15 things the Shark Research program at UM accomplished in 2015

It’s been a great year for our team! Here are some of our accomplishments from 2015:

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  1. We published a paper using evolutionary theory to predict extinction risk, and it was featured on the cover of Trends in Ecology in Evolution!

TREE-cover2. We took 1,321 guests from the community out on the shark research boat with us. They ranged in age from 10 to 80, and came from 43 U.S. states and 49 countries.

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3. We published a paper showing that seals hunt and kill sharks, and it was featured on the cover of the African Journal of Marine Science!

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4. Members of our team spoke to hundreds of middle school, high school and college students about marine biology and conservation!

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5. We published ten more scientific papers on a variety of topics!

6. We deployed 1,961 drumlines during 61 days of sampling, and we caught, measured, sampled, tagged and released 323 sharks of 12 species!

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7. We welcomed our largest-ever class of interns!

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8. We deployed 14 satellite tags! You can track all of our satellite tagged sharks here using Google Earth! We also deployed 22 acoustic tags!

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9. Our team participated in community outreach events, including Taste of the Sea, Rock the Oceans, and the Frost Science Museum’s Underwater Festival!

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10. Our satellite tracking data was used by the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate essential fish habitat for Atlantic highly migratory species!

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11. Our team presented research at the American Elasmobranch Society conference!

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12. The biggest shark we tagged this year was a 450 cm (nearly 15 foot) great hammerhead!

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13. Our director Dr. Neil Hammerschlag served on the scientific advisory committee for the Fish at Night conference, and several members of our team presented their research there! Read tweets from the meeting here: 

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14. Our research was widely covered in the media, including Discovery News and Smithsonian Magazine. 

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15. We co-hosted shark trivia night with the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence!

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Shark tagging with IMPACT

by Melissa Soto, RJD intern

It was a hot and sunny Thursday morning as I drove down to Key Biscayne to meet the rest of RJD at the marina. Once all the RJD members arrived, we filled the boat up with the equipment and waited for our spectators. As soon as they stepped off their school bus, IMPACT was filled with enthusiasm and energy.

As the boat took off from the marina, RJD members explained what IMPACT would do for the day. They would help RJD in the work up of the sharks, which consist of measuring different lengths, testing for nictitating membranes, tagging the shark, gathering a fin clip sample and more!

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Our day started off a bit slow but then we caught a Nurse Shark. The shark was 127 cm so the work up was done very calmly and quickly. Within minutes the shark was back in the water swimming freely.

Next we reeled in a Black Tip shark. This shark was also quite small. We had the students come up and help collect our data research. Most of these children had never seen a shark before. This moment created so much excitement and joy in their lives.

Our next two sharks were Great Hammerheads. The first one was 250 cm and the second was 202 cm. The work up was done in a timely fashion and both sharks were released unharmed.

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Overall, this was an incredible day. IMPACT is always a phenomenal group to have on our trips, as they are always ready to go and see what’s out there. We cannot wait to have you on our next trip!

Meet Our Team: David Shiffman

1. What’s your role in the lab?
My interdisciplinary Ph.D. research focuses on the ecosystem role of sharks in coastal south Florida, and how different groups of stakeholders perceive that ecosystem role. I also run our social media accounts, help train our interns, and serve as a trip leader on shark research expeditions. You can learn more about my skills and background here

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2. Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m originally from Pittsburgh, I went to Duke for my undergraduate education, and I got my Masters in marine biology at the College of Charleston. When I’m not working, I enjoy playing board games or video games with my fiancee, or playing with our puppy. My favorite shark is the sandbar shark. I studied newborn sandbar sharks for my Masters research, and now I get to study the adults, like this one below!

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3. How did you get interested in marine biology and conservation?
I’ve been interested in sharks as long as my family can remember, and no one can really remember what started it. Most kids seem to go through a shark thing or a dinosaur thing, and I actually had both. I got SCUBA certified as soon as I was old enough, and spent my summers at marine biology camp in the Florida Keys, where I later worked as the shark biology instructor.

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4. What’s your favorite part about working in the lab?
In addition to all of the wonderful people I get to work with, I really enjoy the lab’s outreach efforts. On every research trip, we bring a group with us. That means that every time I go out tagging sharks, I get to see what I do through the eyes of someone who has never seen a shark before!

Meet Our Team: Emily Rose Nelson

1. What’s your role in the lab?
Hey guys, I’m Emily! I’ve been working with the Shark Research Team at the University of Miami for about 4 years now. During my time with the RJ Dunlap program I have been involved with a number of projects. I have been the shark satellite tracking coordinator since 2013. I am responsible for keeping track of all our satellite tagged sharks. Nightly, I receive emails that indicate which of our sharks have transmitted throughout the day. Using a number of different databases I can then examine the location and movement of animals. From here, the tracks are updated on our website so the public can view the animal’s movement in near real time. The information we receive from these tags is used for numerous research projects going on in the lab to further enhance shark conservation. My current research involves looking at the movement patterns of tiger sharks and comparing it to a number of different morphological variables. In particular, we are trying to determine what exactly (i.e. tail size, body condition, reproductive status) determines how far, how fast, and where an individual will move.

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2. Tell us a little about yourself.
I received my Bachelor of Science Degree in Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in 2014 and will be starting work towards my Masters of Science in Marine Affairs and Policy with Dr. Hammerschlag in Fall 2015. Outside of the lab, I can probably be found tutoring (I love working with kids) or playing with my dogs and cats. I love avocados, water skiing, concerts, Blackhawks hockey, and driving across the Rickenbacker Causeway.

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3. How did you get interested in marine biology and conservation?
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to spend my life working with the ocean and the amazing creatures within it, forcing me out of my land-locked home town of Chicago.

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4. What’s your favorite part about working in the lab?
Working with the shark team at RSMAS has been one of the best experiences of my life. The adrenaline rush that comes after successfully completing a work up on a 350 centimeter tiger shark in the Bahamas is indescribable. Running statistical tests on a new set of data and finding a significant result is super exciting. However, the best part about being a member of this lab is the team I am surrounded by. It is an honor to work alongside some of the most talented and passionate people in the field. I am lucky to be able to learn something new from my colleagues every day and even luckier to call them some of my best friends.

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Meet Our Team: Pat Goebel

1. What’s your role in the lab?
As a master’s student in the lab, I am in charge of conducting my own research for my thesis and leading shark tagging expeditions. My research interests are behavioral ecology, predator/prey interactions and conservation. My current research primarily focuses on understanding some of the important ecological patterns of predators in an inshore tropical estuary, which serve as a critical nursery area for the coral reef-associated fishes in the region.

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2. Tell us a little about yourself.
I am originally from Cleveland, OH but moved down to South Florida about three years ago to attend graduate school for marine biology. When I am not studying or tagging sharks you can find me doing some kind of outdoor activity. I love the ocean and spend a lot of my time beneath it or around it. A new hobby of mine is paddle boarding. I get to exercise and be on the water at the same time. I always bring a mask and snorkel when ever I go out, you never know what you might see.

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3. How did you get interested in marine biology and conservation?
One of my early memories from my childhood is walking along the beaches of the Outer Banks while vacationing with my family in North Carolina.  We stumbled upon a large commercial gill net that had been left on the shore.  The net contained numerous trapped live fish that the fishermen had deemed unworthy of bringing to market. My siblings and I hustled to free the bycatch, which included several small sharks. Ever since that day, I have been completely intrigued by marine biology.

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4. What’s your favorite part about working in the lab?
One of my favorite parts is that I get to work on several projects that are actually making a difference in the world. Being able to hopefully prevent species from going extinct is the ultimate goal. The best part is that I get to do this while working with some very passionate people whom I call my friends.

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5. Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
The thought of jumping into shark “infested” waters is what many people consider a nightmare. For me, it is a dream come true, a once in a lifetime chance. If you get the chance, take it, there is no reason to fear sharks. We fear what we don’t know or understand. This “unknown” is a lure to discover. The unknown is not what to be afraid of, it’s only when the unknown becomes known that one can decide whether to be afraid or not – Markus Peterson

Lastly, as tool to reach the public, I created an Instagram account (@sharkman__). I use this account to broadcast pictures and videos of sharks and other marine life, which have been obtained doing field research. My goal is to change the negative perception of sharks and the ocean. I encourage you to follow along.

 

Meet Our Team: Robbie Roemer

1. What’s your role in the lab?
I am a Masters of Science (MS) student here at the University of Miami and am focusing on a research project for my thesis. My thesis research is primarily focusing on localized movements of urbanized shark populations, or in other words, sharks that spend long amounts of time in highly urbanized environments. We always view sharks as those which are sensitive to human impacts (pollution, habitat modification, etc.) however it would be very interesting to see show that certain species have learned to thrive in such ecosystems, much like a pigeon in a city. I am also responsible for prepping all the gear that is needed before every shark expedition we take, which also provides a good time to unwind and put on any good music while doing so. Right now its 311, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Silversun Pickups.

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2. Tell us a little about yourself.
I am originally from Baldwin, Maryland, which is somewhat close to Towson if you’ve managed to hear about it. If not, lets just settle on Baltimore! I was raised on the banks of the Gunpowder River, and as such, developed a real affinity for fly fishing which my parents and grandfather fostered. In addition to fly fishing I loved anything that allowed me to be outside, and get exercise. I enjoyed boating, surfing, sailing and canoeing growing up. If I’m not conducting shark research you will find me fly fishing around the greater Miami area (a perfect location for such a sport) or doing a number of outside activities like kayaking or paddle boarding.

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3. How did you get interested in marine biology and conservation?
Being raised in such a dynamic area as northern Maryland, I was lucky to be within a close reach of the Chesapeake Bay, many freshwater streams, and the ocean was only a few hours drive. With such a variety of aquatic environments nearby, and my affinity for fishing, my interest for the marine sciences grew.  My parents always noticed my interest in aquatic sciences and I was fortunate to get involved by volunteering at an estuary center at an extremely early age. This later developed into a passion for fisheries, a great segue for my undergraduate degree in Marine Science where my interest of elasmobranch ecology began. I owe my parents a large amount of gratitude for their encouragement. They always helped foster my passion, and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.

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4. What’s your favorite part about working in the lab?
We have some of the most unique students all working collaboratively and efficiently. Everybody gets along great, and honestly a lot of us are more like a family than lab mates. We encourage and push each other to be the best we can be, and after all is said and done we can all go out, grab food, and laugh until we cry.

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5. Is there anything you’d like to say to our blog readers?
I hope through the course of our research and outreach (and our colleague’s research that have appeared on shark week) that your ideas and preconceived notions of sharks are changing. These are regal creatures that must be preserved, not just for their own protection, but also for the conservation of the entire aquatic ecosystem.