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Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey Returns

June 10, 2022

HabCam, eclipse, and dolphins, oh my!

Casually dressed people stand next to one another on the deck of a light- colored steel ship facing the bow. A man in the forefront holds a pole to which the camera is attached in order to capture the image. The weather is fair and the ocean is calm. Scientific staff on the 2022 Atlantic sea scallop survey, leg 1. Left to Right: Charles Keith, Zachary Fyke, Rich Powell, Jackson Hollocker, Kathryn Ford, Danny Brunet, Doug Brander, Deborah Hart, Jui-Han Chang, and Cameron Fairclough. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Zachary Fyke

After a year off from surveys in 2020 due to the pandemic, and strict staging protocols in 2021, it felt good to finally get back down to Lewes, Delaware. We got the R/V Hugh R. Sharp ready for the 2022 Atlantic sea scallop survey.

Shoreside Preparation

All aboard needed two negative COVID tests before they were cleared to sail. Seven scientific staff drove down 3 days before the vessel was set to sail, to “stage,” or set up, all the gear needed. Multiple days of setup and testing ensures everything is configured properly, to minimize the possibility of technical difficulties at sea.

Tasks included:

  • Setting up the sampling van with three separate sampling stations
  • Testing of our Habitat Mapping Camera (HabCam V4) vehicle
  • Setting up the science lab with monitors, servers, and hard drives
    An enclosed computer lab with overhead lighting on a research vessel. A dozen computer monitors are arrayed at multiple workstations. Thick cables are secured from the ceiling at left, and clusters of electronic equipment are placed around the work area.  Two workers are at the center of the image, checking a monitor display.
    Science Lab, R/V Hugh R. Sharp, 2022. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Zachary Fyke

Cruise Gets Underway-Destination Mid-Atlantic

After a 2-hour delay caused by dense fog, we departed Lewes on May 14, 2022. This first leg of the survey was all about the HabCam. It's a towed camera array with two high-resolution cameras and four strobes, as well as many other scientific data collection instruments. The two cameras capture roughly six images per second. Technicians annotate some of these images to label finfish, shellfish, and human-made objects. Researchers use these images to estimate abundance of species like the Atlantic sea scallop and help to generate stock assessments, which are used to inform management decisions.

Nighttime view of a steel frame encloses underwater cameras and sampling instruments.  The instrument is on the deck of a ship with he black night sky in the background.
HabCam on deck. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Zachary Fyke

Once we got about 30 nautical miles offshore, we deployed the HabCam for a couple of test tows. After working out a few minor bugs, we re-deployed HabCam and headed to our first point on our trackline. Over the next 2 days, we worked our way over 200 nautical miles along our predetermined path.

On the night of May 15 we were lucky enough to see the lunar eclipse and blood moon with zero cloud coverage.

Three images of the moon, side by side. Left to right, the moon is increasingly wrapped in darkness.
Lunar eclipse, May 15, 2022. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Zachary Fyke

Over the next 4 days, we completed another 600 nautical miles, bringing our total to just a little more than 800. We’ve had great weather so far on our trip, with relatively calm seas. The greatest wave height we encountered was 6 feet, but in a 146-foot vessel you barely feel it. After finishing our tracklines in the Mid-Atlantic, we retrieved HabCam from the water and began a 12-hour steam northeast toward Nantucket Shoals.

Among my favorite sights at sea are the sunsets and sunrises unobstructed by human construction. The sunset on the sixth night was my favorite, because as the sun dipped down towards the horizon, a low fog layer made it appear purple to the naked eye.

A glowing ball of light is at center, suspended in a dusky sky over a calm ocean surface.
An ocean sunset. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Zachary Fyke

Nantucket Shoals

On the night of May 19, we reached our new trackline southeast of Nantucket. Once we’d deployed and tested HabCam, we began working our way along our trackline.

Because of the larger number of fish in the area, we saw more diversity of marine mammals and seabirds. On the screen that displays data from a forward-facing sonar, a dark shape would occasionally dart across the screen. These were likely common dolphins, which coast alongside and under the bow of the ship, riding in the draft that is created as the vessel cuts through the waves. We also saw humpback whales and even a basking shark!

A dolphin is just breaking the water’s surface. It is dark colored from its nose to tail on the top and light colored on its belly. The blowhole is clearly seen on the top of its head and its triangular slightly hooked back fin rises clear of the water.
Bow riding common dolphin. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Zachary Fyke

Over the final 3 days of the survey, we completed more than 300 nautical miles, resulting in more than 1,125 miles covered and 3.35 million images taken. Of these images, the scientific crew on board annotated more than 50,000, which is a new all-time record!

We could not be prouder of the scientific staff that sailed on this first leg of the sea scallop survey. Working to ensure that COVID-19 was not brought aboard while staying engaged and working together through 10 days of “HabCamming” was no easy feat.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” – Jacques Cousteau

Zachary Fyke

On Leg 1, May 14-23, 2022

Aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp

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Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on September 19, 2023