Meet Our Team: Melissa Soto

1. What’s your role in the lab?
My name is Melissa Soto and my time at RJD has just begun. I am excited to see what the future has in store. At the moment, I assist with Twitter and write for the blog. I normally do about two tweets per day around 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. I try and switch it up between upcoming trips, photos/videos of previous trips or recently written articles relating to marine conservation locally or throughout the world.

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2. Tell us a little about yourself.
I am from Miami, Florida and spend most of my time outdoors. Growing up as a competitive swimmer, a pool or the ocean is where you’ll find me. I enjoy reading and passing the time with my family and friends. I do have a strong passion for traveling and I’m always thinking of where I’m headed to next.

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3. How did you get interested in marine biology and conservation?
I became interested in marine conservation by growing up in Miami, studying abroad in Australia, and being a swimmer. Since I am a writer and not a scientist, I believe it is compulsory for the general public to understand what is happening to our marine world and what they can do to help. Sometimes it’s difficult to get that across to people who are not part of the science world and that’s where I come in. I try to simplify things and hope that by me doing that people will take part in conserving the ocean in anyway they please.


4. What’s your favorite part about working in the lab?
My favorite part about being a member of RJD is how kind everyone is. Although I have just started, everyone has been very helpful and friendly. I also like how organized and efficient everything is. From trip scheduling to receiving details about who is in charge of what, the lab is very orderly.

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5. Is there anything else you’d like to tell our blog readers?
I want the readers to know they shouldn’t be scared of the ocean; there is plenty to learn! If they stay knowledgeable through valid sources instead of hearsay, there should be no reason for fear. The ocean has so many regions filled with life that have yet to be discovered. We need readers who are passionate to become educated and take action.

Shark tagging with South Broward High School

by Daniela Escontrela, RJD Intern

I was out on the boat for another day of shark tagging. I was excited because I hadn’t been out much this semester and wanted to see what the day would bring. This was a particularly happy day for me because my mom would be going on the boat with me. After three years with the program she had only seen what I did once before so I had high hopes for the day.

Once we go to Crandon Marina we loaded gear onto the boat and did the usual pre trip checklist. Soon enough the participants, students from South Broward High School, arrived. South Broward high school has been coming out with us for a few years now and I definitely recognized a lot of repeat faces.

Before leaving the dock we introduced ourselves and talked about the day’s activities. Then we were underway to Soldier Key where we deployed ten drumlines. Emily had been at this site the previous day and caught some good things so I was very hopeful. During the hour wait we talked about the work up procedure with the students.

One of the participants from South Broward High School helps deploy a drumline

One of the participants from South Broward High School helps deploy a drumline

Once the hour passed we were picking up lines. The first six lines came up empty, and then on my favorite number, line seven, we got something big. The water was clear and we could see a massive shadow gliding over the bottom, swimming effortlessly despite our attempts to pull it near the boat. After a little effort we managed to bring it close and slide it onto our partially submerged platform. The massive creature was a bull shark, which we presumed may have been pregnant because of how wide she was. She came in at an incredible 271 cm (~8.9 feet). I was holding down her head and it was impressive to see how such a huge animal with such a bad reputation stayed there without fighting. We quickly worked up this shark and soon enough we sent her on her way, kicking strong.

A student helps with the nictitating membrane reflex test which helps assess stress levels

A student helps with the nictitating membrane reflex test which helps assess stress levels

We kept picking up lines and our second set of ten lines came up empty. However we did manage to catch three more nurse sharks. One of them managed to pop off our hook before we could bring it on the platform and work it up. However, another one of the three was one of the smallest nurse sharks I had ever worked up.

 A participant tags a small nurse shark captured that day

A participant tags a small nurse shark captured that day

It was an incredible day of shark tagging and I felt lucky to have been able to be on the boat that day. Being on the boat reminds me of how lucky I am to be able to interact with a species that is so misunderstood yet so threatened. I will definitely be looking forward to my next shark tagging trip.

Shark Tagging with Trinity Prep

by Jessica Wingar, RJD Intern

It was raining on and off when I woke up on Saturday morning. However, this rain didn’t deter me from my excitement of heading to the Seaquarium for a great day of shark tagging. I went to pick up Kyra to drive over to Key Biscayne, and we kept talking about all the possibilities of this trip; she was extremely eager to get out on the boat seeing as she went to Trinity Prep.

We got to the boat around 7:30am. For this trip we were on the Maven with Captain Eric. The gear for the day was loaded easily onto the boat with the help from the high schoolers at Trinity Prep; they were a great help. Once we had everything and everyone loaded onto the boat, we set off for the Key Biscayne Channel. I was very excited about this spot because the week before we had caught and got samples from six sharks.

All of the students, Rose Eveleth, a science journalist, and the RJD team were buzzing with anticipation as we drove out to the site. Although it was starting to sprinkle with rain again, we didn’t let that deter us from getting our jobs done. On the way out to the site, David gave everyone a briefing about the research that RJD is doing and why we use the research methods that we do; everyone was really thrilled to hear about all the good work being done.

Rose with David and Austin

Rose with David and Austin

Once we got to the site, we started to put the drumlines out. We put the first set of ten out and waited for the hour soak time. Once, we had waited an hour and finished eating lunch, we started to pull in the first ten lines. The first ten lines had no sharks on them. We went back out for the second set and no sharks. Morale was starting to decline and especially because it had started to rain again. However, just in time, on one of the last lines of the last set we got a beautiful bull shark. She was about seven feet long. We quickly did the work up with the help of our amazing team on board and the shark was released in great health.

At this point, we decided that we were going to put out the remaining lines that we hadn’t wrapped up for the day. We were so glad that we did this because on one of the lines was a female nurse shark about the same size as the bull shark. Again, our team on board sprung into action, and the work up was done quickly and safely. She was released in excellent health and she provided us with a lot of good data.


Collin and I safely release the nurse shark back into the ocean

Collin and I safely release the nurse shark back into the ocean

It was a great day of shark tagging, and we didn’t let the crazy weather stop us. However, we were glad that the downpour waited until we got back to shore. Every trip I go on holds something different, but no matter what they are always incredible. I can’t believe that I am lucky enough to have this opportunity to aid in the conservation of these animals!

Trinity Prep poses with “Sharkie.”

Trinity Prep poses with “Sharkie.”

New Educational Activity: Mercury & Sharks

Bioaccumulation of Mercury in Sharks: Part 1With great excitement, we would like to announce a brand-new educational activity now offered here on the RJD website! Utilizing a subset of data from RJD shark research trips, you can investigate the bioaccumulation of methyl mercury in South Florida shark populations.

Broken down into two worksheets, the first part will provide you with a strong background knowledge of what bioaccumulation is and how methyl mercury affects human health.

Bioaccumulation of Mercury in Sharks: Part 2The second part will walk you through a color-coded Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, organizing and analyzing mercury values found in shark muscle tissue. Then, you will be asked to draw conclusions based on your findings.

As a note, the curriculum is geared toward high school students and above, but anyone is welcome to give it a try! We hope that you will enjoy this new activity, and share your feedback with us. Also, feel free to explore our opportunities for participation in the field, collecting data just like what is used in this worksheet.

Some say nothing is perfect. I beg to differ

Saturday, May 5th by Virginia Ansaladi, RJD lab manager

It’s that time in the semester again when you can’t even remember what the ocean looks like – or the sun for that matter. 5-Hour Energys are your best friend and all nighters are like that guy from high school who just realized you’re the only one he knows in the chemical oceanography class he’s having trouble with – you can’t avoid them no matter what you do. Needless to say, I was PUMPED about spending a day on the water to get away from it all. Little did I know what a truly amazing day it was going to be.

We RJD folk like to carpool to relieve that monotonous 2 hour drive down to Islamorada where we go fishing, so I was up by 5am collecting my things before heading out to pick up my fellow RJD buddies. Turns out it had been a long week for everyone so I had a couple bobbing heads on the way down that highlighted my own tiredness. Luckily, fellow intern, James Komisarjevsky, is a grade A copilot and supplied me with energizing fruity V8 deliciousness, because as soon as w got there it was go go go. We loaded the boat, collected forms from our participants, and we were off – with quite an eclectic group might I add.

We had members from Shark Whisperers charity, Shark Savers advocacy group, and shark lovers from the community at large out with us today. A really great group to have aboard – lots of questions, lots of interesting conversation, but most of all, lots of enthusiasm.

The conditions were perfect out for sampling one of our deeper sites (a chance we don’t get often), so we attached some extension lines to our drumlines and dropped our first ten 150 feet down into the blue. And what do you know? Not only was the weather cooperating, but so were the fish.

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Apply for the RJ Dunlap Wildlife Field Photography Internship!

Reposted from the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program Facebook Fan Page

Ideal Candidate:

 Seeking upper-level undergraduate students, graduate students, or recent graduates with a passion for photography, the ocean, and conservation. Photographers of all backgrounds will be considered, but all applicants must be comfortable on boats. Applicants must have a high degree of self-motivation and creativity, as well as enjoy interacting in an educational outreach setting.


 Each semester, the RJD Program offers two internship positions exclusively for photographers of all backgrounds. A Field Photography Intern accompanies the RJD Shark Research Team on shark tagging trips in the Florida Keys to cover journalistic, artistic, scientific, and PR perspectives. Photography will likely be used in a variety of outlets, such as social media, RJD website, PR for RJD, RSMAS, and the main campus of UMiami, scientific publications, fundraising campaigns, educational videos and learning resources, and potentially mass media.

The shark trips serve not only as a platform for cutting edge research, but also for educational outreach. Last year alone, RJD brought nearly 1000 high school students onto the water for hands-on research field experience in marine science. Providing these students with access to professional-grade photography will enable them to more effectively share their experience with peers, family and friends, expanding the potential outreach effect.

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