Terry Maxwell: An Advanced Operation, June 11, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Terry Maxwell

Aboard RV Hugh R. Sharp

June 6 – June 21, 2017

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: June 11, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 42 06.73
Longitude: 67 18.80
Wind Speed 20.9 Knots (24 miles per hour)
Air Temperature 13.3° Celsius (55.9 Fahrenheit)

Science and Technology Log

Upon my first entry into the Hugh R. Sharp, the one thing that really stuck out to me was the amount of visible technology.  In the dry lab alone, there are over 20 computer screens, close to as many hard drives, and Ethernet cords crossing and spanning the entire dry lab area.  In the laboratory van, where much of our species counting and data collection takes place there are three more touchscreen monitors, motion compensated electronic scales (a scale that measures accurately regardless of boat movement), and electronic meter sticks.  It is overwhelming at first, but as I have settled in now for four days it becomes commonplace.

before and after

What is more impressive than the amount of technology in the dry lab, is that the NOAA crew hooks up all the equipment before the mission starts.  The before picture of the room is on the right.

On the 9th we were delayed due to some rough water, and the need to fix some of our equipment.  Specifically, the ramp, which launches our underwater camera, was broken due to some strong waves.  The engineers and technicians of the boat reinforced the ramp quickly on the morning of the 9th and we were headed back out to our location in Georges Bank in short order.  The science crew I am a part of has the noon to midnight shift, so this gave me a chance to talk with one of the NOAA Fisheries experts Nancy McHugh about the technological advancements she has seen in recent years on the NOAA surveys.

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Nancy McHugh sorts and identifies fish from a recent dredge station catch.

Nancy has been with NOAA for 26 years, and has been on many survey missions.  In my last blog, I gave an overview of our dredge missions, and how the data were collected during those missions.  During this blog entry I would like to tell you about the technology that makes all this data easier to collect, analyze, and organize than it once was.  This technology has made all the collection of data more accurate, reliable, and accountable.  I have seen first-hand now how serious NOAA Fisheries is about collecting data that is accurate as possible, down to the last and smallest scallop.

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the NOAA Fisheries staff used waterproof paper forms and pencil to collect the information from their surveys.  Separate forms were used for each species collected.  To give you an idea of how many different species are collected during a survey, our survey has collected over 50 different species of organisms, and we still have 11 days left.  That means that during this survey would have had 50 different paper charts about the organisms collected.  Each organism collected would be hand tallied onto a chart about the specimen’s length, weight, gender, and if a stomach content examination was performed. Each species was given a code number so that code number could be entered into a database for retrieval at a later date.

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Old fisheries survey data form used in the late 90’s.  Much has changed since then.

Once the data for each species was recorded on its own form, the summary of the information about each species was transferred onto a main master form.  All the scallops were hand measured, and length tallies made for the scallop at each millimeter mark.  Once the dredge station survey was complete, someone would hand total all of those numbers to get a total amount.  The total data sets would be sent out to a prison in Kansas, which would be responsible for key punching (entering on a computer).  This data would take around 3 months to get back.  Once the keypunched data was sent back to NOAA Fisheries, it would then have to go through an intensive audit process before it was considered clean and ready for the stock analysts use.

Today NOAA Fisheries relies on a program called Fisheries Scientific Computer System, or FSCS for short (sounds like Fiscus).  NOAA scientists and programmers created this computer program to replace the tedious method of pencil and paper data recording.  My crewmember Nancy was one of the scientist involved in the creation of FSCS.  The FSCS program has helped to create not only a faster more efficient data collection system, but also one that is more accurate and reliable than the old paper and pencil model.  First, the FSCS system is an offshoot of the Scientific Computer System (SCS), which is able to store information about ship board sensors, ship positioning, latitude and longitude, winch data, and depth.  When we are about to start a dredge station, the NOAA scientists start “an event” in the FSCS computer program.  The program then begins to collect a snapshot of information from the SCS system while the dredge is fishing.

lab van

The laboratory van is set up with three touch screen monitors that all run the FSCS program, ichthysticks (electronic measuring sticks), motion compensated scales, and barcode readers to enter data into the FSCS program.  This was a empty room before the mission.  NOAA Fisheries workers set up this room before the start of the Scallop Survey.

Once the process of pulling up the dredge, and collecting of species, and sorting of species has happened the efficiency of FSCS is revealed. There are three stations in the laboratory van; each station containing an “ichthystick,” a small motion compensated scale, a touch screen monitor, a bar code scanner, and a printer.  Each station has science crew members working in teams of two.  At station one in the laboratory van, our watch-chief begins to enter in data from the different species that are collected.  The bucket the specimen is in is scanned; this bucket’s weight has been pre-programmed into a computer.  By having the bucket weight already in the program’s database, that weight is automatically deducted on the digital scale when the specimen bucket is set on the scale.  This tare process once was done manually, by pressing the tare button on the scale.   Once the specimen buckets have been scanned and weighed, many of the specimens are measured for length.  Again, the new technological advancements help with efficiency and accuracy.  NOAA scientists have developed their own “ichthystick” which essentially is an electronic meter stick.  These “ichthysticks” are at each of the three stations in the laboratory van.

icthy board

Measurements made using the icthysticks go straight into the FSCS program. There is no hand transferring of the data. This allows for fast and efficient data collection.

Before a measurement is taken, a scientist selects a specimen from a list in FSCS of possible collected specimens and scans the barcoded bucket tag to ensure the correct species has been chosen.  For this example, if a scientist was examining sea scallops the user simply places a sea scallop on the board up against a block that is at zero mm, and then places a magnet on the other side of the specimen.  The computer will make a sound to indicate the length is acknowledged, and the data is collected in the program.  Here is the cool part: the computer program knows the general ranges of the specimen’s size.  That means if someone accidentally put the magnet down at 350 mm while measuring a sea scallop, the computer would automatically put up a warning message (visually and audibly) noting that the measurement is beyond the known range of expected sea scallop lengths.  This cuts down on accidental measuring errors.

At station 3 where scallops are shucked and examined, all of the information which I discussed in the last blog goes into the FSCS database as it is recorded.  Again, the program checks for errors.  For example, if a meat weight is entered that is too light for the size of the sea scallop being examined, the computer will alert the user that the meat weight is too small for the examined sea scallop.  Then the cutter can ensure that he removed all of the meat properly.

Once all this data is recorded, it is merged with the SCS data for a complete picture of the survey.  The merged data can then be accessed by NOAA Fisheries scientist to analyze the data and create predictive models.  Essentially the NOAA Fisheries survey crew can leave the boat with data that used to take over three months to finalize after a survey had ended.

Personal Log

I don’t want to jinx it, but I think I finally have my “sea legs.”  The waves are pretty rough today, but I’m not really fazed by the motion.  Yesterday we spent a lot of time on the computers, annotating images from the underwater camera, HabCam.  During that time working, I almost forgot I was on a boat.  Part of that is that the water was calmer yesterday.  But today we have much more chop in the water and I still feel okay.

The 9th was a hard day for me, as I missed my son Zebadiah’s birthday.  Happy Birthday Z!  It’s hard to be away from my family, but as I talk to some of the NOAA Fisheries people or the crew that runs this ship I realize how short my time is away from my family.  Some of the NOAA Fisheries crew is out 120 days at sea each year!  The ship crew will work this mission and then head to another mission right after ours is done.  There are some very hard working people that work for NOAA Fisheries, and the crews that run NOAA’s fleet of ships.

It has only been six days since I arrived at Woods Hole, but I’ve seen some amazing sites.  Even though some of the crew is out so often at sea each year, I’m realizing the amazing sunsets never get old to them.  It is an awesome site each night, as is the moon over the water at night.

sun set

Amazing sunsets every night when you are over 100 miles from the coast.  Being aboard the Hugh R Sharp has been a great experience so far.

Did You Know?

Sea Stars are one of the main predators of scallops.  It’s an interesting correlation.  When we have done dredge station surveys there is definitely an inverse relationship between the number of sea stars caught and the number of scallops caught.  Meaning the more star fish that are in a dredge tow, the less scallops and vice versa.  When using the underwater camera (HabCam) to take pictures of the ocean floor, there are sections with sea stars that litter the ocean floor.  Not surprisingly, there are very little scallops in those sections.  Sea stars have suction cup like structures on their arms, which help them latch onto a scallop.  When that happens, the sea star then slowly attempts to pry the shell open.  Some sea stars are then able to push their stomachs out of their body, and digest the externally.  Another interesting ability of the sea stars is their ability to regenerate arms if they are lost.

star eating clam

Sea stars attacking a razor clam shell.  This picture was taken by the underwater camera on board called the HabCam.

star regen

Sea star with two arms regenerating.

huge star

A gigantic sea star out of our dredge collection.  The normal size one is on the right.

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

 

Donna Knutson: The Atlantic Sea Scallop – More Than Meets the Eye, June 21, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson

 Aboard the Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp

June 8 – June 24, 2016

 

2016 Mission: Atlantic Scallop/Benthic Habitat Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:
Northeastern U.S. Atlantic Coast
Date:
June 21, 2016

The Atlantic Sea Scallop – More Than Meets the Eye

Mission and Geographical Area: 

The University of Delaware’s ship, R/V Sharp, is on a NOAA mission to assess the abundance and age distribution of the Atlantic Sea Scallop along the Eastern U.S. coast from Mid Atlantic Bight to Georges Bank.  NOAA does this survey in accordance with Magnuson Stevens Act requirements.

Science and Technology:

Latitude:  41 16.296 NIMG_3250 (2)better me

Longitude:  68 49.049 W

Clouds: overcast

Visibility: 5-6 nautical miles

Wind: 21.1 knots

Wave Height: 4-6 occasional 8

Water Temperature:  59 F

Air Temperature:  64 F

Sea Level Pressure:  29.9 in of Hg

Water Depth: 101 m

Science Blog:

Sea scallops are unique from clams, molluscs and other bivalves.  All of them are filter feeders, but the sea scallop filters out larger sized particles such as diatoms and large protozoans that are larger than 50 micrometers. Clams filter feed on smaller animals and particles that are too small for the scallop to retain and therefore flow right through their digestive system.

Older scallop found in a protected area.

Older scallop found in a protected area.

Dr. Scott Gallager is looking inside the stomachs of scallops.  His hypothesis is that microplastics are traveling down to the bottom of the ocean, and if they are, the scallop will siphon them into their stomach along with their food.

Microplastics are, as the name suggests, small pieces of plastic measured in micrometers.  They may enter the ocean as an object such as a plastic water bottle, but over time with the turbulence of the ocean and the sun’s ultraviolet radiation break down into smaller and smaller pieces.

Another way microplastics are entering the ocean is through the cleaning products we use.  Many shampoos, detergents and toothpastes have small beads of plastic in them to add friction which aid the products cleaning potential.  Untreated water, such as runoff, has the likelihood of flowing into the ocean bringing microplastics with it.

Small colorful scallops.

Small sea scallops.

If a sea scallop ingests microplastics the same size as its food, the scallop will not be getting the nutrients it requires.  Large quantities of micro plastics falling to the bottom of the ocean would obviously cause the health of scallops to deteriorate.

Another interesting story of the sea scallop is its “attachment” to the red hake.  It is not a   physical attachment.  There appears to be a sentimental attachment between the two even though that is obviously not possible.

The red hake is a fish that starts out its life as a small juvenile without any protection.  It finds a home and refuge inside a sea scallop shell.  The sea scallop almost befriends the little red hake and allows it to live behind its photoreceptive eyes, next to the mantle.

The fish curls its body into the same contour shape as the scallop.  The little fish can swim in at times of danger and the scallop will close its shells to protect them both.  After the threat has passed the scallop opens its shells and the little red hake can swim out.

Red hake did not make it in before closing time.

There seems to be some commensalism between the two.  Commensalism is the relationship between two different species where each live together without any one feeding off of the other.  They live in harmony with each other neither hurting the other.  It is not known whether the fish feeds on the scallops’ parasites or if they just coexist together.

It is clear something is happening between the two, because after the red hake grows and no longer fits inside the shell, the fish will still live next to the scallop.  It now will curl itself around the outside of the shell.  Looking at HabCam pictures, it appears to curl around a scallop even if the scallop is no longer alive.  Could it really be the same scallop it lived in as a minnow?

DSCN7843 (2)RED HAKE AND SCALLOP

Red hake curled around its scallop. Picture taken from the HabCam.

Red hake numbers increase in areas where there are larger, more mature, sea scallops present.  What connects two together?  Is there some chemical connection where the fish can identify the scallop it “grew up” with? 

Why is the red hake red?  The red hake is part of the cod family.  The other fish such as the silver hake, spotted hake, white hake and haddock do not act like red hake.  Red hake are the same color as the scallop. Coincidence?  Maybe.

Is the red hake now protecting the scallop as it curls around it?  The scallop protected the young fish for as long as it could, so now is the Red hake returning the favor?  The main predator of the scallop is the starfish.  A starfish would have to climb over the fish to get to the scallop.  The red hake would not allow the starfish to get that far.

Red hake have a swim bladder that erupt when brought to the surface.

Red hake have a swim bladder that erupt when brought to the surface.

Is the red hake still just protecting itself?  When curled around the scallop, the fish blends in with the scallops red color and is in a sense camouflaging itself from its enemies. In this sense, the scallop is still allowing the red hake to hide, but this time in plain sight.

The Atlantic sea scallop is more interesting than expected.  It is curious how the scallop seems to realize how close it is to other scallops.  Without having a fully functioning brain, just groupings of neural ganglia, acting as a control center for a bodily functions or movement, how can the scallop decide the best place to live?  Do they move in search of a better habitat?  How do they know to disperse within their area so they are relatively the same distance apart as seen on the HabCam?  Is it competition for food?

Could it be their photosensitive eyes can’t tell the difference of movement of a predator to that of another scallop?  They seem to be able to tell the difference between a sea fish predator and one that is not.  Why are they so tolerant of the red hake?  More questions than answers.

The HabCam is a wonderful tool for studying these questions and more.  So little is understood about the habitats within the oceans.   It has been easier to study space than to study the depths of our own planet.  This is a very exciting time in oceanic research.  The HabCam will reveal what has been covered with a blanket of water.

Personal Blog:

We spent a little more time at Woods Hole.  Jim, the ship’s captain, hired a crew of scuba divers to scrub off the barnacles growing on the rudder.  I was lucky enough to find a tour of some of the labs at Woods Hole.  Scott called around to his colleagues and discovered there was a tour for teachers occurring at that moment when we arrived.

Alvin the deep sea submersible in dry dock.

Alvin the deep sea submersible in dry dock.

I quickly was sent on a campus bus with Ken, a man working in the communications department, also with a science degree.  I think he said it was in physical geology.  Everyone around here has multiple degrees and they are often opposite what you would imagine.  Such diversity makes some very interesting people to chat with.

In the teacher tour was a former TAS (Teacher at Sea). She was here because she won a touring trip to Woods Hole, so we had some time to chat over lunch about our experiences.  We agreed the TAS is one of the best teacher development opportunities out there for all teachers and I think we convinced a third to apply for next year.

I never got the long walk I had planned on, but a much better one learning more about Woods Hole.  Ken even took me to see Alvin, the deep sea submersible that lives on the Atlantis.  The Atlantis was leaving Alvin behind on its latest mission so Ken showed it to me.  The navy is using it this time.

I’ve been feeling great and even got on the exercise bike.  Today we will be HabCaming the entire day.  It is a nice rest compared to the physical work of dredging from the last two days.  Both HabCam and dredging have their benefits.  Together they create a much better understanding of what’s below us.DSCN7966 (2) lobsters

While I’ve been writing this the wind has picked up 10 knots.  The waves are 4-6 ft high with an occasional 8ft and it doesn’t look like it will let up.  The HabCaming continues but it is harder to keep it level.  They are considering going in early if the weather continues to get worse.  I believe Tasha said we were a bit ahead of schedule so that wouldn’t be so bad for the survey.  Before that happens, there is more dredging to do.

Donna Knutson: Dredging, June 16, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 8 – June 24, 2016

 

2016 Mission: Atlantic Scallop/Benthic Habitat Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northeastern U.S. Atlantic Coast
Date: June 16, 2016

 

Dredging

 

Mission and Geographical Area: 

The University of Delaware’s ship, R/V Sharp, is on a NOAA mission to assess the abundance and age distribution of the Atlantic Sea Scallop along the Eastern U.S. coast from Mid Atlantic Bight to Georges Bank.  NOAA does this survey in accordance with Magnuson Stevens Act requirements.

Me hat

Science and Technology:

Latitude:  40 32.475 N

Longitude:  67 59.499 W

Clouds: overcast

Visibility: 5-6 nautical miles

Wind: 7.4 knots

Wave Height: 1-4 ft.

Water Temperature:  53 F

Air Temperature:  63 F

Sea Level Pressure:  29.9 in of Hg

Water Depth: 103 m

 

Science Blog:

Paired with the HabCam, dredging adds more data points to the scallop survey and also to habitat mapping.   Various locations are dredged based on a stratified random sampling design.  This method uses the topography of the ocean bottom as a platform and then overlays a grid system on top. The dredged areas, which are selected randomly by a computer program, allow for a good distribution of samples from the area based on topography and depth.

Vic and Tasha sewing up the net on the dredge.

Vic and Tasha sewing up the net on the dredge.

A typical dredge that used for the survey is similar to those used by commercial fisherman, but it is smaller with a width of 8 ft. and weight of 2000 lbs.  It is towed behind a ship with a 9/16 cable attached to a standard winch.  Dredges are made from a heavy metal such as steel and is covered in a chain mesh that is open in the front and closed on the other three sides making a chain linked net made of circular rings.

A fisherman’s dredge has rings large enough for smaller animals to fall through and become released to the bottom once again.  The dredge in a survey has a mesh lining to trap more creatures in order to do a full survey of the animals occupying a specific habitat.

There are three categories of catch received in a dredge: substrate, animals and shell.  A qualitative assessment on percent abundance of each is done for every dredge.  Not all animals are measured, but all are noted in the database.

Dredge being dumped on sorting table.

Dredge being dumped on sorting table.

A length measurement is taken for every scallop, goosefish (also called monkfish), cod, haddock, as well as many types of flounder and skate. A combined mass is taken for each species in that dredged sample.  Some animals are not measured for length, like the wave whelk (a snail), Jonah crab, and fish such as pipefish, ocean pout, red hake, sand lance; for these and several other types of fish, just a count and weight of each species is recorded.

Sorting the dredged material.

Sorting the dredged material.

Other animals may be present, but not

counted or measured and therefore are called bycatch.  Sand dollars make up the majority of bycatch. Sponges, the polychaete Aphrodite, hermit crabs, shrimp and various shells are also sorted through but not counted or measured.

Ocean pout

Ocean pout

All of the dredge material that is captured is returned to the ocean upon the required sorting, counting and measuring.  Unfortunately, most of the fish and invertebrates do not survive the ordeal.  That is why it is important to have a good sampling method and procedure to get the best results from the fewest dredge stations needed.

Goosefish, often called Monkfish, eat anything.

Goosefish, often called Monkfish, eat anything.

The dredge is placed on the bottom for only fifteen minutes.  There are sensors on the frame of the dredge so computers can monitor when the collection was started and when to stop.  Sensors also make certain each dredge is positioned correctly in the water to get the best representation of animals in that small sample area.

Entering the name of the animals to be measured.

Entering the name of the animals to be measured.

Even with sensors and scientists monitoring computers and taking animal measurements, the dredging can only give a 30-40% efficiency rating of the actual animals present. Dredging with the aid of the HabCam and partnerships with many scientific organizations, along with data from commercial fisherman and observer data, create a picture of abundance and distribution which can be mapped.

Adductor muscle the "meat" of the scallop. This on is unhealthy.

Adductor muscle the “meat” of the scallop. This one is unhealthy.

In the scallop survey the emphasis is on where are the most scallops present and this aids fisherman in selecting the best places to fish.  The survey also suggests where areas should be closed to fishing for a period, allowing scallops to grow and mature before harvesting.

This management practice of opening closed areas on a rotational basis has been accepted as beneficial for science, management, and fishermen. This method of balancing conservation and fishing protects habitats while still supplying the world with a food supply that is highly valued.

Personal Blog:

Being part of a dredging team is exciting.  It is a high energy time from the moment the contents are dropped on the sorting platform to the end when everything is rinsed off to get ready for the next drop.

Katryn "Kat" Delgado

Kateryn “Kat” Delgado

I wanted to take pictures of everything, but with gloves on it was hard to participate and help out or just be the bystander/photographer. Kateryn Delgado from Queens NY, a volunteer/student/scientist/yoga instructor/photographer, was very helpful.  She was involved in other surveys and often took pictures for me.

I did find it sad that the animals we sorting were not going to live long once returned to sea, but that is a part of the dredging that is inevitable.  Raw data needs to be collected.  After measuring, a percentage of the scallops were dissected to get their sex, abductor muscle (meat), and stomach.  Shell size was compared to the meat and gonad mass and is also used to age the scallop.  The stomach was removed to test for microplastics.  Dr. Gallager and his research team are studying microplastics in the ocean.   Scallops filter relatively large particles for a filter feeder, and therefore are a good species to monitor the abundance of plastics at the bottom of the ocean.DSCN7891 (2)sunset

The weather has been nice, not very warm, but the waves are low.  Just the way I like them.  We are making our way back to Woods Hole to refuel and get groceries.  I didn’t realize we would split up the leg into two parts.  We should be in around 10:00 a.m.  I’m going to go for a long walk since there is not a lot of opportunity for exercise on the ship.  Hope it’s sunny!

 

Donna Knutson: Atlantic Sea Scallop Research Progressed into Habitat Modeling, June 13, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 8 – June 24, 2016

 

2016 Mission: Atlantic Scallop/Benthic Habitat Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northeastern U.S. Atlantic Coast
Date: June 13, 2016

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The University of Delaware’s ship, R/V Sharp, is on a NOAA mission to assess the abundance and age distribution of the Atlantic Sea Scallop along the Eastern U.S. coast from Mid Atlantic Bight to Georges Bank.  NOAA does this survey in accordance with Magnuson Stevens Act requirements.

Science and Technology:

Weather Data from the BridgeTas habcam 055 (4) color

Latitude:  40 43.583 N
Longitude:  67 04.072 W
Clouds:
50% cumulous
Visibility
: 6 nautical miles
Wind: 296 degrees 11 knots at cruise speed of 6.5 knots
Wave Height: 1-3 ft.
Water Temperature:  52 ºF
Air Temperature:  56 ºF
Sea Level Pressure:  29.4 in of Hg
Water Depth: 107 m

Scientific Blog

During the 1970’s fishermen made the observation that the Atlantic sea scallop was becoming hard to find.  Overfishing had depleted the numbers and they were not repopulating at a steady rate.  In the early 1980’s after noticing that nature wasn’t going to be able to keep up with man’s demands of the scallop, programs were set up to monitor the scallop fishing industry and to also set catch limits.

Live video from rear sonar devices

Live video from rear sonar devices

In 1997 NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council determined that the Atlantic sea scallops were still being overfished and by 1998 a new plan for allowing the scallop to increase their numbers was implemented.

The guidelines for fishermen proved to be useful and the scallop industry had great success.  It was reported that the scallop biomass harvested had increased eighteen times higher than the previous level between 1994 – 2005.

The demand for the Atlantic sea scallop did not decrease.   The sea scallop adductor muscle, the muscle that holds the two shells together and allows the animal to open and close the two shells, is harvested for food.  The muscle is typically 30 – 40 mm in diameter in adult sea scallops.  The demand for this tasty muscle has made the Atlantic sea scallop fishing industry into a very powerful and prosperous billion-dollar industry.

Live forward sonar scanner

Live forward sonar scanner

Fisherman will agree that science is essential to the health of their industry.  It was determined that rotational management was needed for the scallops to replenish, much like crop rotation on land.  After a period of time, areas need to rest without any activity and other areas can be reopened to scallop fishing after a period of time.

 

What that time period for rest is and what areas need to rest while other areas are opened to fishing is the science behind the industry.  The industry recognizes that the science is essential to keep a healthy population of Atlantic sea scallops and, through a special research set-aside program, invests 25% of the scallops to research.  The market value of the scallop, usually $10 -$14 per pound, determines the funding scientists can invest into research.

Resource management is not a new idea.  Resources are managed at all levels whether they are animals such as scallops or deer, minerals or elements mined such as aluminum or coal, or even plants such as trees. Without management practices in place, there is a good possibility of endangering the resource for later use, and in the case of living animals, endanger their future viability.

RSCN7757

Dr. Scott Gallager

Some of the “Research Set-Aside” monies given by the commercial fisherman have allowed the development of a special habitat mapping camera, affectionately called the HabCam.  Dr. Scott Gallager has combined his two areas of expertise, biology and electronics and developed a series of cameras used for studying underwater habitats.  NOAA has contracted Dr. Gallager to oversee the HabCam during the annual sea scallop survey.

While the original HabCam is being used by the commercial fishing industry on scallop vessels, a fourth generation HabCam is used by NOAA on the R/V Sharp to help with the annual Atlantic scallop survey.  It has two sonar devices, one forward and one rear sonar scans a 50 meter swath on each side of the vehicle. It is equipped with four strobe lights that allow two cameras to take photographs.  Each camera takes six pictures a second.  The HabCam has a sensor called the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) to measure physical properties such as salinity, temperature, depth, and dissolved oxygen.  Two other sensors are used to measure turbidity, and a device that measures the scattering and absorption of light at that depth.  Measuring absorption allows the computer to make color corrections on the pictures so the true colors of the habitat are seen.  The vehicle is 3700 lbs. and made of stainless steel.  It is actually towed through the water but is “driven” by using the metal jacketed fiber-optic tow cable which pulls it through the water.  The HabCam relays the real-time images and data directly to the ship where it is processed by computers and also people monitoring the pictures. Computer Vision and Image Processing tools are also being developed to count and size scallops automatically from the images as the vehicle is being towed. This will allow managers in the future to use adaptive sampling approaches whereby the sampling track is actually changed as the vehicle is towed to optimize the survey.

HabCam on Right Side

HabCam on Right Side

By analyzing the data from the HabCam and doing dredges over mapped areas of the ocean, scientists can relay their findings to fisherman with suggestions on the best places to harvest Atlantic sea scallops.  It is important to keep in mind the other animals in the area that may be affected by scallop fishing.  The Yellowtail flounder is one such animals that could be better monitored with the aid of the HabCam.  The flounder often is found living in areas that have a high density of sea scallops, but by identifying areas of high scallop and low yellowtail densities, fishermen may be better able to avoid yellowtail bycatch.  Unfortunately, many bycatch fish do not survive the dredging and are often dead upon being returned to the sea.

While scallops and fish are certainly important to the commercial fishing industry, understanding the habitat that supports these organisms is paramount to their effective management. HabCam collects images that contain a huge amount of information on habitat factors such as temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, seafloor roughness, and substrate type (mud, sand, gravel, shells, boulders, etc). Habitat for one organism is not necessarily the same for the next so we need to put together maps of where certain habitats allow each species to exist and where they co-exist to form communities. Understanding this, we can simulate how communities will respond to climate change and other changing environmental factors such as Ocean Acidification (i.e., low ph), which all contribute to habitat.

Dr, Gallager worling on the HabCam

Dr. Gallager working on the HabCam

Because of the success of the HabCam and other habitat monitoring/mapping devices, HabCams I – VI have been built.  There are four different vehicles used now for specialized data collection depending on what the survey priorities are.

HabCam is a unique, and high-end technology, but at the same time is being upgraded to provide habitat data on a variety of sampling platforms such as high speed torpedo-like systems that are towed at 10 kts or greater and on robotic Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) that will carry the stereo cameras and sonar systems currently on HabCam. The combination of robotics with underwater sampling provides a window into the ocean universe that humans have not been able to effectively explore and sample because of the great pressure and low temperature of the deep sea. Abyssal habitat (deeper than 3000m) is very difficult to sample and more and more oceanographers are looking to develop and use robots to get to where observations and samples need to be taken.

Monitoring the screens for obstacles

While the HabCam was initially developed for the scallop fishing industry, it has clearly made an invaluable contribution to the study of habitats that have so long been inaccessible to us.  There are many cameras throughout the world used to take pictures of the ocean bottom and even animals therein, but the HabCam series that was developed out of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is integrating many different data types to develop a more comprehensive understanding of fauna and flora (animals and plants) in their habitats worldwide.  It is an exciting time for oceanic research!

Driving the HabCam

Driving the HabCam

Sources:

National Marine Fisheries Services (www.nmfo.noaa.gov)

Dr. Scott Gallager PhD, tenured Associate Scientist, Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, Visiting Professor, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Okinawa, Japan.

 

Personal Blog:

I am feeling great and meeting so many fascinating people!  Dr. Gallager, or Scott to the scientists on board, has taught me so much in the very short time I’ve been on the ship.  He has many great stories as he has been involved in oceanic research for many years.  He was asked to study the teak wood that the Titanic was made of because “Bob” Ballard saw so little of it even though all the decks and ornamentations were made of it.  So Bob asked Scott to study it and Scott wrote a paper on the polychaete worm that was able to break down the tough cellulose tissue.

After our dredging yesterday resulted in many scallops, you will never guess what we are having for our 12:00 p.m. meal.  I said 12:00 p.m. meal because for some of us it is breakfast and for others it is supper.

Dogfish on the bottom of the ocean, Picture taken by the Habcam.

Dogfish on the bottom of the ocean, Picture taken by the Habcam.

Me and the other five scientists are now done with our 12 hour shift and the new group just took over. We were running the HabCam all day and then looking at random still photos from the HabCam to identify the life forms that are present.  Dr. Gallager is working on a computer image recognizing HabCam, but he feels it is important to have humans involved as well.   I am so thankful I am on the same crew as Dr. Gallager.  I am actually getting better with the whole time schedule shock.  Not really a big deal once you try it.  (Like most things in life.)

Skate on the bottom of the ocean. Picture taken by the HaabCam.

Skate on the bottom of the ocean. Picture taken by the HabCam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steven Frantz: Critters at Sea, August 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 5, 2012

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 29.0
Wind Speed (knots): 10.28
Wind Direction (degree): 138.68
Relative Humidity (percent): 076
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1022.33
Water Depth (meters): 28.45
Salinity (PSU): 35.612

Location Data:
Latitude: 3323.40N
Longitude: 07808.17W

Critters at Sea

On my last blog I introduced you to five species of shark found so far. I think you can tell which one is my favorite, which is yours?

Even though our mission is to collect data on sharks, you never know what might come up on the end of a hook (or tangled in the line!). Data is still collected on just about everything else we catch. For today’s blog I have put together a photo journey on the so many other beautiful creatures we have caught.

Basket Starfish

Basket Starfish with pieces of soft red coral

Black Sea Bass

Black Sea Bass

Blue Line Tile Fish (Unfortunately damaged by a shark)

Blue Line Tile Fish (Unfortunately damaged by a shark)

Box Crab

Box Crab

Clearnose Skate

Clearnose Skate

Conger Eel

Conger Eel

Red Grouper

Red Grouper

Mermaid's Purse (egg case from a skate or ray)

Mermaid’s Purse (egg case from a skate or ray)

Candling the Mermaid's Purse reveals the tail and yolk of the animal

Candling the Mermaid’s Purse reveals the tail and yolk of the animal

Hammerjack

Amberjack

Scallop Shell

Scallop Shell

Scomberus japonicus (Can you come up with a common name?)

Scomberus japonicus (Can you come up with a common name?)

Sea Urchin

Sea Urchin

Spider Crab

Spider Crab

Starfish

Starfish

Red Snapper (10Kg)

Red Snapper (10Kg)

There you have it. I hope you enjoy the pictures of just some of the beauty and diversity in the Atlantic Ocean. Be sure to visit my next blog when we tie up loose ends!

Sunset

Sunset

Alicia Gillean: Visiting the Bridge and Dredging Overload, July 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alicia Gillean
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 27 – July 7, 2012

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic; Georges Bank
Date: Thursday, July 5, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge*
*This data is for July 6, 2012. I was so busy dredging on the 5th that I forgot to record the weather data*

Latitude: 41 49.09 N
Longitude: 69 52.77 W
Relative Wind Speed: 11 Knots
Air Temperature: 21 degrees Celsius
Humidity: 82%
Surface Seawater Temperature: 20 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Wednesday, July 4: Visiting the Bridge and Flying HabCam

Wednesday was a lazy day on the ship. To make up some lost time and to hit as many dredge and HabCam stations as possible, there were a few long “steams” during my shift today. The ship can’t go full speed when pulling the dredge or the HabCam, so in order to go full speed, the ship “steams” with no scientific tools in the water until it reaches its next destination. We had about five hours of “steam” time today and the rest of the day was spent with HabCam, so I didn’t smell like sea scallops at the end of my shift, but I still prefer the more active days.

Bridge

Some of the ship’s controls on the Bridge

I used some of my spare time to go visit the Bridge. Remember, this is where the Captain, engineer, and mates keep the ship moving on the right course and keep everything operating smoothly. Since it was rainy outside, the big windows in the Bridge were a nice substitute to the deck where I usually like to spend my free time. Mary, one of the mates, was on duty. She has been working on boats for more than 20 years and has been on the Hugh R. Sharp for four years. She was kind enough to give me an overview of the function of each of the seemingly limitless computers and buttons that she and the engineer use to do their jobs. I was surprised by how computerized everything is, from steering, to navigation, to monitoring the water and fuel of the ship. There are duplicates of many of the computer systems, in case something doesn’t work and non-technical ways to navigate the ship too, like paper copies of nautical charts.

Alicia fly HabCam

Alicia flying the HabCam

While flying the HabCam Wednesday, I was struck by the amazing camouflage of some of the creatures that live on the ocean floor, like monkfish, flounder, and skates. If you don’t know what you are looking for or if you blink at the wrong moment, they are very easy to miss. It’s neat to see these adaptations in action! I’m glad that I got to experience this science tool in its early stages and appreciate the relationships that the HabCam allows you to see between different animals and how the animals live on the ocean floor that you can’t tell from a dredge haul.

Thursday, July 5: Dredging Overload and the Scoop on Scallops

Since Wednesday was lazy, Thursday was insanely busy! We made it through nine dredge stations during the day shift and one haul was so large that we had almost 6,000 scallops (not to mention all the rocks, fish, sea stars, crabs, etc.). Everyone worked together to get this giant haul sorted and processed. Mary even came down from the Bridge to help! When a haul is this large, we don’t measure and weigh every scallop. Instead, we count the total number of baskets (about the size of a laundry basket) of sea scallops and randomly select two baskets to measure and weigh. The number and average length of the overall scallop haul is calculated based on this subsample. There’s lots of math involved in this process!

Alicia measure scallop

Alicia measuring scallops

We dredged in an area with lots of big rocks and boulders today, so the crew added rock chains to the dredge to help keep the giant boulders out of the dredge. It doesn’t come close to keeping out all the rocks, though! They also added what looks like a metal slide that goes from the side of the sorting table to the edge of the deck to help get the giant rocks off of the table and back into the ocean. I’m constantly amazed at how the scientists and crew seem to anticipate and have a plan for every possible obstacle we might run up against. I expect that is the result of lots of years of experience and very careful planning.

Scallop Gonad

The scallop with pink is female. The other is male.

I mentioned in a previous post that we weigh about 5 scallops from each tow individually and also weigh the meat and the gonad (reproductive organ) of these five scallops individually. As soon as you cut a scallop open, you can tell if it is a male or female by the color of the gonad. Males are white and females are red or pink, as you can see in this picture. Another interesting tidbit about sea scallops is that they have lots of simple eyes that allow them to see shadows and light. You can see a fascinating close-up of sea scallop eyes by clicking here and can learn more about the anatomy of a sea scallop by clicking here.

Since this is a sea scallop survey, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with sea scallops, but I’m still not very skilled at cutting sea scallops to remove the meat quickly. One of the ladies on my watch can shuck about twenty for every one I shuck! She’s offered me lots of pointers, but I’m not going to win a scallop cutting contest any time soon. When we finish sorting and processing each haul, we usually remove the meat from the scallops, wash it, bag it, and put it in a freezer. It can seem like the work is never done when there’s a big haul!

Personal Log

The 4th of July at sea was business as usual; no firework or backyard cookouts for me this year. However, we did make a cake and sing happy birthday for the youngest member of the science group’s 20th birthday.

Since we didn’t do any dredging or anything active on Wednesday, I felt like I needed to run laps around the ship after my shift ended. I settled on trying the stationary bike instead. Riding a stationary bike on a ship that is rocking and swaying means that the bike isn’t really all that stationary! I think I got a nice abdominal workout from trying to keep myself balanced. It felt good to move, though.

Fire Drill

Engineer during fire drill at sea

On Thursday, we had a fire drill. The Captain was nice enough to schedule it at 12:15 pm, just as one shift was ending and one was beginning, so that people would not be in bed or in the shower when the drill began. During the fire drill, an alarm sounded and the Captain came on the intercom to tell us that it was a fire drill and that all scientists should muster (gather) in their designated spot. All of the scientists met in the dry lab with a life jacket where the chief scientist counted us and reported back to the Captain that we were all accounted for. We waited while the crew finished its part of the drill, then went back to work (or bed, for the night shift). I felt kind of like a student in a fire drill at school!

As I look around the ship, I find it interesting how things are designed for life at sea, like the hooks at the top of every door. If you want a door to stay open, you need to hook it, otherwise the rocking of the door will slam it closed. The table in the galley has about a half inch lip around the edge of it and the drawers of the pantry need to be opened in a special way, because they don’t just slide open. Thanks to these details, you don’t really hear things sliding and crashing around like you might imagine you would when the ship is rocking.

I’m grateful that I have been able to participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program as a part of the science crew. I have worked hard, learned a ton, and can’t wait to share my learning and experiences with my students! However, I miss my family, so I’m glad that we’re headed back toward land soon!

Sunset

Sunset at sea