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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



(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


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.


Sand dollars brought up in the dredge


Rita Salisbury: Popika, April 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: April 26, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind: NE 3KT
Pressure: 1017.1 mb
Air Temperature: 74 F (23C)
Water Temperature: 78 F (25 C)

Science and Technology Log

Jamie Barlow and Bo Alexander getting ready to deploy the BotCams

Jamie Barlow and Bo Alexander getting ready to deploy the BotCams

I was extremely fortunate to be invited to ride along on a day-long BotCam deployment aboard the Huki Pono along with IT Scott Wong. Dr. Kobayashi got approval for it and before I knew it I was descending down a rope ladder and on my way in a small boat to rendezvous with the Huki Pono to work with scientists Jamie Barton, Chris Demarke, and Bo Alexander.

The BotCams are designed to descend to the sea floor, attract fish with bait, and video record the fish that are in range of the camera. The BotCam is then retrieved, the video uploaded, and then the BotCam is deployed again until the mission is completed. The videos are saved and someone then reviews them and classifies the fish by species and counts how many there are of them. The results are added to a multi-year study of the fisheries in the area.

The BotCams are heavy and deploying and retrieving them takes a lot of skill, so I stayed out of the way while that was going on. However, there were things I was able to do, and the three scientists walked me through them.

Throwing the grappling hook to catch the buoy line

Throwing the grappling hook to catch the buoy line

The first thing I got to do was to throw the grappling hook to retrieve the buoys for a BotCam. Captain Al of the Huki Pono skillfully brought the boat up next to the buoys at a good angle and I was able to snag the buoy line with my first throw every time. Then I got out of the way so the hundreds of meters of line that attached the buoys to the BotCam was pulled on board. Once the BotCam was pulled to the surface, a cable from the winch on the back of the ship was attached to it and the BotCam was pulled to the back work area and pulled on board. The video was retrieved, the bait renewed, and the BotCam was ready for deployment again. On this day, the crew was working with two BotCams, but they had a third one on board that they also use, depending on the requirements of the day. (The Bluejay is my school mascot and came along for the ride.)

Setting the buoys to mark the location of the BotCam. Uli Uli Manu is along for the ride.

Setting the buoys to mark the location of the BotCam. Uli Uli Manu is along for the ride.

Slinging line as the BotCam drops to the sea floor

Slinging line as the BotCam drops to the sea floor

Once re-baited, and with new video plugs, the BotCam was ready to be dropped at a pre-determined spot. The dropsites have already been entered into a GPS unit so the captain navigates from one site to the next using a handheld GPS. The depth of the new location determined how much line would be attached. When the captain said it was time, the scientists triple-checked everything, including each other’s work, and swung the BotCam off the deck and into the water. The line that attaches the BotCam to the buoy is quickly fed out after the weighted BotCam and then the buoys are tossed out last, which are the other two jobs I was able to do. Then it’s time to go the next location and either retrieve or deploy another BotCam. This went on all day long, without any breaks. Lunch was eaten while traveling from one BotCam location to another.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Don Kobayashi

Photo courtesy of Dr. Don Kobayashi

While I was onboard the Huki Pono, the Sette deployed the AUV for a lengthy mission. I was able to see some of the video footage when I returned to the Sette and the clarity was amazing! The AUV’s path was blocked by a large outcropping for a while and it was really interesting to watch the video while the AUV worked its way free of the rock.

An AUV capture of almaco jack, a type of kahala. Photo courtesy of Dr. Don Kobayashi

An AUV capture of almaco jack, a type of kahala. Photo courtesy of Dr. Don Kobayashi

The AUV was deployed again yesterday, and it is just as exciting to watch now as it was for the first mission. I know that it has a few failsafe procedures built into it, such as dropping the weights that help keep it down and aborting the mission, but it is still thrilling to watch the last line removed that tethers it to the ship and see it descend on its own power. The bright yellow skin makes it visible for many meters under the surface, but eventually it goes so deep that it cannot be seen any longer. The scientists monitoring the acoustics can “see” where the AUV is in relation to the position of the ship. They have named the AUV “Popoki” which is Hawaiian for cat.

Second Assistant Engineer (2AE) Megan keeping an eye on the control readout

Second Assistant Engineer (2AE) Megan keeping an eye on the control readout

The Chief Scientist, Dr. Don Kobayashi, arranged a tour of the engineering department of the ship. Chief Engineer Harry Crane met us in the forward mess and explained what we would be seeing. After handing out earplugs to protect our hearing from the 115 decibel environment, we were off. We were able to see the 600 amp 600 volt motor for the bow thruster used to maneuver in tight quarters or to make minor adjustments of the ship’s position. Then we were shown the sewage system next to the laundry room. The waste is collected and then cleaned by running electrical current through it before it is discharged. It holds about 6,000 gallons of waste, which is roughly what a tractor-trailer tanker holds. The giant Caterpillar diesel engines spin generators to provide electric power to run the propulsion motors, making the Sette a hybrid of diesel electric power. The water that is used to cool the engines is the same water that is used, as waste energy, to help run the evaporators that create the ‘fresh’ water needed for the ship. We also saw the halon and CO2 fire suppressant system, the main control room, and the shafts the turn the propellers (or screws), and the hydraulic system used to turn the rudder. One of the things that struck me the most about the whole tour was how very clean all of the areas were. Anyone who works around machinery knows it can be a messy environment with leaks and spills, but the Oscar Elton Sette was clean as a whistle.

Chief Engineer Harry Crane, Chief Scientist Don Kobayashi, Jessica Chen, and me touring the engineering department of the ship

Chief Engineer Harry Crane, Chief Scientist Don Kobayashi, Jessica Chen, and me touring the engineering department of the ship

Uli Uli Manu keeping an eye on things

Uli Uli Manu keeping an eye on things

Personal Log

This ship is like a large, extended family in many ways. The mess and the kitchen are central to the community with 3 wonderful meals served every day. But just like home, the kitchen is always open for anyone to make a snack. The other evening, one of the stewards, Allen Smith, stayed late to help me find the ingredients I needed to make a cake as a thank you to everyone on board. It was served as desert the next evening and the medical officer, “Doc” Tran, who really enjoys cooking, asked for my recipe and said that anytime they serve it from now on, they will call it the Rita Cake. Like I said before, everyone on this ship is very nice and they go out of their way to make me comfortable.

Did You Know?

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. A GPS device is an electronic unit that determines a location within a few feet, displaying coordinates in latitude and longitude. The handheld GPS receives signals from geosynchronous satellites. It only needs signals from 3 satellites to calculate a location, but a signal from a fourth satellite can fix the altitude of the location and the exact time. The more signals that are received from satellites, the more accurate the reading.

One of my duties has been to find out information about everyone on board for blog entry. The Chief Sci and I talked about it and decided to borrow an ice-breaker that we use at my school from time to time called “Two Truths and a Lie.” It has been interesting, to say the least, to start to gather the statements from different people on board. I cannot wait until I have enough data to publish it, but the best thing has been getting to know people even better.

Additional Section

I finally saw a humpback whale breaching while I was on the Huki Pono! It was about a quarter of a mile away, so I didn’t get any good pictures, but it was still exciting.

I also was able to see some kawakawa (False Albacore) off the bow of the ship. They are quite lovely fish, with a brilliant blue hue and a streamlined appearance. There were about a dozen of them and they would race in one direction and then change course, often breaking through the surface of the water to appear as if they were flying. I was disappointed when they finally wandered off.

One thing I have wondered about is the lack of seagulls around here. I just assumed that anywhere there was salt water, there would be seagulls. Jamie Barlow said they simply are not part of the ecosystem here. There might be an occasional one that shows up on its way somewhere else, but they don’t stick around. That surprises me, especially when you consider the Taape, or Bluelined Snapper. They are an introduced species that was introduced in the mid-1950s because Hawaii did not have a shallow water snapper. The species has flourished in these Hawaiian waters so why doesn’t the seagull show up and start competing in a niche?