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Scallop Survey "HabCamming" and "Round the Clock Dredging"

June 30, 2022

The final leg of the scallop survey yielded more HabCam images and some tiny critters.

A color image taken at sunrise from the deck of a research ship. The water is calm and the rising sun’s light brightens the horizon at the image’s center. The waves were like glass during the night shift’s first sunrise.

We’re back for the final leg of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center sea scallop survey on the R/V Hugh Sharp. The weather was very calm at the start of the trip, and we had a beautiful sunrise for our first morning. The water was smooth and glassy, and the sky became more orange as the sun rose. It’s very tranquil and easy to lose yourself in such a moment.

 A color image taken on a sunny day on a research vessel. In the background, scientific sampling gear is enclosed in a steel frame. At left, a man is using dark-colored plastic tape to wrap a cable connected to the frame.
To reduce wear and keep the connection secure, chief scientist Mike Bergman reinforces the cable connecting the HabCam cage to the ship. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

The first couple of days of this 9-day leg were devoted to HabCam, a camera system that takes millions of pictures of the sea floor. HabCam requires a lot of maintenance—both just before and during the survey. Every time HabCam comes out of the water, we inspect it for damage and wear and make repairs for its next swim. There’s a lot of technical skill that goes into running this complicated piece of equipment.

I’m not involved with maintaining and running HabCam, but I do drive it! The driver’s goal is to keep HabCam 1.8 to 2 meters above the sea floor. This requires you and a copilot to monitor the radar so you can either bring in or let out wire to keep the cameras at the preferred distance from the bottom.

If we’re not helping to operate HabCam, we annotate the pictures it takes. This involves measuring scallops, identifying roundfish, flatfish, and crabs, and recording this and other information on the image. Before you can annotate official pictures, you have to complete a test set of 206 images, and this can take some time. To ease into the night shift, my shipmates and I got cozy in the lab and rotated between driving, copiloting, completing the test set and annotating.

We quickly finished using HabCam and started dredging for the rest of the trip. The work went from sitting inside and looking at a screen to moving buckets and sorting samples outside. I look forward to the latter. It’s nice to be up and moving around, especially when working at night. Being active in crisp, early morning air helps you stay awake.

A color image taken on the deck of a research vessel on a sunny day. The camera is pointed toward the stern of the vessel and a dredge full of scallops is coming aboard. Two people in foul-weather gear stand in the center of the image. A number of large plastic baskets are stacked on deck.
R/V Hugh Sharp deck crew dump a catch onto the sorting table while the science crew stands at the ready with sorting baskets. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

It’s important to pay attention because there are a lot of interesting animals and shells in the dredge samples that can’t be seen on HabCam. The little pipefish pictured above almost escaped me! It can be tricky to catch such tiny animals when you’re sorting through a bunch of sand, stones, and mud. We didn’t find too many this trip, but they made an occasional appearance.

Two color images side by side. At left, a small tube-like fish with a very long snout is resting on the index finger of the photographer, who is standing on the ship’s deck under an overcast sky with the sun just over the horizon in the background. At right, a pile of rocks, sand, and sea life that make up a dredge tow.
Pipefish were found in some of the catches (left). If you sort too fast in a messy catch (right), these little fish can be easily missed. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

Overall, I think it’s important to consider these little animals, especially when we tend to focus on a single species (in this case, scallops). It’s a good reminder that the ocean is very diverse, and that all of its animals have intrinsic value beyond our desire to eat them or not.

Previous: EcoMon 2022 Concludes, A Great Success Next: Bottom Types and Record Numbers: Scallop Survey Finale

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Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on August 29, 2023