Sherie Gee: Scalloping Across the Seafloor, June 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Sherie Gee
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 26 – July 7

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of Cruise:  Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:  June 28, 2013 

Science and Technology Log:

Dredging is the other method of collecting the data needed for this research.  First, I would like to mention that there are predetermined stations that are collected from. Chief Scientist Nicole explained that a computer selects the stations by random and then she basically connects the dots and sets the course.  This way there is no bias in the selection process of the stations and they won’t be used more than once.

Map Showing the Course of Stations
Map Showing the Course of Stations
The Dredge and Platform
The Dredge and Platform
Spare Dredge on Deck
Spare Dredge on Deck

The crew is in charge of bringing the dredge up after towing for 15 minutes at each station.  As soon as the dredge is up on the platform and all of the organisms are lying on the platform, the scientists head out with their rubber work boots, foul weather pants, and life jackets.  They grab two orange baskets, some white buckets and a smaller plastic container.  Everyone stands at the edge of the platform and starts sorting out the organisms.  The pace of sorting is fast and furious as the scientists are quickly placing the organisms in these baskets and buckets.  The organisms are sorted out into sea scallops, small skates, fish, and all other organisms.  The most abundant organisms on most of the dredges were a species of sea stars called the armored sea star, Astropecten americanus.  Some of the other dredges had mostly sand dollars in it.  The combination of these animals varied from station to station.

Once all of the organisms are placed into the baskets and buckets, they are then lined up by the wet lab.  Here is where everything is counted, weighed, and measured. Larry, our watch chief, is in charge of that process making sure everything is done correctly.  The groups of organisms are weighed on scales and entered into the computer with a very remarkable program  called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computing System). It is an application used by four science centers (NEFSC, NWFSC, AFSC, AND SEFSC) to collect at-sea information on the research vessels that go out. Each sea scallop is measured by placing one side next to a backboard and using a magnetic tool to touch the end of the scallop to the fish board which records the length automatically and entered into the computer. You can tell when the length has been recorded because a ringing sound will go off. Then the next scallop is processed. It usually takes two people during this process; one to measure and one to feed the person measuring more scallops from the baskets.

Fish Board In the Wet Lab
Fish Board In the Wet Lab

While this is being done with the sea scallops, the fish are measured in the same way.  It is a very quick way to get this quantitative data.  A sub sample is also taken on each dredge by taking a portion of each basket and compiling it into a smaller container and counted.  In these sub-samples I counted Astropecten americanus, crabs, and whelks.  The reason for counting these species is to look at the populations of the sea scallop’s predators.  This is a very important factor in analyzing the population of a species.

Basket of Goosefish
Basket of Skates
Basket of Sea Scallops
Basket of Sea Scallops

Once the entire process has been completed, all specimens are returned to the ocean to resume their niche in their habitat.

Organisms Seen:

Atlantic Sea Scallop, rock crabs, sand dollars, armored sea star, Asterias sea star, four spot flounder, monkfish (goosefish), ocean pout, gulf stream flounder, red hake, yellow-tailed flounder, little skate, waved wake, mermaid purses (skate egg cases), sea mouse, whelks, clams, hermit crabs, American lobster

Did you know:

The sea mouse is actually a polychaete which is a type of marine segmented worm.

Ventral View of a Sea Mouse
Ventral View of a Sea Mouse

Personal Log:

Being a part of this science team has had a tremendous impact on me.  The scientists prove to be very dedicated to their work, all working for a common goal.  I am amazed at the plethora of animals being dredged up in the Atlantic Ocean.  Of course I am very partial to the fish brought up on board.  I wish I had more time with them to observe them closer and in more detail.  The goosefish also called the monkfish is a type of angler fish with an adaptation that looks like a fishing pole and bait.  It reminds me of my little frogfish that is also a type of angler fish.  I was also excited to find so many skate egg cases also called mermaid purses.  They were empty which meant that the skates had already hatched.

Empty Mermaid Purses AKA Skate egg cases
Empty Mermaid Purses
AKA Skate egg cases

Anne Artz: July 27, 2011

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

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 27, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Location:  40 08.301N; 72 07.278 W
Direction:  1140
Wind:  NW @ 10
Conditions:  Breezy, choppy water but warm and sunny, very few clouds

Science and Technology Log

We had an interesting night last night – quite a show from the lightning all around us.  We had to stop working on deck due to lightning concerns and the water was definitely choppy.  Shortly after midnight we resumed our survey dredging

A little history and information about the ocean quahog is in order, since we’ve been spending most of our time the last few days collecting, counting, weighing, and measuring them (along with a few other things we dredge up – more about those later).

The ocean quahog, or Artica islandica, is a marine bivalve member of the phylum Mollusca.  It is native to the North Atlantic (where we are right now) and is commercially harvested as a food source.  The ocean quahog lives in deeper water than the more common clam (the ones you can dig up along the beach) and are collected in much the same way as we are doing on the Delaware II, by dredging the bottom, rinsing off the mud, and throwing away all the other things brought up.

We bring up any where from one to three baskets of ocean quahogs with each dredge.

One of the unique characteristics of the ocean quahog is its longevity.  They are known to live over 100 years.  They are extremely slow-growing and as adults, may take years to add any measurable length to their shells.  Both water temperature and population density appear to play a role in their growth.  From previous NOAA studies, some of the fastest growing populations occur at the Georges Bank region off the coast of Massachusetts.  The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) uses the data collected from this survey to advise policy makers on the best way to protect and ensure the survival of the ocean quahog populations.

So what do we know so far about the ocean quahog’s populations?  Besides the fact that they grow slowly, we know they are suspension feeders of phytoplankton and they themselves are food for a variety of other invertebrates including crab, sea stars, urchins, and some fish such as cod.  The dredging process damages some ocean quahogs making them susceptible to other predators such as sculpin, skates, and flounder.  Every three years the populations in the Northern Atlantic are surveyed and past results indicate the populations are stable despite the dredging methods of collection.  The ocean quahog is not considered endangered at this time and is not considered overfished.

Personal Log

The lightning storm was beautiful to watch – the only  thing missing was the thunder!  Our ship never stops so the engines run continuously, making hearing anything on deck almost impossible.  We’ve brought up some incredibly interesting animals – some I’ve never seen or heard of.  For example, we’ve brought up numerous “sea mouse” samples.

Sea Mouse
A sea mouse, or Aprodita aculeata (member of phylum Annelida)

They are actually carnivorous worms who live on the ocean floor and are covered with long hair-like threads, or setae.  The ones we’ve brought up are 4-6 inches long. Creepy!

We are currently at survey site 229 which for you students translates to trial number 229.  No more complaining to me about having to repeat your experiment 25 times!

Channa Comer: Crabs and Stars, May 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Channa Comer

On Board Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
May 11 — 22, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Leg 1
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: Monday, May 15, 2011

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

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

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

Bucket of Crabs
Bucket of Crabs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answer to Question of the Day: Very carefully!