David Madden: Calm Seas, Flying Fish, and Bananas, July 16, 2019


NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: Southeast Fishery Independent Survey

Geographic Area:
Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35º30’ N, 75º19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27º00’N, 75º59’W)

Pisces Location 7-16-19
Here’s a picture of where we have traveled today. You can see lots of zig zags, dropping fish traps and circling back to retrieve them.


Date: July 14, 2019


Science and Technology Log

I’ve now been on Pisces for 24 hours, and I’m amazed by the complexities and logistics of this ship. 

There are 32 souls on board; including 5 on deck, 6 engineers, 1 survey, 1 electronics, 7 NOAA Corps Officers, 2 stewards, and 10 scientists. It takes a well-coordinated, highly-trained group to keep things ship-shape.  We have had two safety and drill meetings so far – highlighting the importance of preparedness while at sea.  The three divisions on our emergency station bill are: Fire and Emergency, Man Overboard, and Abandon Ship.  So far we have done an abandon ship drill, where I tried on my survival suit.  Oh boy.  It fit just fine.  Except the hands and gloves part.  For the life of me I could not get my hands to fit through the openings.  Perhaps it’ll take a life or death situation.  See for yourself:

survival suit
TAS David Madden tries on a survival suit

During the Abandon Ship exercise we gathered next to our Life Rafts.  We discussed situations and protocols and how to get the raft over the side and our bodies into the raft.  We also learned about some of the survival gear within; including fishing gear (to keep folks occupied), knife, sea anchor, flares, and sea sickness pills to be taken immediately. Number one lesson – head into a real Abandon Ship well-fed and well-hydrated; you won’t be getting any water for the first 24 hours (to avoid throwing it back up, and to allow the body to acclimate to its new conditions, and because heck, you can probably go the first day without water, so why not save it?) It all reminded me of a book I read years ago called, “Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea” by Steven Callahan. 

Life boat instructions
Life boat instructions

My day consists of helping out the scientists with their fish count.  This means baiting the fish traps with menhaden, dropping them off the back of the ship at the prescribed locations, circling back around 75-90 minutes later to scoop them back up.  This is followed by chronicling the different fish caught – some are tossed back to the sea, others are kept for all sorts of further data collection (more soon).  There’s so much crazy cool data being collected on this ship.  I thought you’d like to see some of it.  Here’s a diagram I made and I’ll try to include each post that highlights the fish counts.  I redrew fish diagrams based off of the fish in the handy book, “Reef Fish Identification” by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach.  I thought you’d also like to see what these fish look like.  *Keep in mind that this first day was pretty low in fish count due to our location. 

Fish Count day 1
NOAA Pisces SEFIS Fish Count, July 16, 2019



Personal Log

This is now my fourth day on the ship.  My journey began around 9:20 am Sunday with a ride to the airport.  From there I jumped on a flight from TLH to Charlotte. Followed by a steamy flight to New Bern, NC and a 45 minute drive to Morehead City, NC.  There I met up with NOAA scientist, Nate Bacheler who showed me around the ship and introduced me to everybody on board.  Starting Monday morning the rest of the crew, including all of the scientists, started showing up.  I’ve been getting used to life aboard a research vessel and loving the view!

General Updates:

  1. The seas have been calm, and so far, no seasickness. 
  2. The food has been delicious – thank you Dana and Rey. 
  3. So far my favorite animal is the flying fish.  I’ve seen dozens – my next task is to figure out how to get some epic footage. 
  4. The science team is very dedicated, interesting, diverse, hardworking, and super smart!  Stay tuned for interviews. 

Neato Facts =

NOAA Ship Pisces can travel at speeds up to 18.4 mph (16 knots). How fast is that?  Let’s compare it to two famous marine organisms.

Pisces vs Great White and Jelly Fish
Pisces vs Great White and Jelly Fish


Yesterday I ate a banana.  No big deal, right?  Wrong.  Even though I didn’t buy the banana or bring the banana onboard, some folks looked at me sideways.  They said, “Do you know what it means to have a banana on a boat?!” and “Be sure to ask your students why it’s a bad idea to have bananas on a boat”.  So I got to asking around and turns out that bananas and boats don’t mix well in the land of the superstitious.  Supposedly, bananas cause bad luck, and many seasoned sailors refuse to let them on their boats.  So far no bad luck… but then again, today has been a low fish count day (see diagram above).  Might be my fault!

It’s only been two day and already my mind is spinning with interesting information, undecipherable acronyms, and new nautical terms.  Stay tuned for: interviews, fish count background and techniques, swim bladder chemistry, tour of the ship, and survey science.  What else would you like to learn about?  Coming up:  What’s a knot?!  Please post questions and comments below!

4 responses to “David Madden: Calm Seas, Flying Fish, and Bananas, July 16, 2019

  1. Cool stuff! I have a few questions, dear scientist:
    1. Did you really draw all those fish? And the boat, too?
    2. If an emergency situation happened, are you close enough to shore that you could be rescued easily (I hope!)?
    3. Have you seen any sharks?!
    Have fun!

  2. Hi Kath! Thanks for commenting.
    1. Yes, sorta. Here’s what I did. I drew all the pictures using an app called procreate on the ipad. I either looked at and drew, or took pictures and more or less traced/re-drew the pictures of the fish, adding and subtracting certain features in order to make it simplified and easy to view. I did draw the fish free hand with sharpies on a styrofoam cup yesterday – stay tuned for why…
    2. Yes, we’re still fairly close. 15-20 miles or so. Too far to swim, but close enough that rescue wouldn’t take long. And very unlikely that we’d have to go 24 hours without water.
    3. I have seen two sharks so far with my eyes, and one shark via the underwater cameras on the fish traps. One scientist caught a small (2.5 foot shark) and one had a six footer on the line, but the line snapped. And the underwater shark was a tiger shark – check out the next blog post for a picture. When I get back I’ll upload the video.

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