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.

old form
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

Alicia Gillean: Strange Ocean Critters and Science at Sea, July 3, 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: Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 41 13.20 N
Longitude: 066 35.21 W
Relative Wind Speed: 2.3 Knots
Air Temperature: 18.72 degrees C
Humidity: 78%
Surface Seawater Temperature: 15 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

The HabCam-ing and dredging continue here in the North Atlantic in calm seas and clear skies!

Alicia Star Oddi
Alicia installing sensor on dredge

I learned a new part of the data collection process with the dredge.  Each time the dredge goes out, a sensor that tracks the pitch and roll (side to side and up and down movement) of the dredge on the ocean floor needs to be installed on the dredge.  When the trawl is complete, the sensor is removed and the data is uploaded to the computer.  It is automatically plotted on a line graph that visually tells the story of the dredge’s movement on the ocean floor.  This data is eventually combined with all the other data gathered at each dredge station.  Installing and removing the sensor has been my job for the last couple of shifts.  To do this, I have to climb up on the sorting table when the dredge is first brought to the surface, remove a metal pin and plastic holder that keeps the sensor in place, remove the old sensor and add a new sensor, then reinstall the holder and pin.  This all happens before they dump the dredge. On a funny note, on my way to the sorting table to add the sensor to the dredge earlier today, I managed to trip on a hose that was on deck and turn it on, watering myself and the lab technician that was on the deck with me and entertaining everyone else watching, I’m sure!  Luckily, we were all wearing our foul weather gear, so no one was soaked!!

It’s interesting to experience all the different pieces that make a successful dredge tow.  Before coming to sea, I guess I just assumed that you lowered a big net to the ocean floor and hoped to catch something.  I had no concept of how methodical and detailed each deployment of the dredge really is, from the locations, to the timing, to the number of people involved, to the detailed data collection.  The process is still being refined, even on this third leg of the sea scallop survey.  One of the scientists on my watch is an engineer who helped design and build the latest version of HabCam.  When a part that holds the sensor in the dredge was not working correctly, he was asked to use his engineering skills to create a better way to hold the sensor, so he made the needed modifications right on the ship.

Sorting
Day shift starting to sort a dredge haul

While sorting the haul from dredging stations, I sometimes run across ocean critters that I’ve never seen before.  I usually set these to the side to snap a picture after we finish sorting and to ask a scientist, usually Karen or Sean, to identify it for me.  It turns out that the strange hairy, oval-shaped creature I keep running across is a type of worm called a sea mouse. In my pictures it looks like a grassy ball of mud, but it’s much more interesting in person, I promise!  I consulted a field guide in the dry lab to learn a little more about it.  Its scientific name is Aphrodita hastate and it is usually about 6 inches by 3 inches and can be green, gold, or brown.  There are 15 gills hidden under the bristly fur.  They like muddy areas and often live in the very deep parts of the ocean, so they are only seen when brought up with a dredge or after being tossed ashore in a storm.  I haven’t seen any of them in the HabCam images, so I’m wondering if they tend to burrow in the mud, if their camouflage skills are really impressive, or if we just haven’t flown over any. The HabCam moves so quickly (remember, it takes 6 pictures per second) that it’s impossible to see everything in enough time to figure out what it is.

 

Sea mouse
Belly of a sea mouse

Another item that keeps coming up in the dredge looks like a clump of pasta shells and cheese and it crumbles easily.  My initial guess was that it is some type of sponge, but I was wrong. It turns out these are moon snail egg cases. Once I’m back ashore, I think I’ll have to find out more about these.

moon snail eggs
Moon snail eggs

We’ve seen lots of sea stars, scallops, sand dollars, crabs, clams, hermit crabs, flounder, several species of fish called hake, and skates (relative of the stingray) in the dredge hauls.  We’ve also seen most of these on the ocean floor with the HabCam.  One of the scientists found a whale vertebrae (part of the backbone) while sorting. It’s at least a foot and a half wide and 8 inches high! Can you imagine the size of the whale when it was alive?  Each haul usually has a monkfish or two in it.  I’ve heard that these fish are pretty tasty, but they sure look mean!  I was warned early on to keep my hands away from their mouths unless I want to get bitten!

 

Alicia with monkfish
Alicia with monkfish

Today is supposed to be a day of mainly flying the HabCam, so I’m hoping to be able to interview a few people on the ship about their jobs for use back at school when I’m not flying the HabCam or co-piloting.

Sea stars
Pretty sea stars that came up in the dredge

Personal Log

I ate my first real meal in the galley tonight and it was pretty tasty!  The steward, Paul, has worked on this ship for eight years and seems to have cooking a sea down to a science.  He has to work and sleep some unusual hours to keep everyone aboard well-fed, but he does it with a smile on his face.  Between the meals, snacks, and limited space to exercise, I imagine that keeping fit while at sea for long periods of time can be a challenge. There is a stationary bike next to the washer and dryer, but other than that you have to be creative with getting your exercise.  I saw one crew member on the deck this morning with a yoga mat doing crunches and using a storage container to do tricep dips.  He said that it’s a challenge, but that you can find ways to keep in shape at sea if it’s a priority for you.

I actually slept better the first few days at sea when I was seasick than I do now that I’m feeling better, thanks to the anti-nausea medication, I expect.  I’ve found that earplugs are essential for catching sleep aboard the ship when I’m not medicated!  There is one washer and dryer aboard the ship and I’ve had a bit of trouble finding a time when it’s not in use, so I decided to do my laundry at 5 am a day or so ago when I was having trouble sleeping. I figured I may as well use insomnia to my advantage and it was so nice to use a towel that is finally completely dry for the first time in a week!

There are 22 people aboard this ship; 12 scientists and 10 crew members.   Four of the scientists and two of the crew are women.  Because of watch schedules, most of the time I see only two other women while I’m awake.  All that to say, the ship is a pretty male-dominated arena, with lots of ESPN, toilet seats left up, and guy humor.  I feel very welcome aboard the ship, but I find that I spend most of my down time doing my own thing, like working on this blog or just enjoying the view, since I’m not much of a movie or sports watcher.  With fabulous views of the Atlantic Ocean and beautiful weather, this doesn’t bother me a bit!  In fact, I find that I see the most animals swimming in the ocean during these down times.  Today it was a huge group of jellyfish swimming next to the ship!

I’m still enjoying my time at sea and am looking forward to learning even more in my last few days.

View from science lab
View from the science lab at night

Alicia Gillean: Adventures in Dredging; July 1, 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: Sunday, July 1, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 40 48.43 N
Longitude: 068 04.06W
Relative Wind Speed: 8.9 Knots
Air Temperature: 17.61 degrees C
Humidity: 92%
Surface Seawater Temperature: 16 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

Dump dredge
Dumping dredge onto sorting table

My last shifts have been a mix of HabCam work and dredging. Remember, dredging is when we drag a heavy-duty net along the ocean floor for fifteen minutes, then bring it up and record what ocean critters we catch.  Dredging involves a lot more physical work and is much dirtier than flying the HabCam, so time goes much faster when we are dredging and it’s exciting to see what we will catch.  However, it is also kind of sad to see all the animals we bring up in the dredge, because most of them are dead or will soon be dead.  You can watch a video about sea scallop dredging here and here.

There are three two-week legs to this sea scallop survey.  I am on the last leg.  Before the first leg began, a computer program, with the assistance of a few people, decided which spots in the sea scallop habitat we should dredge and fly the HabCam.  These points were all plotted on a computerized map and the chief scientist connects the dots and decides the best route for the ship to take to make it to all the designated stations in the available time.

Here’s how our typical dredging process works:

About 10 minutes before we reach a dredge station, the Captain radios the lab from the Bridge (fancy name for the place at the top of the ship where the Captain and his crew work their magic) to let us know we are approaching our station.  At this point, I get on a computer in the dry lab to start a program that keeps track of our dredge position, length of tow, etc.  I enter data about the weather and check the depth of our dredge station.  When the engineer and Captain are ready, they radio the lab and ask for our depth and how much wire they need to send out to lower the dredge to the ocean floor.  I get the wire length from a chart hanging in the dry lab that is based on the depth of the ocean at the dredge site and use the radio to tell the engineer, who lets out that amount of wire until the dredge is on the ocean floor.  When the dredge hits the ocean floor, I use the computer program to start timing for 15 minutes and notify them when it is time to bring the dredge back up.

Alicia sorting fish
Alicia sorting the haul

The lab technicians and engineer raise and dump the dredge on a giant metal table, then secure it for the scientists to come in and begin sorting the haul.  Meanwhile, the scientists get dressed in foul weather gear to prepare for the messy job ahead.  That means I’m wearing yellow rubber overalls, black steel-toed rubber boots, blue rubber gloves, and a lovely orange lifejacket for each dredge.  Sometimes I add a yellow rubber jacket to the mix, too.  Science is not a beauty contest and I’m grateful for the protection!  Each scientist grabs two orange baskets, one large white bucket, and one small white bucket and heads to the table. The lab technicians shovel the catch toward each scientist as we sort.  Scallops go in one orange basket, fish go in the white bucket, crabs go in the small white bucket (sometimes), and everything else goes into the other orange basket.  This is considered “trash” and is thrown back overboard, but the watch chief keeps track of how many baskets of “trash” are thrown overboard during each haul and enters it into a computer database along with other data. After sorting the haul, much of the data collection takes place in lab called a “van”.

Research Van
Research “van” where we gather data from haul

The fish are sorted by species, counted, weighed, sometimes measured, and entered into a special computer system that tracks data from the hauls.  Sometimes we also collect and count crabs and sea stars.  The baskets of sea scallops are counted and weighed, and then individual scallops are measured on a special magnetic measuring board.  You lay the scallop on the measuring board, touch the magnet to the board at the end of the scallop, and the length is automatically entered into the database.    Some hauls have lots of sea scallops and some don’t have very many.  We had a couple hauls that were almost completely sand dollars and one that was almost completely sea stars.  I learned that sea stars can be quite slimy when they are stressed. I had no idea!

Sand dollar dresge
Dredge haul with LOTS of sand dollars

Sometimes my watch chief, Sean, will select a subsample of five sea scallops for us to scrub clean with a wire brush.

Alicia scrub scallops
Alicia scrubbing scallops at about 11pm

Next, we weigh and measure all five sea scallops before cutting them open to determine the gender.  We remove the gonad (the reproductive organ) and weigh it, then do the same with the “meat” (the muscle that allows the scallop to open and close its shell and the part people like to eat).  All of this information is recorded and each scallop is given a number.  We write the number on each shell half and bag and tag the shells.  The shells and data will be given to a scientist on shore that has requested them for additional research.  The scallop shells can be aged by counting the rings, just like counting the rings on a tree.

Alicia scrub scallops 2
Scrubbing scallops is dirty work!

Meanwhile, other people are hosing off the deck, table, buckets, and baskets used.  The dredge ends by shucking the scallops and saving the meat for meals later.  A successful dredge requires cooperation and communication between scientists, lab technicians, the Captain, and the crew. It requires careful attention to detail to make sure the data collected is accurate. It also requires strategic planning before the voyage even begins.  It’s an exciting process to be a part of and it is interesting to think about the different types of information that can be collected about the ocean from the HabCam versus the dredge.

Personal Log

Hallway to shower
Hallway to the shower and bathroom

Living on a ship is kind of like living in a college dorm again: shared room with bunkbeds, communal shower and bathroom down the hall, and meals prepared for you.  I can’t speak to the food prepared by the steward (cook) Paul, as I haven’t been able to eat much of it yet (I’m finally starting to get a handle on the seasickness, but I’m not ready for tuna steaks and lima beans just yet), but I do appreciate that the galley (mess hall) is open all the time for people to rummage through the cabinets for crackers, cereal, and other snacks. There’s even an entire freezer full of ice cream sandwiches, bars, etc.  If my husband had known about the ice cream, he probably would have packed himself in my duffel bag for this adventure at sea!

Taking a shower at sea is really not much different than taking a shower at the gym or in a college dorm… in the middle of a small earthquake. Actually, it’s really not too bad once you get used to the rock  of the ship.  On the floor where the scientists’ berths (rooms) are, there are also two heads (bathrooms) and two showers.  The ship converts ocean water into water that we can use on the ship for showering, washing hands, etc.  through a process called reverse osmosis.  Sea water is forced through a series of filters so small that not even the salt in the water can fit through.  I was afraid that I might be taking cold showers, but there is a water heater on board, too!   We are supposed to take “Navy showers”, which means you get wet, press a button on the shower head to stop the water while you scrub, then press the button to turn the water back on to rinse.  I’ll admit that I find myself forgetting about this sometimes, but I’m getting much better!

Shower
Shower on Hugh R Sharp

Today there was about an hour and a half of “steam” time while we headed to our next dredge location and had nothing official to do.  Some of the people on my watch watched a movie in the galley, but I decided to head to one of the upper decks and enjoy the gorgeous views of ocean in every direction.  I was awarded by a pod of about 15 common dolphins jumping out of the water next to the ship!

I’m starting to get a feel for the process of science at sea and am looking forward to the new adventures that tomorrow might bring!

Question of the Day

Which way do you think is the best way to learn about the sea scallop population and ocean life in general: dredging or HabCam?  Why do you think so?

 You can share your thoughts, questions, and comments in the comments section below.

Alicia Gillean: Setting Sail and Seeing the Ocean Floor; June 30, 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: Saturday, June 30, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 40 55.30 N
Longitude: 068 47.49 W
Relative Wind Speed: 15.6 Knots
Air Temperature: 17.44 degrees C
Humidity: 80%
Surface Seawater Temperature: 14 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

Hugh R Sharp
R/V Hugh R. Sharp in Port

Well, it took a car, two airplanes, an airport shuttle, a bus, and a short walk, but I made it to the ship in Woods Hole, MA at about 8pm on June 26, 2012! I met a few of the ship’s crew who were kind enough to show me to my room and I slept on the ship while it was in port. You can see a rather long, but informative video tour of the Hugh R. Sharp on this website and you can track the ship’s progress here.

Everyone reported to the ship at 8am on June 27, but we didn’t end up leaving port until about 2pm because of last-minute adjustments to equipment, among other reasons, so the first day was pretty much the hurry up and wait game. While waiting to leave port, we did a safety drill and heard a presentation from a NOAA employee named Deborah about the basics of sea scallops. I was intrigued by all the data that she mentioned in her presentation and talked to her about it afterwards. She is a mathematician with a passion for biology who found a way to merge the two into a career. A big part of her job is to make sense of the data collected on the scallop survey and to present it in a way that can make sense to people. She uses lots of graphs and charts to help the data tell its story. She said that estimation, graphing, and numerous math skills play a huge role in her work. She was kind enough to give me her business card so that we can chat more after I return from sea, as she isn’t sailing on this leg of the survey.

Survival Suit
Me in my survival suit during safety drill

HabCam

Once aboard the Hugh R. Sharp, I learned that this survey will actually be two surveys in one: about half of our time will be spent dredging, sorting, measuring, and weighing scallops. The other half of the time will be spent gathering data with a newly developed underwater camera system called HabCam. The HabCam is about a half-million dollar, 3,000-pound piece of scientific equipment that is controlled by a winch, operated inside the Dry Lab (kind of like a computer lab) of the ship by a joystick and a computer program that shows the depth of the HabCam and its height off the ocean floor. The pilot of the HabCam “flies” it approximately 2 meters above the ocean floor and the copilot keeps an eye on the images coming back from the HabCam. It takes 6 images per second, so there are LOTS of pictures to look at and the clarity is amazing.

HabCam
HabCam being lowered into the water
Alicia Zip Tie
My first job on the ship

The HabCam is a pretty fascinating piece of equipment that has been under development for several years and is a cooperative effort between the sea scallop industry, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), and others. Some of the people that developed the HabCam are on the ship with me and I have had the opportunity to talk to them about its development and uses. Each conversation always seems to have a common theme: the HabCam is a work in progress. We are using version 4 of the HabCam on this scallop survey. As they test the HabCam, they notice issues and make modifications accordingly. It is interesting to see the scientific process in action. Before we left port, they were attempting to correct an issue with pressure and vibration on the winch cable that controls the HabCam while it flies through the water. They thought that covering the portion of the cable directly above the HabCam with zip ties might help break up some of the water pressure and solve the problem. So, my first job as a scientist aboard the Hugh R Sharp involved installing lots and lots of zip ties! I had to laugh when they realized a slight glitch in the plan and had to remove many of the zip ties later. Science is a process!

There are 6 people on my watch and we started with the HabCam. I had the opportunity to pilot and copilot several times. It is fascinating to see images of the seafloor that no one else had ever seen and a bit daunting to be trusted with flying such an expensive piece of equipment through the ocean! We saw skates (like a stingray), sand dollars, sea biscuits, fish, sea stars, and more.

HabCam image
One of the images from the HabCam

You can learn more about the HabCam by visiting this website.

Personal Log

Life at sea is more relaxed than I expected. For some reason, I expected there to be lots of strict rules and procedures, but so far that has not been the case. This has been a welcome surprise for me, especially since despite my extensive anti-nausea arsenal, I am experiencing a rather nasty bout of seasickness. Everyone aboard has been very sympathetic and shared their personal stories of dealing with seasickness as well as remedies for seasickness that work for them (ginger ale, standing outside, etc.). I’m hoping that spending time outside today while we dredge instead of inside flying the HabCam will help. Enough about that!

Bed on Hugh R Sharp
My bed on the Sharp

I share my berth (room) with four other ladies. There are two bunk beds with curtains around each bed to allow for a little privacy and to help darken the room if needed. The berths are in the “belly” of the ship with no windows, so room darkening really isn’t much of an issue! I do think the curtains are sort of ingenious and wish I had them back when I was living in the dorms in college. I am glad that I packed light, since there really isn’t much of a place to store things in the berth. I’m using every inch of available space and wishing that things (like my towel) would actually dry down here, but not much luck with that so far. I managed to be the first person to get drenched on the ship on the day we left and it took three days for my clothes to dry! It’s all part of the adventure, right?

Two of the people I share a room with are on the day shift (noon to midnight) and the other two are on the night shift (midnight to noon), so there really isn’t a time when all four of us are in the room at the same time. When you leave for your watch (shift), you take everything with you that you might need, so you don’t go back to the room while other people are trying to sleep.

There is a constant sucking noise that sounds a bit like wind that I always hear while in my room. I initially thought it was just the sound of the ship going over the water, but now I’m wondering if it might be some type of pump. I checked with my chief scientist Geoff Shook and he told me that the sound is actually the ship’s stabilizer fins. There are 4 fins (2 on each side) that move back and forth to dampen the vessel’s roll and provide a more comfortable, stable ride.

Question of the Day

What do you think the name “HabCam” means?

You can share your thoughts, questions, and comments in the comments section below.

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!

Tiffany Risch, August 5, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tiffany Risch
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
July 28 – August 8, 2008

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: South of Long Island, NY
Date: August 5, 2008

Tiffany uses a measuring board to obtain quahog lengths.
Tiffany uses a measuring board to obtain quahog lengths.

Weather Data from the Bridge 

  • Partly to mostly cloudy, with patchy a.m. fog
  • Surface winds: West-Northwest 10-15 knots
  • Waves: Swells 3-5 feet
  • Water temperature:  16o Celsius
  • Visibility:  7 nautical miles

Science and Technology Log 

We’ve almost completed the entire research cruise here on the DELAWARE II. With a few more stations to cover, it is amazing how so many clams can be processed in only a week and a half at sea. Here on the DELAWARE II, scientists use digital recording devices such as scales and measuring boards to obtain accurate records. They also use computer programs that are specialized for the research being done.

When a tow is completed and the catch sorted, each surf clam or quahog goes through a series of measurements.  Each bushel of clams is massed, and then each one is digitally measured.  With sometimes over 2,000 clams to process, this technique is helpful because we can complete a station in as little as 30 minutes.  The computer program used for this purpose asks the measurer to select the species, and then it automatically records whatever the clam measures width wise on the measuring board.

There are only about twelve stations left to go before we arrive in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  Most stations turn up a moderate number of surf clams and quahogs.  Tonight, we ended up hitting an area that contained a lot of rocks.  All of them must be cleared from the dredge by the crew before the next tow can be performed.  This sometimes can take as long as an hour, depending on what is collected.  Scientists then sometimes question whether there could be surf clams and quahogs in this specific area, so they’ll prepare to do a set-up. A set-up involves towing the region five times with intervals of 200 yards separating each tow. This allows scientists to examine what exactly could be=2 0in a specific area, and if it was just chance that allowed so many rocks to be brought up in one specific tow. Also in the future, this clam survey will be done by commercial vessels; therefore a calibration needs to be done using the current dredge versus a commercial one.  Set-ups help with this process.

Something else found in a recent tow: Scallops!
Something else found in a recent tow: Scallops!

Personal Log 

I am very happy that I had this experience as a Teacher At Sea. In the past two weeks, I have gained a wealth of knowledge regarding surf clams and quahogs, bur also what life at sea is like, and who the people are that conduct research to hopefully understand more about populations dynamics.  I also have not been as tired before as I have been on this trip! Getting used to a time change by working through the night, and conducting so m any tows in a twelve hour period leaves your body fatigued.  At 1:00pm when I’m finished with lunch, all I can think about is sleep.

When tows are brought to the surface, a neat variety of other things are often brought up as well.  I have significantly contributed to my seashell collection by finding lots of different whelk, scallop, and snail shells, along with some sand dollars.  I also kept a surf clam and a quahog shell as a reminder of my trip.  Because each shell has its matching other half, they are each known as a clapper. I can’t wait to share all of my interesting stories, pictures, and experiences with my students back in Coventry, Rhode Island when I return.  I could only hope that people who truly have an interest in science could experience something like this one day!