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Teachers at Sea Go High-Tech with Mega Underwater Cameras

When you take a cruise, of course, you bring your camera with you, but for Teachers at Sea, Alicia Gillean and Allan Phipps, the cameras were already onboard. This past summer, both teachers joined NOAA research cruises using two relatively new technologies—HabCam and Cam-Trawl.

What are these technologies and why are they important? HabCam and Cam-Trawl are similar because they allow scientists to conduct their work in a less invasive way than traditional methods. However, each is used to study a different fishery in a different geographical region. HabCam is for scallop research in the North Atlantic Ocean, and Cam-Trawl is for pollock research in Alaska. We caught up with Alicia and Allan to ask them about their experience with this equipment. Read on to learn more: 

NOAA Teacher At Sea Alicia Gillean. 

Tell us about your research onboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp in the North Atlantic Ocean.

In the summer of 2012, I spent eleven fascinating days at sea, participating in the third and final leg of an annual survey of  Atlantic Sea Scallops.  The sea scallop survey gathers data about the number, size, and weight of sea scallops and a few other species in numerous locations. About half of our time aboard was spent dredging, sorting, measuring, and weighing scallops. The other half of the time was spent gathering data with a newly developed underwater camera system called HabCam.

What is a HabCam?

 HabCam being lowered into the water.

The HabCam is about a 3,000-pound piece of scientific equipment that is controlled by a winch, operated inside the dry lab (similar to a computer lab) of the ship by a joystick and a computer program that shows the depth of the HabCam and its height off the ocean floor. The pilot of the HabCam “flies” it approximately 2 meters above the ocean floor and the copilot keeps an eye on the images coming back from the HabCam.It takes 6 images per second, so there are many pictures to look at. 

People can view images captured by the HabCam and help identify the substrate and fauna in the images. I use this website with students in my classroom so that the research resonates with them.


Images taken by the HabCam on Hugh R. Sharp.

Read about Alicia Green's adventures at sea on her blog.

NOAA Teacher At Sea Allan Phipps.

Tell us about your research onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson off the coast of Alaska.

Last summer, I helped NOAA scientists conduct fisheries research off the coast of Alaska. Walleye pollock is said to be one of the largest remaining supplies of edible fish in the world, and it is the fish used in high-quality breaded and battered fish products, fish sticks, and surimi, also known as imitation crabmeat. This fishery needs to be monitored so that its harvest remains sustainable. One of the pieces of equipment we used on board was the Cam-Trawl.

What is a Cam-Trawl?


 Cam-Trawl before it is attached to a net.

Imagine a time when fish surveys could be done through remote sensing, thus eliminating the need to catch fish with trawls to verify fish school composition, length, weight, and age data. Introducing Cam-Trawl—a camera-in-net technology that NOAA scientists are developing to eventually reduce, if not eliminate, the need to catch fish to verify acoustic data. Cam-Trawl consists of a pair of cameras. They are slightly offset so the result is a stereo-camera. Each camera takes slightly different pictures at the same time and allows scientists to calculate the length of the fish in the pictures. Research missions still require at least partial use of traditional methods; however, the use of Cam-Trawl significantly reduces the amount of pollock that see the fish lab of the Oscar Dyson.


Oscar Dyson.

Read about Alan Phipp's adventures at sea on his blog.