Karen Grady: Observations and Data Collection Today Leads to Knowledge In The Future, April 25, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – April 20, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 25, 2017


Weather Data:

I am back settled into the crazy weather that is spring in Arkansas. Supposed to be 90 degrees today and then storms tomorrow.

Science and Technology Log

The second leg of the Oregon II’s experimental longline survey is now complete.  The ship and all the crew are safely back in the harbor.  Fourteen days at sea allows for a lot of data to be gathered by the science crew.

Now, an obvious question would be what do they do with all the data and the samples that  were collected? The largest thing from this experimental survey is looking at catch data and the different bait types that were used to see if there were differences in the species caught/numbers caught etc. They are also able to look at species compositions during a different time frame than the annual survey and different depth ranges with the much deeper sets. Fin clips were taken from certain species of sharks. Each fin clip can be tied to a specific shark that was also tagged.  If anyone ever wanted or needed to they could trace that fin clip back to the specific shark, the latitude and longitude of where it was taken, and the conditions found in the water column on that day.  Everything the scientists do is geared towards collecting data and providing as many details as possible for the big picture.

Occasionally sharks are captured and do not survive, but even these instances provide an opportunity to sample things like vertebrae for ageing studies or to look at reproductive stages. Science is always at work.  With the ultrasound machine on board we were able to use it on a couple of the sharpnose sharks and determine if they were pregnant .


Ultrasounding female Sharp Nose sharks to see how may pups they were carrying.


Parasites… did you know sharks and fish can have parasites on them? Yes, they do and we caught a few on this leg. Sharks or fish caught with parasites were sampled to pass along to other researchers to use for identification purposes. Kristin showed me evidence of a skin parasite on several of the small sharks. It looked like an Etch-A-Sketch drawing.

etchisketch 2
This shark had whole mural on the underside from the parasites
etchisketch 1
Shark underside marred by parasite infection

Red snapper were also sampled at times on the survey to look deeper into their life history  and ecology. Muscle tissue was collected to look at ecotoxicity within the fish (what it has been exposed to throughout out its lifetime); along with otoliths to estimate age. We are using muscle tissue to examine carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. Each element looks into where that fish lives within the food web. For instance, carbon can help provide information about the basal primary producers, nitrogen can help to estimate the trophic level of the fish within the ecosystem, and sulfur can try to determine if the fish feeds on benthic or pelagic organisms. Otoliths are the ear bones of the fish. There are three different types of ear bones; however, sagittal ear bones (the largest of the three) will be sectioned through the core and read like a tree. Each ring is presumed to represent one year of growth.


red snapper1
Red Snapper caught and used for sample collection
paul red snapper
Paul Felts removing a hook
redsnapper head
Sometimes someone bigger swims by while a fish is on the hook

Personal Log

Now that I am home and settled I still had a few things to share. One it was great to get home to my family, but as I was warned by the science crew it does take a couple of days to adjust to the usual schedule.  It did feel good to go for a jog around town instead of having to face the Jacob’s Ladder again!


Everyone asks me if I had a good time, if it was scary, if we caught any sharks. I just don’t think there are words to express what an amazing experience this was for me.  Of course, seeing the sharks up close was just beyond words, but it was also being made a part of a working science team that are working year-round to monitor the health of the ocean and the species that live there. For me this was a two-week section of my life where I got to live on the ocean and catch sharks while learning a little about the data the science crew collects and how they use it.  The science crew will all be back out on the ocean on different legs over the next few months.

I confess I am not super hi tech, so I am not proficient with a Gopro so I probably missed out on making the best films. However, I did get some excellent photos and some good photos of some impressive sharks.  Thanks to technology I will be able to create slide shows to my K-12 students so they can see the experience through my eyes.  I am looking forward to showing these slide shows to my students. My elementary students were so excited to have me back that they made me feel like a celebrity.  I was gone a little over two weeks and to my younger students it seemed forever.  Many of the teachers shared some of my trip with the students so they would know where I was and what I was doing.

I am settled back into my regular schedule at school. One awesome thing about my job is that I deal with students from kindergarten through seniors.   I started back with my elementary students yesterday.  Let me just say that young people can make you feel like a Rockstar when you have been gone for 15 days.  I knocked on a classroom door and could hear the students yelling “ she’s here! Mrs. Grady is here!” and then there were the hugs. Young kids are so genuine and they have an excitement and love of learning.  I have to get busy on my power point to share with them.  They wanted a list of sharks we caught, how big they were, etc.  I am getting exactly what I hoped, the students want to understand what I did on the ship, why we did these things and what did I actually learn.

For my last blog, I have decided to share some of my favorite photos from my time on the Oregon II.

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Karen Grady: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish …… Weird Fish, April 10, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – April 20, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 10, 2017

Weather Data

Latitude 2827.10
Longitude 09148.6
75 degrees
No precipitation
Winds at 10 KTS
Waves at 2-4 FT

Science and Technology Log

We have continued to move between deep stations setting the baited line and hoping to catch deep water fish and sharks. These deep sets require longer soaking time to allow the hooks to reach the bottom.   The downside is that we have been retrieving one set of gear and putting out one set of gear in a 12 hour period of time. Some sets have a few fish and some we get a big goose egg.   There is always anticipation though as the 100 hooks are brought up. Everyone stands in their spots waiting to hear either “fish on,” “shark” or everyone’s favorite, “hard hats!” which means there is a big shark and it’s time for the sling. Below you will see the awesome Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) we caught.

TAS Karen Grady 4-13-17 great hammerhead
Great Hammerhead Shark

The first few days we have been fishing deep in the Mississippi Canyon. The Mississippi Canyon is a geological formation in the Gulf of Mexico. It is located in an area which is part of the territorial waters of the United States. We put out some deep lines with the deepest at 1900 feet. These lines soaked four hours once fully deployed.  They soak longer because they have so far to sink to get to the depth the scientists want to fish at. When we deploy a line the first thing in the water is the High Flyer, which stands like a beacon and bobs in the water marking the start of our fishing line. The next thing over the side of the ship is a weight that helps carry the line to the desired depth. Halfway through, another weight is deployed, and after the 100th hook, the third weight goes in.   The last thing over is another High Flyer to mark the end of the line. If it is dark outside, the High Flyers have lights attached on top that flash so that they can be seen.

TAS Karen Grady launching high flyer
“High Flyers” mark the beginning and the end of the long line set.

At our last deep station we caught a Mexican Grenadier, Coryphaenoides mexicanus. This fish is very unusual in color and appearance. If you feel the scales on the fish you find that they are very unique. Each scale has tiny sharp, thin spinules. As you run your hand over the fish you can feel these scale modifications. The eyes are bulged due to the pressure change of coming up from such deep depths. The scientists determined the sex of the Grenadier and then it was frozen for future study.

TAS Karen Grady 4-13-17 grenadier
Mexican Grenadier

We also caught two Cutthroat Eels, from the family Synaphobranchidae, that were both females. Synaphobranch means unified gill… the two gill slits join together making it look like a cut throat. They are bottom-dwelling fish, found in deep waters. The eels were weighed, measured, and the scientists determined the sex and maturity of each eel. It is important that they make accurate identification of specimens and collect data. The scientists work together using personal knowledge and books when necessary. There are times on deck when the scientists will stop to examine a species and will take multiple pictures of certain identifying parts so that they can look at them closely later.


Personal Log

One of the great things during a watch is being able to talk with the scientists. I am an avid listener and observer. This is what they do year in and year out and they love what they do. I am a quiet observer a lot of the time. I listen and then ask questions later. It’s not exactly easy to carry around paper and pencil to take notes. But during the transit portions or soak times I ask more questions and gather information to share in my blog posts or for the lesson plan I will be writing when I get home.

The food has been great here on the ship. Our stewards have fresh salads, and menus that include two main course options, a daily soup, dessert and multiple side choices.   There are snacks available 24/7 so you are never hungry. Because the meals are so great you see most people trying to fit in a workout during the day. I have been introduced to the Jacob’s ladder for workouts. I never liked hills and now I can say I don’t like climbing ladder rungs either. That machine is evil!! However, I will continue to do cardio on it as the food is excellent and keeping food in your stomach helps prevent sea sickness. I will happily eat more than I usually do if it means I don’t get seasick. An example of a typical lunch would be today when we had choices of salad, reuben, tuna melt, french fries, sweet potato fries, cookies and several other sides.

Today started with us catching two Cutthroat Eels and a Mexican Grenadier. You can see from the pictures I have posted that they look very different from most fish that you see. They really are that color. It was a shock after the sleek sharks and the bright orange Red Snapper I had seen on previous sets. I was busy watching the scientists using their books and personal knowledge to identify each species accurately.   After we finished the work up on the fish we caught we headed for the next station. Now we are back to shallower fishing and expect to catch sharks, red snapper, and a variety of other fish.

TAS Karen Grady 4-13-17 grenadier and eels
Two cutthroat eels (top) and Mexican grenadier (bottom)

I can honestly say that the 12 hour shifts start wearing you down, and sleeping is not an issue once you climb under the covers. The waves will wake you up now and then. And some mornings I wake up and can smell them cooking breakfast but sleep overrides the smell of food because I know how long it will be till I get to bed again. Walking out on deck each morning to views like this does lead to a smile on your face, that and the music that is playing loudly on the deck. Yesterday it was Hair Nation…. taking me back to the 80’s.

TAS Karen Grady 4-13-17 blue water
View from the deck of NOAA Ship Oregon II

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is roughly 995 miles along its longer, east-west axis. It has a surface area of about 600,000 square miles.

A wide variety of physical adaptations allow sharks to thrive in the Gulf of Mexico. They have powerful smell receptors. The sensory organs lining their prominent snouts, called ampullae of Lorenzini, can detect movement of potential prey even if the sharks cannot see it. These sensory organs assist in trailing injured marine animals from great distances. They help sharks locate all sort of other things, too– shrimp boats, other sharks, birds, turtles (tiger sharks a big turtle eaters!), even boats that are dumping trash.

The skin on a shark is smooth if you run your hand head to tail and rough like sandpaper if you run your hand from tail to head. At one time, sharks skin was used as a form of sandpaper. The dermal denticles, or skin teeth, can be different from species to species and can sometimes be used as a character to look at when trying to identify one species from another.

Carmen Andrews: A Fishing Expedition in the Atlantic, July 11, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – July 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida
Date: July 11, 2012

Latitude: 29 ° 55.96’   N
Longitude: 80 ° 31.29’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 27.6°C (81.7°F)
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: from S
Surface Water Temperature: 28.12 °C (82.6°F)
Weather conditions: Fair

Science and Technology Log

Catching bottom fish at the reef

Pulling in a successful catch of reef fish provides scientists with an important sampling source of fish numbers and species diversity.

A good catch of scamp and gray triggerfish
A good catch of scamp and gray triggerfish

The process requires a systematic and complex capture protocol. As with any well-designed science investigation, the equipment needs to be robust and the sequence of steps in the process of fish takings must be followed with consistency. The methods and materials are kept as similar as possible in multiple sites over a wide area.

The area to be sampled is mapped out in advance with electronic navigation tools.

Nobeltech Map
Electronic Nobeltech Map display used to plan sampling sites for the reef fish survey

This habitat is where the targeted fish species – red and vermillion snapper, gray triggerfish, black sea bass, red porgy, scamp, squirrelfish, almaco jack and amberjack, among others – are most likely found.

Chevron fish traps are used to trap fish for scientific study. Fish trapping using these devices is not permitted by sport or commercial fishermen. When the traps are received from manufacturers, they are not rigged sufficiently to withstand the rigors of trapping fish near undersea ledge formations.

Traps are sometimes snagged on nearby ledges as they are hoisted toward the boat. The side where the cable is attached must be reinforced using a rebar rod to avoid deforming and possibly rupturing the trap.

David and Shelly attaching rebar to side of trap
David and Shelly attaching rebar to the side of a trap

Heavy metal ballast weights are fixed to the bottom of the traps and cable attachments are added on the reinforced side.

David and Adam P. are attaching cable hook ups to the side of a trap
David and Adam P. are attaching cable hook ups to the side of a trap

The trap’s wire lattice is cut at the top to create small openings for stringers (cords with attached wooden blocks) that dangle bait fish inside the trap. A larger opening is cut on one side of the trap to function as an escape hatch for trapped fish if the trap becomes unretrievably wedged at the bottom.

Shelly affixing zinc pop-ups
Shelly is affixing zinc pop-ups to the lost trap fish exit

Four stringers, each with four menhaden bait fish are tied and suspended into each trap’s quadrants, and attached to the trap bottom with a clasp. Additional menhaden are scattered on the floor of each trap.

Menhaden bait fish
Menhaden bait fish

Underwater video cameras are attached above the entrance of the trap and on the opposite side. The entrance camera monitors fish that may be entering the trap. The other camera allows scientists examine the habitat near the trap and to note other species in the vicinity.

Nate and Shelly are mounting underwater video cameras
Nate and Shelly are mounting underwater video cameras

The traps are readied for deployment on the stern of the R/V Savannah. A horn blast from the wheel house signals when the boat is positioned over the reef coordinates.

Nate Bacheler and Capt. Sweatte
Captain Sweatte, at left is piloting the R/V Savannah, while Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler signals to the stern when to drop a fish trap.

The trap is pushed off the back deck and sinks to the bottom.

Shelly and me dropping a fish trap from the stern of the R/V Savannah
Shelly and I are dropping a fish trap from the stern of the R/V Savannah

Two floating numbered “poly balls” are clipped to each trap. They are released one by one after the trap goes down. Six pairs of poly balls function as buoys to mark the pick-up location of each trap.

Poly ball buoys marking location of fish traps
Poly ball buoys marking location of fish traps

After all the traps are in place, a CTD is lowered over the side of the boat to determine conductivity, temperature and depth, as well as salinity, of the fish sampling site. CTD data is transmitted and stored electronically in the dry lab.

CTD submerging
CTD is being lowered to measure conductivity, temperature and salinity of the area where fish traps have been set

Ninety minutes after they are dropped, the fish traps are raised in the order in which they were laid.

Personal Log

Last night scientists and crew were line fishing for reef fish to supplement the trapped specimens. There were some amazing fish catches using the rods and reels off the stern of the R/V Savannah. I didn’t catch any fish, but I did manage to catch some amazing nighttime pictures of the activity with my camera.

Adam L. reeling in a hammerhead shark
Adam L. reeling in a hammerhead shark
Hammerhead being reeled to the surface
Hammerhead being reeled to the surface
Hammerhead shark breaking the surface of the water
Hammerhead shark breaking the surface of the water
Hammerhead being cut from fishing line for release
Hammerhead being cut from fishing line for release
Scientists and boat crew fishing the reef
Scientists and boat crew fishing the reef
First mate Pete holding a red snapper he just caught
First mate Pete holding a red snapper he just caught

Maureen Anderson: How Do You Catch A Shark? July 28, 2011 (Post #3)

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maureen Anderson
Aboard NOAA Ship
Oregon II (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 25 — August 9, 2011

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, July 28, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 27.34 N
Longitude: -080.03 W
Speed: 1.50 kts
Course: 97.00
Wind Speed: 12.19 kts
Wind Direction: 140.99
Surface Water Temperature: 27.40 C
Surface Water Salinity: 24.04 PSU
Air Temperature: 29.50 C
Relative Humidity: 72%
Barometric Pressure: 1018.06 mb

Science and Technology Log
Today we arrived at our first station. It took us a while (3 days) to get here. Where is here? We are off the eastern coast of Florida right now.

You might be wondering… how do you catch a shark? In order to collect data on sharks, the ship slowed down so that we could set bait and begin to fish. The bait was big chunks of mackerel placed onto hooks. (Mackerel is just one of many fish sharks enjoy eating). Then we attached a tag (with an identification number) to each hook and released it from the stern (back) of the ship. All together, there were 100 baited hooks on a monofilament line that was 1 nautical mile long (equal to 1.15 miles). The baited hooks were released every 60 feet. Then we waited one hour before hauling in the line. This kind of work takes teamwork – one person to get the tag ready, one person to attach the tag to the baited hook, and one person to make sure the line is going out steadily. There is also one person collecting data on a laptop about the tag number that went out. Pretty much, the job can’t be done without people working together.

Bait and Hooks
Here are 100 hooks baited with mackerel. Holy mackerel!
One Line for Bait and Hook
Here is the hook, line, tag, and bait.

One hour later, we began to haul in the line. Out of 100 hooks, we caught 4 sharks. There was one Atlantic sharpnose and three hammerheads. If the shark was small enough, we brought it aboard the deck to take measurements. If it was too large to bring in by hand, we used a cradle, which is basically a net with a strong frame that sits off the side of the boat. We measured the length in millimeters using a measuring board, mass in kilograms using a spring scale, gender (using our eyes), and took a tiny sample of the dorsal fin tissue (which helps with DNA identification). All of this is done within minutes. The shark data is collected very quickly so that we can get it back into the water as soon as possible.

This large cradle is used to support larger sharks.
measuring hammerhead
Here I am with a scalloped hammerhead. The measuring board is used to collect data on its size.

At our second station today, we caught many Atlantic Sharpnose and one Goliath Grouper. The grouper was enormous – 300 pounds! (as you can see in the picture below). We also tagged a shark using something called a Roto-tag. This small yellow device is attached to the middle of the dorsal fin and has identification information and a phone number to call if the shark is found. The shark was also injected with an antibiotic. It is deposited in the vertebrae as a fluorescent marker. The number of growth rings deposited in the vertebrae after the marker help scientists determine the shark’s age.  Kind of like rings on a tree trunk.

Goliath Grouper
Mark Grace, chief scientist, collects data on this Goliath Grouper

Try your luck with this math problem (keep your summer math rust-free!):
We cut up one whole mackerel into 4 pieces and place each piece on a hook. There are 100 hooks. We set out a line of 100 hooks 5 times a day. We do this repeatedly for 13 days.

Personal Log
At first I was a little hesitant to handle the sharks while they were on deck. But under the tutelage of our chief scientist, Mark Grace, I began to feel more confident (thanks Mark!)  He showed me how to hold the shark by the tail while also holding the mouth closed. Once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed it. After collecting data, I was able to release a few sharks back into the water and watch them swim away.

I had a hard time sleeping well last night because yesterday I took a 3 hour nap during the day to try to calm my stomach. But since my shift ends at midnight tonight, I’m sure I’ll fall asleep no problem.

I have been eating wonderful food cooked by our talented stewards (chefs). Some of our meals have included beef tenderloin, burgers, pork chops, biscuits, mashed potatoes…the list goes on (yes, there are some vegetables in there too!). Meal times are only scheduled for one hour, so if you know you will miss your meal due to a shift you can request that a plate be set aside for you. Of course there is unlimited cereal, snacks, sandwiches…and ice cream!

Now it’s off to bed after a long shift ending at midnight.

Species Seen Today:
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Goliath Grouper
Lemon Shark