Shark Tagging with Palmer Trinity Middle School

By Grace Roskar, SRC intern

The morning of Friday, April 29th was already proving that it would be a warm day as we set off for a day of shark tagging. Our guests, students from Palmer Trinity Middle School and Kelly and David, two citizen scientists from RSMAS, met the SRC team at Crandon Marina at 8:30 a.m. After trip leader David Shiffman gave a quick speech on what the day would be like for our student participants, we all gathered on the Diver’s Paradise boat to get underway. Captain Eric motored us out to the Safety Valve, a range of sand flats and tidal channels in Biscayne Bay that lies among the Stiltsville houses.

On our way out to the site, we noticed a dorsal fin cutting through the calm turquoise waters. A few seconds later, the large caudal fin appeared as well. SRC Masters student Robbie, who just published a paper on the subject, confirmed it was a hammerhead, presumably feeding on something in the shallows! We quickly started deploying gear in hopes to be able to catch and sample this hammerhead. We let the lines soak for one hour before retrieving them, and in the meantime, kept our glued to the the calm waters in case the hammerhead’s fins appeared again.

 A hammerhead fin appears at the surface.

A hammerhead fin appears at the surface.

An hour later, Palmer Trinity students got their first opportunity to participate by helping the SRC team pull in the baited drumlines. The hammerhead was not on any of the first ten drumlines, but we did catch a beautiful healthy blacktip! Pat and David secured the blacktip onto the deck of the boat and readied it for the quick work-up process. The students helped test the shark’s nictitating membrane to measure the shark’s stress levels, took several body length measurements, took a sample of the dorsal fin, and inserted a tag underneath the shark’s dorsal fin. Several other morphological measurements and a blood sample were taken from the shark before it was safely released back into the clear blue waters of Biscayne Bay.

A Palmer Trinity student helps deploy a drumline.

A Palmer Trinity student helps deploy a drumline.

On the next set of deployed drumlines, we pulled up a nurse shark that was on the smaller side. It was brought right onto the deck of the boat again, and after being safely secured, the next set of Palmer Trinity students helped with the work-up process again. This time, all the students were able to come down and touch the nurse shark, feeling its mosaic of dermal denticles. Because nurse sharks do not use ram ventilation to breathe, we were able to take a few minutes to let the students come down and feel the beautiful shark before needing to release it back into the water.

A water pump is placed in the shark’s mouth so that oxygenated seawater can flow over its gills during our quick work-up process. Here, it is evident where the blacknose shark gets its name!

A water pump is placed in the shark’s mouth so that oxygenated seawater can flow over its gills during our quick work-up process. Here, it is evident where the blacknose shark gets its name!

The next shark pulled up was a blacknose shark, a rarer species for the SRC team! They are a smaller shark species, and stress easily, so we ensured to do a quick workup for the shark’s health and safety. Blacknose sharks are known to reside in murkier waters, which means they are not often seen and rarely photographed. SRC team member member Pat was able to get in the water with the shark after its release, to film it swimming away in great condition. The calm and clear waters allowed for the students to look on from the boat as the shark swam away peacefully.

Overall, we caught three different species of shark, one of which was fairly rare for the SRC team to encounter, and saw a hammerhead feeding in the shallows. It was a great day of tagging with our participants from Palmer Trinity and RSMAS, and we hope to have them out again with us soon!

Shark tagging with St. Thomas Aquinas

By Grace Roskar, SRC Intern

The morning of April 23rd, 2016 felt like a summer day with its warmth and sunshine. St. Thomas Aquinas High School from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Dalton Hesley of UM’s Rescue a Reef Program joined the SRC team for a day of shark tagging. The group of young marine biology enthusiasts and our citizen scientist Dalton met the SRC team at Crandon Marina at 8 am to load the boat and get underway.
As we motored out to “Sandbar Palace,” a tagging site off of Miami Beach, trip leader and SRC graduate student Jake explained what a day of shark tagging would be like and the importance of shark research and conservation. Meanwhile, the SRC prepared drumlines with barracuda for bait. Extensions lines were also attached to the drumlines, as Sandbar Palace was considered an offshore site and the drumlines were deployed in 80-100 feet of water. The St. Thomas Aquinas students helped deploy the first set of ten drumlines and while they were soaking for an hour, Captain Nick motored the boat to a spot for swimming. Students and SRC members alike took a refreshing dip in the cool waters as a respite from the heat of the day. Once the swim break was over, we motored back to Sandbar Palace to pick up the drumlines in hopes there would be some sharks on them!
On line number 1, there was a scalloped hammerhead! This species, Sphyrna lewini, is classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species , and the Central & Southwest Atlantic population is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) . Thus, it is rare for SRC to see scalloped hammerheads, so it was quite the lucky catch! Due to the status of scalloped hammerheads and their tendency to become stressed more easily than other species, the SRC team performed an in-water workup of the male shark as quickly as possible to ensure a safe and expedient release of the shark. The 2.37 meter shark received a tag, and was released in a timely manner. The excitement onboard was palpable, coming from both the students and the SRC crew. The team was feeling extremely grateful to be able to sample such an incredible species, and most of the students were able to lay their eyes upon a hammerhead species for the first time.

A scalloped hammerhead is carefully secured in the water for a quick workup process

A scalloped hammerhead is carefully secured in the water for a quick workup process

To everyone’s surprise, line 4 had another scalloped hammerhead! The SRC team repeated the same in-water workup process in order to safely sample the 2.5 meter shark. We felt extremely grateful to have been able to sample not one, but two of these graceful apex predators while still on the first set of drumlines. Line 6 offered us another surprise- this time an octopus! As we pulled in the line, we noticed an octopus had suctioned itself onto the piece of barracuda bait. SRC intern Shannon carefully placed the octopus into a bucket of seawater to utilize the learning opportunity for the students. Shannon quickly explained their feeding mechanisms, basic anatomy, and other interesting cephalopod facts while the students peered into the bucket to examine the beautiful creature for a few minutes before it was safely placed back into the ocean.

St. Thomas Aquinas students helped pull in the rest of the set of the drumlines, and on line 10 was a great hammerhead! The great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) is also classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List[1] and we were grateful to see our second hammerhead species of the day. Again, an in-water workup was performed by the SRC team to ensure the quickest release possible for the biggest hammerhead of the day: 2.66 meters, or about 8.7 feet. We motored back to line 1 to pick up the second set of drumlines and picked up a sandbar shark (Squalus plumbeus), our third species of the day! The SRC team carefully brought the shark onto the platform at the stern of the boat and the St. Thomas Aquinas students finally had the chance to help work up a shark. The students helped test the shark’s nictitating membrane to test the shark’s stress levels, took several length measurements, took a sample of the dorsal fin, and inserted a tag into the shark’s dorsal fin. Several other morphological measurements and a blood sample were taken from the shark before it was safely released.

: SRC Masters student Jake secures a sandbar shark while a water pump is placed in its mouth to flush oxygenated seawater over the gills. This helps keep the sharks calm and healthy during the quick workup process

SRC Masters student Jake secures a sandbar shark while a water pump is placed in its mouth to flush oxygenated seawater over the gills. This helps keep the sharks calm and healthy during the quick workup process

Next on the line, a nurse shark was pulled up, one of the most common species that SRC is able to sample around the waters of Miami. This 2.32 meter nurse shark was also worked up by a team of St. Thomas Aquina students and the SRC team. After a quick workup, students were able to take a few moments to touch the shark and feel its dermal denticles, which are scales that are basically modified teeth, as dermal denticles means “small skin teeth.” Nurse shark dermal denticles are coarser than other shark species’ dermal denticles and look like a mosaic of a variety of brown and gray shades. On the same set of drumlines, three more sandbar sharks were pulled up and sampled.

Thanks St. Thomas Aquinas and Dalton for coming out with us for an amazing day of shark tagging!

Thanks St. Thomas Aquinas and Dalton for coming out with us for an amazing day of shark tagging!

On the third set of drumlines, yet another sandbar and scalloped hammerhead were pulled up – making it the third scalloped hammerhead of the day. The entire SRC team was in awe that we were so lucky to see three individuals of this rare and beautiful species, in just one day! The SRC crew members that have been with the program for a substantial amount of time concluded that this was indeed a rare sight and estimated that the program has probably caught less than ten scalloped hammerheads in its entire existence—which made our three for the day an even more incredible statistic. After ten sharks of four different species on thirty lines, the team and high school group was elated and grateful for such a spectacular day of shark tagging. Although it was a hot summer-like day, the high school students’ spirits remained high throughout the day and the SRC team was honored to have such enthusiastic guests helping us out on the boat for the day. We look forward to having St. Thomas Aquinas back out with the Shark Research and Conservation Program again soon!

13 things RJD did in 2013

2013 was a great year for the University of Miami’s RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, and we wanted to share some of the highlights with you!

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1) We caught, measured, sampled and tagged 318 sharks, including 34 bull sharks, 23 lemon sharks,54 blacktip sharks, 35 tiger sharks, 20 great hammerheads, and even a great white! This included a successful expedition to tiger beach in the Bahamas. 19 tiger sharks, 3 scalloped hammerhead sharks, 7 great hammerheads, 8 bull sharks, and 1 blacktip shark were satellite tagged.

Great white shark in the Florida Keys.

Great white shark in the Florida Keys.

2) We took 1,584 people, of which well over 1,000 were high school students, out on the boat with us to learn about sharks and other marine science and conservation issues!

Students from MAST academy, one of our long time partners

Students from MAST academy, one of our long time partners

3) We published a paper about illegal shark fishing in the Galapagos.

4) We shared hundreds of marine science and conservation news stories on the RJD Facebook page, which now has over 3,000 fans! You should “like” us!

5) We published a paper about great white sharks scavenging on whales! You can see the video abstract here.

6) Using the RJ Dunlap twitter account (you should follow us), we held a twitter TeachIn about marine protected areas! This innovative teaching technique was profiled in Nature!

7) We published a paper about tiger shark feeding ecology and physiology! 

8 ) We co-hosted ScienceOnline Oceans, a conference focusing on how marine scientists can use internet tools for education and collaboration! Several RJD staff, including two undergraduate interns, moderated sessions!

9) We published a paper showing how social media can help scientists to write papers!

10) RJD students and staff spoke about sharks in over a dozen local schools, as well as to schools all over the country via Skype. We spoke with over 500 students around the country, from 1st grade through college!

RJD student David (in the back, wearing the awesome shark shirt) and Ms. Roche's 5th grade class at Vineyards Elementary (Naples, FL) love sharks!

RJD student David (in the back, wearing the awesome shark shirt) and Ms. Roche’s 5th grade class at Vineyards Elementary (Naples, FL) love sharks!

11) We published a paper showing how social media can benefit conservation scientists!

12) We welcomed the largest new group of interns in RJD history!

Lab photo

13) RJD students and staff presented at several scientific conferences, including Benthic Ecology, the American Elasmobranch Society, the International Congress for Conservation Biology, and ScienceOnline Together!

Bonus: We partnered with Good World Games and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation to make Musingo, a music trivia app that helps the oceans!

2013 was a great year for the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, and we’re looking forward to an even better year in 2014! Thanks to all of our research collaborators, partners and donors! Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!


The RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program (RJD) is a joint initiative of the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science and Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. The mission of RJD is to advance ocean conservation and scientific literacy by conducting cutting edge scientific research and providing innovative and meaningful outreach opportunities for students through exhilarating hands-on research and virtual learning experiences in marine biology.

Featured Artist: Chris Fallows

by Frank Gibson, SRC media intern

When most people think of shark week, the first image that comes to their head is one of a Great White Shark soaring into the air in pursuit of seals. What most people may not know is that the man responsible for these incredible images is Chris Fallows. Chris began tagging sharks in South Africa in 1989 and with the help of local fisherman, was able to tag and release over 1500 sharks and Rays. It wasn’t until 1996 however when Chris and a fellow colleague discovered the fierce breach hunting tactics of the South African White Sharks. Chris uses this combination of location and time around sharks to educate and expose people first-hand to the awesome beauty of these apex predators in their natural environment.
Photo credit: Chris Fallows

Photo credit: Chris Fallows

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Shark Tagging with ScienceOnline Oceans

by Daniela Escontrela, RJD Intern

Another exciting day of shark tagging lay ahead and I was really excited to get out on the water before the week that lay ahead for me. Today was going to be an unusual trip; and in other aspects a first for RJD.

For one thing our group was going to have two half day trips with different groups in the morning and afternoon. On the other hand, while our trip was going out, another RJD trip would simultaneously be running with a different group and crew. We were both going shark tagging off Key Biscayne and while we were on the Diver’s Paradise Boat with Eric (our captain), the other trip was on the R/V Ensley with Curt.

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Sea Level Rise: How bad is it really going to be?

by Gabi Goodrich, RJD Intern

For years scientists have been discussing the effects of global warming, carbon emissions and those effects on the oceans. But how bad is it really? Currently the rate of sea-level rise is about 3.2 millimeters per year (about .13 inches per year) [1].  However, with our current output of carbon emissions, scientists say that rate will increase tenfold. This means we have “locked in” a fate of sea levels rising 1.3 – 1.9 meters (4.27 – 6.23 feet) higher than today. Anders Levermann and his team of scientists have found that the sea levels are hyper sensitive to global warming. In fact, for every degree Celsius increase in global temperature, sea levels will rise about 2.3 meters (7.55 feet).

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