I’m also hoping to see some fascinating ocean critters and get my hands dirty doing the work of a real scientist.

I’d love for you to join me on this adventure by following this blog and leaving your thoughts and questions in the comment section at the bottom of each blog entry.  Let’s make this a learning experience that we will all remember!

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
Dolphins
Red Hake
Sea Mouse
Chain Dogfish
Little Skate
Four Spot Flounder
Red Sea Robin
Sea Urchin
Snake Eel
Ocean Pout
Sand Dollar
Sand Lance
Goosefish
Starfish
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!

Channa Comer: The Voyage Begins, May 13, 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: Friday, May 13, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 13.7C, Partly Cloudy
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Water Temperature 13.1C
Swell Height: 0.1 meters

Newspaper clipping

A newspaper clipping about how important food on working ships is, especially ice cream

Science and Technology Log
Day 1 – Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The coastal Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp set sail at around 2PM on Wednesday, May 11th from Lewes, DE. There are 13 members on the science team, six who are volunteers (including myself), and nine crew members. On the first day, we met for introductions, a briefing on the schedule of the day and safety instructions.

The Hugh R. Sharp is 146 ft research vessel, weighs approximately 490 tons and has a cruising speed of about 10 knots. The vessel is diesel-electric with all the comforts of home (satellite television, heat, hot water, laundry facilities), and can be at sea for a maximum of 30 days. The vessel is configured with a pilothouse (at the top) and three decks. The “below decks” which is the bottom-most deck has the bulk of the ship’s machinery and crew cabins. The main deck is where most of the action happens. It houses the portable lab van where each catch is processed, a dry lab which houses the computers used for the survey, a wet lab, dredging equipment and the all important galley and mess area. There is also a small conference room where members of the crew can be intermittently found working, reading, listening to music, or eating ice cream.

Once we were out to sea, the team got to work preparing for a test tow of the scallop dredge. The dredge is 8ft wide and is made of a metal frame from which netting and a bag constructed of rings is attached aftward. It is lowered with a winch off the stern of the vessel and descends to depths that range from 30 meters to 150 meters. As the ship moves at a speed of 3.8 nautical miles per hour for 15 minutes, the dredge scrapes the sea floor. A test tow is conducted near the shore to make sure this important equipment is working properly.

The focus of this NOAA Fisheries cruise is to survey the population of Placopecten magellanicus, the deep-sea scallop that is commercially fished and sold to the public. Chief scientist Victor Nordahl (NOAA-Fisheries) is the head of the team of researchers and coordinates all aspects of the survey. The NOAA Fisheries Service monitors the populations of sea scallops in the federal waters on the Eastern continental shelf of the U.S. In 2007, scallops represented the most valuable commercial fishery, along with lobsters. It is critical to monitor their populations to avoid over-fishing of these waters. Fishing areas are either open or closed, meaning that fishing is either allowed or not. Closed areas allow time for repopulation of the area of the commercial species.

Temperature and depth are important for scallops. The species we are studying are found in waters cooler than 20C (68F) along the North Atlantic continental shelf area between Newfoundland and North Carolina. In the 12-day time period of this survey, we will conduct approximately 15 sampling stations per day, working 24hrs a day with two crews working in 12 hour shifts. I’ve been assigned to a six person day crew with Jakub Kircun serving as watch chief.

New Term/Phrase/Word
Head = bathroom
Stateroom = bedroom
Fathom = 6 feet

Personal Log
Day 1 – Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Being on board a vessel for the first time is like being in a foreign country with a new language and new customs to learn. Everyone on board has been very helpful and generous in sharing their knowledge, advice and experience. The crew, NOAA staff and other volunteers are an eclectic bunch from all over (Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Germany, Honduras, and France). Vic, chief scientist for the cruise, has been especially kind, taking the time to answer my many questions and make sure that I’m comfortable with all the new information and procedures. Sara, my bunkmate is a pleasure and we’ve gotten along great so far. After the first day, we only see each other in passing at meals since we’re on opposite shifts. I’m looking forward to a great adventure!

Day2 – Thursday, May 12, 2011
Today is day two and my first full 12-hour shift (from 12 noon until midnight).The first day was rough since we spent most of the day getting ready to leave and then heading out to the site where we would bring up our first catch. I was a little sick the entire day, eating lots of crackers and ginger. I’m sleeping in a small cabin with a desk and two bunkbeds — with NO LADDER. My bunkmate Sara, is a graduate student from Germany and since she got to the boat first, she got to choose the bunk. Guess which one she chose?! After a few bruises on my shins, I’ve pretty much figured out the best way to get in and out of my bunk without getting hurt. Today I learned how to identify a few different species of fish and how to shuck scallops, which is my least favorite activity so far since they’re still alive and sometimes fight back while you’re shucking them (Ugh!).

Did You Know?
A nautical mile is a measure of distance used at sea is derived by dividing the circumference of the earth by 360, then by 60 and actually represents minutes of latitude covered over the earth. One nautical mile is equivalent to approximately 1.2 statutory miles.

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.

Duane Sanders, June 15, 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 15, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: Speed 6.8 KTS, Direction 65.7 degrees
Barometer: 018 millibars
Air temperature: 11.33 0C
Seas: 2-3 ft.

Dumping a dredge on the sorting table.

Dumping a dredge on the sorting table.

Science and Technology Log 

We had to change out the dredge during my last watch.  Actually, I watched while the crew did the dangerous work. We have been working in an area with a rocky bottom and the rocks caused substantial damage to the netting in the dredge. Fortunately, we are carrying four dredges plus spare netting. The crew put a new dredge into operation right away so that we didn’t lose too much time.  Geoff, our watch chief, directed the installation of the new mesh into the first dredge.

The scallop dredges we use are eight feet wide. Commercial dredges are sixteen feet wide. The basic design is the same for each.  The mouth of the dredge is a welded steel rectangular frame, with the height about one foot.  The bottom of this rectangle is a heavy steel bar, called the cutting bar. This breaks loose organisms from the bottom.  A steel plate, called the pressure plate, is welded at an angle across the top of the rectangle.  This plate creates a downward swirl of water that directs the organisms into the mouth of the netting. The bag attached to the dredge is made of a net of steel rings. A mesh liner is mounted inside the bag for scientific use. This helps to trap other organisms that make up bottom-dwelling communities.  This gives scientists a more complete picture for the survey.  Commercial dredges do not use a liner and the rings of the bag are larger.  This allows smaller size scallops and other organisms to pass through the bag and remain to help sustain a healthy scallop population.

The business end of a scallop dredge

The business end of a scallop dredge

We have been ‘shadowed’ by another ship, the Kathy Marie for part of the time we have been working.  She is carrying a device known as the “HabCam”, short for Habitat Camera.  This is an underwater camera system that is towed just over the bottom. It makes a photographic record of still images of the bottom taken at a rate of three per second. The HabCam accumulates data at about three terabytes per day. The Kathy Marie runs over the same area dredged by the Sharp after we move on to the next station. Images from these runs provide scientists with an index of dredge efficiency at capturing the bottom dwellers.  Once enough image data has been collected to make useful correlations to dredge data, it might be possible to reduce the number of physical dredge samples taken and use the HabCam to record the community ‘in situ’, that is, in position without disturbance.

Personal Log 

I said in an earlier log entry that fish are not my favorite type of organism.  Because of this bias, I had been avoiding helping with the fish sorting and identification.  After thinking about this for a bit, I decided that I needed to embrace my bias against fish and try to learn something as well as help my colleagues.  Besides, how could I face my students without at least making an effort?  So, I am trying to learn how to identify these critters.  So far, I am pretty good with goosefish, red hake, longhorn sculpin and some of the flounder species.

I wonder how long it will take me to adjust to walking on dry land after being at sea for eleven days. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.  I have been trying to read some before going to sleep, but I find that I can do a few pages at best.  Hard work, sea air and the rocking motion of our ship make powerful sleep inducers.