Conveyor belts, stainless steel, rushing water, plastic bucket thumps, computer bleeps, bells and dings, red and green lights, fish, fish and more fish. These are some of the sights and sounds in the Bigelow Wet Lab. Appropriately named “Wet Lab”, a constant water wash streams across the floor to flush debris and slime out the scuppers. This floating laboratory is the frontline for fish science. Usual and not so usual species enter the lab from the net to be processed.
As the conveyor belt moves the species into the lab the most interesting location is in the first position. This is the place where you see every species before it is sorted into the baskets, buckets and pails. The colors of blue, turquoise, lime green, yellow, coral, and purple are brilliantly displayed under the bright fluorescent lights. After the sort, the watch chief enters the species into the FSCS 2 program using the Latin scientific name for identification. The barcodes on each basket, bucket or pail are scanned to uniquely identify the container and then they are weighed and sent down the line for processing at the three sampling locations.
At each sampling location there are an abundance of tools to assist the cutter and recorder. Barcode readers are used to scan a container, so that the recorder can confirm the species. The container is dumped into a hopper and the sampling protocol begins. Individual species are first placed on an electronic measuring board which sends lengths and weights to the computer. For smaller species, a different scale is available to send the weight also. Knives, tweezers, and scissors are the cutters’ surgical instruments to extract samples such as otoliths (fish earbones, used to determine age and growth), determine the sex of the species and examine stomach prey contents. The computers prompt for each required data component and record the responses. Tissue samples such as spines, scales, ovaries and whole fish are either frozen of put into jars with preservative chemicals.
After the survey, the data and samples return to the on-shore laboratory in Woods Hole where the analysis begins…
Aboard the Henry B. Bigelow