Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef Expedition 2012
Mission Information

Friday: May 18, 2012
Log Day 4

Chris Gardner
NOAA Fisheries Service

Chevron trap with fish

Chevron trap with fish
(Photo: Greg McFall)

As one of the four divers from the NOAA Fisheries Laboratory in Panama City, FL, I participated in the fish telemetry component of the 2012 Gray's Reef expedition, my job was to hold the fish during the surgery to implant transmitters in the fish.

Once a fish has been transferred from the trap to a net for surgery, it must be controlled for the surgeon to steadily and safely place the acoustic tag and suture the wound shut. This, while not complex, does present its own suite of challenges. For one, the fish must be subdued in such a manner as to not injure them, but at the same time maintain a steady grip.

Overhead view of acoustic tagging activity

Overhead view of acoustic tagging activity; guarding (l) surgery (c) and trapped fish removal (r)
(Photo: Greg McFall)

For the groupers we have worked with so far, holding both the upper and lower jaw together between thumb and fingers has worked out well. Luckily, when the fish are turned upside down, most quickly calm down. This allows the surgeon to proceed while damaging as little tissue as possible due to a thrashing animal. One challenge, though, is that the handler cannot ease their grip or the fish will struggle. This is generally preceded by an increase in respiration rate (from the head on angle, one has a clear view of gill movement). Without easing your grip, one's hands are unavailable to monitor such things as gas consumption and bottom time, so it is important to be mindful of these before the procedure is started.

Chris Gardner (l) holds fish while Paul Barbera (r) performs surgery, assisted by Sarah Fangman

Chris Gardner (l) holds fish while Paul Barbera (r) performs surgery, assisted by Sarah Fangman (c)
(Photo:Greg McFall)

While focused on these fish, such that the mission of implanting tags is successful and the fish are not harmed, we are very thankful for our safety divers who allow one to focus at the task at hand without worrying about what might be swimming nearby.

It's always a pleasure to work with motivated and professional divers and crew.


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