Donna Knutson: Last Leg of Leg III Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey 2016, June 24, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
Aboard the Research Vessel Sharp
June 8 – June 24, 2016

2016 Mission: Atlantic Scallop/Benthic Habitat Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northeastern U.S. Atlantic Coast
Date: June 24, 2016

Last Leg of Leg III Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey 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:DSCN7770 (2)me best

Latitude:  41 29.84 N

Longitude:  070 38.54 W

Clouds:  partly cloudy

Visibility: 5-6 nautical miles

Wind: 3.58 knots

Wave Height: 6 in.

Water Temperature:  53  F

Air Temperature:  67 F

Sea Level Pressure:  30.0 in of Hg

Water Depth: 26 m


It has been an action packed two weeks.  The men and women who dedicate themselves to the scallop survey are extremely hard working scientists.  It is not an easy job.  The sorting of the dredged material is fast and furious, and it needs to be in order to document everything within the catch before the next one comes in.  The baskets are heavy and it takes a strong person to move them around so quickly.

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Han, Jill, Mike, Vic, Me and Ango

In small catches every scallop is measured.  In dredges with many baskets of scallops, a percentage is measured.  It is a random sampling system, taking some scallops from each of the baskets to get a general random sample of the whole.  Mike led an efficient team, he told us what to look for and oversaw the measuring.

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Mike and Nikki

He often set samples aside to show me later, when we were not as busy. A few examples were how to tell the difference between the red and silver hake or the difference between the Icelandic and Atlantic sea scallop.  He showed me how the little longhorn sculpin fish, “buzz bombs” known to fisherman, vibrate when you told it in your hand.

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Longhorn sculpin

Mike even took the time to dissect some hake and to show me the differences in gonads, what they were feeding on by opening their stomach, and the otolith within the upper skull.  The otolith is a small bone in the inner ear that can be used to identify and age the fish when in a lab looking through a microscope.  Mike answered my many questions and was always eager to teach me more.

Another helpful team member was Vic.  Vic taught me how to run the HabCam.  He has been involved in the HabCam setup since it started being used four years ago.  There is a lot of work to do to set up the multiple monitors and computers with servers to store all the images collected by the HabCam.  Vic overlooks it all from the initial set-up to the take down.  I admire Vic’s work-ethic, he is always going 100% until the job is completed.  Sometimes I just needed to get out of his way, because I knew he was on a mission, and I didn’t want to slow him down.

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Control center for Habcam and Dredging

When we weren’t dredging, but rather using the HabCam, there was a pilot and copilot watching the monitors.  The HabCam, when towed behind the ship, needs to be approximately 1.7 m off the ocean floor for good resolution of the pictures, and keeping it at that elevation can be a challenge with the sloping bottom or debris.  There is also sand waves to watch out for, which are like sand bars in a river, but not exposed to the surface.

When not driving HabCam there are millions of pictures taken by the HabCam to oversee.  When you view a picture of a scallop you annotate it by using a measuring bar.  Fish, skates and crabs are also annotated, but not measured.  It takes a person a while to adjust to the rolling seas and be able to look at monitors for a long period of time.  It is actually harder than anticipated.

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HabCam Picture of a skate.

Han was making sure the data was collected from the correct sites.  She works for the Population Dynamics branch of NOAA and was often checking the routes for the right dredges or the right time to use the HabCam.  Between the chief scientist Tasha and Han, they made sure the survey covered the entire area of the study as efficiently as possible.

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Tasha, Han and Mike discussing the next move.

Dr. Scott Gallager was with us for the first week and taught me so much about his research which I mentioned in the previous blogs.  Kat was with us initially, but she left after the first week.  She was a bubbly, happy student who volunteered to be on the ship, just to learn more in hopes of joining the crew someday.  Both vacancies were replaced by “Ango” whose real name in Tien Chen, a grad student from Maine who is working on his doctoral thesis, and Jill who works in Age and Growth, part of the Population Biology branch of NOAA.  Both were fun to have around because of their interesting personalities.  They were always smiling and happy, with a quick laugh and easy conversation.

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Jill, Ango and Han after dredging.

The Chief Scientist, Tasha, was extremely helpful to me.  Not only does she need to take care of her crew and manage all the logistics of the trip, plus make the last minute decisions, because of weather or dredges etc, but she made me feel welcome and encouraged me to chat with those she felt would be a good resource for me.  On top of it all, she helped me make sure all my blogs were factual.  She was very professional and dedicated to her work, as expected from a lead scientist leading a scientific survey.

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Evan, Tasha and Jimmy discussing route.

I spent as much time as possible getting to know the rest of the crew as well.  The Master, Captain James Warrington “Jimmy” always welcomed me on the bridge.  I enjoyed sitting up there with him and his mates.  He is quick witted and we passed the time with stories and many laughs.  He tolerated me using his binoculars and searching for whales and dolphins.  There were a few times we saw both.

He showed me how he can be leader, responsible for a ship, which is no small feat, but do so with a great sense of humor, which he credits he inherited from his grandmother.  The other captains, Chris and Evan, were just as friendly.  I am sure all who have been lucky enough to travel with them would agree that the RV Sharp is a good ship to on because of the friendly, helpful crew and staff.

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KG, oceanic specialist, helped with dredges.

Because this was my second experience on a survey, the first was a mammal survey, I have really come to appreciate the science behind the study.  It is called a survey, but in order to do a survey correctly, it takes months of planning and preparation before anyone actually gets on a ship.

There is always the studying of previous surveys to rely on to set the parameters for the new survey.  Looking for what is expected and finding, just that, or surprising results not predicted but no less valued, is all in a scientist’s daily job.  I admire the work of the scientist. It is not an easy one, and maybe that is why it is so much fun.  You never know exactly what will happen, and therein lies the mystery or maybe a discovery to acquire more information.

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I had to hold the largest goose fish we caught!

It was a challenging two weeks, but a time I’m so glad I had the opportunity to have with the members of Leg III of the 2016 Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey.

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