Kevin McMahon: Fireworks, Red Grouper, and The Deepest Trap, July 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kevin McMahon

Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces

July 5 – July 18, 2014

Mission: Southeast Fisheries- Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 8, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature:           26.6 ° C

Relative Humidity:         70%

Wind Speed:                 10.96 knots


You will notice that my blogs will now have two sections. The first section called “Science and Technology Log’” is where I will discuss our mission, the data that we are collecting and any other science-related news from our trip.

In the second section, called “Personal Log”, I will share about how it feels to be a part of this expedition and what it is like to live and work on the Pisces. I will also add a glossary at the end of each blog entry for some of the science and ship terms that might be unfamiliar to you.

Science and Technology Log

I am one of many people helping chief scientist, Nate Bacheler, collect data about the abundance of reef fish. Nate is a research fishery biologist and he coordinates the Southeast Fishery Independent Survey.

This work is exactly what you think it is. We are catching fish to collect data on how abundant the reef fish are off the southeast coast of the United States.

They use a trap called a chevron trap, to collect the fish. It gets its name from its unique shape.


Chevron Trap
Chevron Trap


Each time that the scientists deploy the fish traps, they use the same procedure. For instance, they use the same size of traps, the same number of traps, the same type of bait, the same amount of bait in each trap, and the same “soak time” in the ocean.

Most days, the traps will be deployed three times. Once the traps reach the surface, we sort the fish by species, measure their mass (in kg), and measure their length (in mm).

On some of the more important species that humans use for food, the scientists will take samples for other scientists to examine in order to determine how healthy a particular fish species is.  For example, scientists remove the ear bones, called otoliths, to determine the age of the fish that was caught. Determining the age of the fish from the otoliths is like counting rings on a tree because the otoliths form growth marks each year.

So far, we have caught fish of all different shapes and sizes. On one of our first traps, we caught a red grouper that weighed 11.67 kilograms and was 881 mm long.


Kevin McMahon with Red Grouper
Kevin McMahon with Red Grouper


Today, we sent a trap that went down 102.97 meters. That was the deepest that the Southeast Fishery Independent Survey has ever deployed! We caught a scamp (which is a type of grouper), many red porgy, and a blackfin snapper. This was the first blackfin snapper that Nate has seen.

Personal Log

Wow, I have just had an amazing few days.

The night before we set off on our cruise, I was able to watch the fireworks from the bow of the boat. Even though it was July 5, the fireworks were delayed one day because of Hurricane Arthur.

The best view of the Morehead City,NC  fireworks show was from the deck of the Pisces.
The best view of the Morehead City,NC fireworks show was from the deck of the Pisces.

The morning came quickly, and, we headed out to sea.


This is my last view of land for a while!
This is my last view of land for a while!

Here are some of my initial thoughts:

I am in awe over the vastness of our ocean. I wish that I was a poet because then I could describe it a lot better. To me, it seems like we are a million of miles from the coast. Everywhere you look, you see the most beautiful blue color. I think the Crayola crayon company should create a new color in honor the ocean and call it “ocean blue” if they haven’t already created a crayon this color.

Check out the color of the ocean  while the deck crew wait to deploy the next trap.
Check out the color of the ocean while the deck crew wait to deploy the next trap.


But, even though all I see is water in every direction, we are only 60.5 miles south, southeast off the coast from the Beaufort Inlet.

I also am impressed with all the collaboration that is necessary to make the mission a success.  For instance, there are two different groups of scientists on the boat. One group spends the night mapping the ocean floor using multibeam sonar. They share this information with the fishery scientists early in the morning so that they can decide where to place the traps for the next day. The scientists also have to coordinate with the crew of the ship. The scientists are constantly communicating with the crew and the crew are constantly communicating with the scientists. This work could not happen with out the help of everyone on board.

I also like how everyone is conscious about safety. At school we have fire drills and tornado drills in case of emergencies. On the ship, we also have fire drills and “abandon ship” drills. Check out the picture of me in my “gumby” suit during our “abandon ship” drill. I had to go to my lifeboat location and then put on my survival suit to protect me from hypothermia in case I fell in the water in the unlikely event that we had to abandon ship. We also needed to bring a hat, a long-sleeve shirt, and long pants for the “abandon ship” drill. Why do you think we need that?


Kevin McMahon in his survival suit
Kevin McMahon in his survival suit



Bow – the front end of the ship.

Bridge – the part of the ship that is the command center. The officers navigate the ship from this location. 

Hypothermia- a dangerous condition when your body temperature drops too much, usually as a result of being exposed to cold temperatures for too long.


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