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2022 Atlantic Clam Survey Presses On for Leg 2

September 20, 2022

Biological technician Christine Kircun blogs on.

A color image taken on an early morning. The right half of the image is the back deck of a commercial clam vessel, twin dredges rise to the top of the image. At left, the sun is masked by a few clouds, rising over the horizon on a calm sea. Overlooking the back deck of the E.S.S. Pursuit, underway on a calm morning. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

We began Leg 2 on the F/V E.S.S Pursuit sailing out of Atlantic City, New Jersey. The weather was simply beautiful and very cooperative. Every now and then, we’d see some heat lightning in the clouds during the small hours of the morning, although it never became anything dangerous.

Two color images, side by side. At left, four small, dark-colored clams with closed shells rest in a person’s palm. At right, a larger clam with a closed, dark, ridged shell resting on a measuring board.
Four chestnut clams, Astarte castanea (left), and southern quahog, Mercenaria campechiensis (right). Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

We sailed south where Atlantic surfclams are not very abundant, so the catches were very light or empty. This resulted in some very slow shifts, but sampling in these areas helps to define boundaries of where surfclam are found. We did catch some species of shellfish that are only found down south. One is the southern quahog, which looks similar to the ocean quahog. Ocean quahogs are much more abundant further north. Compared to the ocean quahog, the southern quahog is lighter in color, has more pronounced ridges, and has a much thicker shell.

A color image taken on a sunny day. A young man wearing a baseball cap and sweatshirt with a hood holds two empty whelk shells. He stands on the deck of a commercial clam vessel, a life preserver ring hangs on the wall behind him next to an open hatchway.
Hollings scholar Cullen Hauck holding a knobbed whelk, Busycon carica, (left) and a channeled whelk, Busycotypus canaliculatus (right). Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

Another shellfish we found was the chestnut clam, Astarte castanea. These animals are much smaller than the surfclams and quahogs and have a very beautiful, deep-brown colored shell.

Of all our surveys, the clam survey is the one on which you’ll find the most interesting and beautiful shells. For example, in one tow we found a knobbed whelk and a channeled whelk. The easiest way to tell them apart is the presence or absence of knobs on the “spire,” which is the whirled top part of the shell. It’s very common to find whelk shells, whole or broken. It’s fun to find a whole, perfect shell, but there is a rustic beauty to the ones that have large portions missing.

We did eventually catch some surfclams! They are much wider than they are deep and have a lovely deep blue-white color. With such slow shifts, we were excited to see some surfclams and collect biological information such as lengths, weights, DNA samples, and shells that we saved to be aged later. It also makes staying awake easier in those early morning hours.

A color image taken on a sunny day. A close up of several surfclams overlapping in a pile. The shells have both dark and light bands of color. The shell edges are dark and sandy.   
Surfclams, Spisula solidissima. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

And soon enough, leg 2 was over! We docked again in Atlantic City, New Jersey to switch out leg 2 and 3 scientists. This time, it was my turn to ride in the van back to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as my time on the E.S.S. Pursuit has ended until next summer.

 A color image taken at night on the deck of a commercial clam vessel. The camera is looking up at three men on a scaffold. They are looking at the camera, each holding up clams. They wear sturdy rubber gloves and boots. Two sets of stacked plastic sampling buckets are in the foreground.
The men of night watch! Left to right, Mike Bergman, Cullen Hauck, and Doug Brander show-off some surfclams. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun
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Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on February 05, 2024