Shark Tagging with the Children’s Wish Foundation

By Tim Hogan, SRC Intern

On the morning of Friday, April 8th, a crew of 10 SRC interns and their captain gathered together to prepare for a day of serendipity and many sharks. Our guests, associated with the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada, came along to meet our team leader, David Shiffman, and get some hands-on experience with the boat and sharks. The volunteer’s enthusiasm and eagerness to learn made them fit right in with the rest of the crew. After preparations were made, the Diver’s Paradise made its way to the Sandbar Palace, a deep reef with high productivity. It had previously been the site of very successful, high-catch trips, and hoped the same would occur on this day.

The second line we pulled up had tension, meaning that something was on the line. As it neared the boat, he was identified as a nurse shark, one of the more commonly caught species. This one, however, was extremely energetic and acrobatic, and began taking various evasive maneuvers, primarily consisting of twirls, flips, and twists. Eventually, he fulfilled his dream of becoming an escape artist, detaching from our line with no damage done to itself. Even though we couldn’t get any data from it, the early shark enhanced our optimism, the anticipation built with each retrieved line.

Our patience was quickly rewarded 5 lines later, as an even larger nurse was brought in with the buoy. This time, we managed to bring it onto the platform, and got the chance to collect our measurements and a blood sample. Our volunteers were eager to get involved and helped with the workup. During the downtime between lines, the volunteers took the opportunity to observe the blood analysis procedure, and also measured water samples.

 Shark Intern Leila AtallahBenson showing volunteers our blood analysis protocol

Shark Intern Leila AtallahBenson showing volunteers our blood analysis protocol

As the day progressed, we only seemed to get luckier with each drumline we pulled. On the second line on the third set, we could see the distinct dorsal fin of a great hammerhead approach the boat from the surface. The titan measured up to 328 cm (about 10’9” in the imperial system, which is basically twice my height), and it was released in good condition after our protocol. Less than five lines later, as if we received the blessings from the ocean itself, we brought in a scalloped hammerhead. Distinguished by a more curved head, it is one of the rarest sharks found on trips, and is caught three to five times a year. We went through our protocol quickly and cautiously to ensure it returned to the ocean in the best possible condition.

While we were perfectly content with our first two sets, our final ten lines had us end with a bang. Starting strong, we brought in the namesake of our site, the sandbar shark. The personal favorite of David, he was ecstatic beyond description as we went through our protocol. It was easy to see why, with its faint, iridescent skin and gorgeous color. Two lines later, we managed to pull in the most common shark in South Florida, the Atlantic sharpnose shark. Sharpnoses are typically much smaller out of most of the other species we catch. This one was in particular had a length of 116.5 centimeters, which is almost a meter shorter than the next smallest one.

The sharpnose is the most common shark in South Florida, and is also one of the smallest. The pump flows oxygenated water over its gills, ensuring that it can breathe while we do our workup

The sharpnose is the most common shark in South Florida, and is also one of the smallest. The pump flows oxygenated water over its gills, ensuring that it can breathe while we do our workup

The remaining time was more calm, though we did manage to bring in another nurse shark. At the end of the day, it was difficult to not appreciate the sheer diversity of sharks. Of the nine sharks we brought in, there were four nurses, two great hammerheads, one sandbar, one sharpnose, and one scalloped hammerhead. Our volunteers were able to see sharks in their many shapes, sizes, and functions. We returned to shore knowing the day was extremely successful, and more than grateful that we got as lucky as we did.

Our volunteers gathered around one of our Nurse Sharks after taking data and measurements, with interns Jake Jerome, team leader David Schiffman, and intern Emily Nelson

Our volunteers gathered around one of our Nurse Sharks after taking data and measurements, with interns Jake Jerome, team leader David Shiffman, and intern Emily Nelson

Shark Tagging with South Broward 9/26/2014

By Jake Jerome, RJD Graduate Student and Intern

Last Friday marked the first time that RJD went shark tagging out of West Palm Beach, and it proved to be an exciting first! We were joined with one of our more frequent school groups, the South Broward Reef Dogs. After making the trek up to West Palm, we loaded up the Deep Obsession with our gear and set out with the crew from Jim Abernathy’s Scuba Adventures aboard.

With choppy seas and rain falling down on us, we launched our first 10 drumlines in the hopes of catching our first shark in West Palm Beach. Despite the weather conditions, everyone on the boat kept spirits high and we all had a good feeling about the day. After letting the lines soak and collecting some environmental conditions with the help of our guests, we began pulling up our lines.

After a slow start and the rain still pelting down on us, we managed to pull up an Atlantic Sharpnose, the most abundant shark species in South Florida. Once we brought the shark aboard, we began our quick workup to collect data for our over 9 research projects. In less than 4 minutes we were able to collect multiple morphological measurements, a fin clip, draw blood, place an identification tag and perform nictitating membrane stress tests. Once these procedures were completed, we released the shark and returned to pulling in our lines.

Trip1

A participant helps take a fin clip, a small cartilage sample that will help reveal long-term toxicology and dietary patterns.

After our first shark we seemed to hit a slump going into our second set of drumlines. After switching the crew around, our luck took a drastic turn for the better! While pulling up one of our final drums of the second set, we knew immediately we had something big on the line!

After hearing our captain shout “Shark,” all eyes turned desperately towards the water looking for the animal. Once the shark hit the surface we could see that it was a hammerhead! After we had the large male secured next to the boat, we realized that we had a Scalloped Hammerhead, a species that we rarely get to collect data from. Knowing this, we quickly collected as much data on the animal as possible and then attached a satellite tag so we could follow the shark’s movements after we released him. For the rest of trip, spirits remained high and we were fortunate enough to catch two more sharks, a feisty blacktip and a large bull on our very last line of the day.

Trip2

Measurements of the scalloped hammerhead are quickly taken while a satellite tag is being attached.

All in all, our first trip out of West Palm Beach proved to be a successful and exciting one. We were able to collect data from four sharks of four different species and were able to satellite tag a Scalloped Hammerhead! Thank you so much to the always awesome South Broward Reef Dogs and the rest of the crew from the day.

Trip3

Our awesome group for the day, the South Broward Reef Dogs!

Shark Conservation in the Galapagos Islands

By Daniela Escontrela, RJD Intern

The Galapagos Islands are a popular tourist destination for many people around the world. The pristine environment combined with the vast amounts of life and different species make many people come to the Galapagos every year. However, one of the most important species people come to watch are the scalloped hammerheads and the whale sharks, along with other sharks.

Living on the islands for over two months I can say I have seen most of the iconic animals that the Galapagos are known for. However, one of the best experiences I’ve had is snorkeling and diving with the sharks here. On a snorkel trip to Punta Morena, we were riding back to Puerto Villamil after a long day of snorkeling. All of a sudden, our boat slowed down and veered off to the right. It took me a second to realize why we were going in that direction, and then I saw it. A huge dorsal and caudal fin were sticking out of the water. Being marine biologists, everyone’s first instinct was to jump in the water with this massive creature. However, our boat captain and first mate were wary about this. They kept saying it was a “Tiburon gato” which we gathered was a tiger shark. However, we were positive it was a whale shark as the dorsal fin had the characteristic white spots of a whale shark. After much debate about what it was, the boat captain rode over closer to the shark and in that moment the shark swam right under our boat, and that’s when we were one hundred percent sure that it was a whale shark. The boat captain and first mate were still very skeptical, but regardless we all quickly suited up and jumped in the water to swim with this huge, majestic creature. We swam with it for at least ten minutes as it circled the boat several times. My favorite part was its gorgeous white spots that were running down its body. But as quickly as this adventure began, it then ended as the whale shark dove deep into the abyss. It was interesting, the men working on this boat run snorkel trips almost on a daily basis and have definitely seen a whale shark before, but had never jumped into the water with one.

Figure 1 Shark Paper

An image of me swimming along the whale shark spotted on our way back from a snorkeling trip to Punta Morena. Photo credits to Emily Rose Nelson.

Another incredible experience with sharks was when we were diving in San Cristobal at Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido). The dive began with more sharks than I had ever seen in one dive, small blacktips and Galapagos sharks casually swam by, eyeing us with caution. Towards the end of the dive I was filming two Galapagos sharks that were directly below me when I heard a clinking noise. I looked up, expecting to see another small Galapagos or blactip shark, but what I saw was something I was not expecting. A school of at least ten scalloped hammerheads swimming towards me, one of them coming within five feet of me. They were magnificent, something I had wanted to see my whole life. There slender bodies, big dorsal fins and beautiful cephalofoil were enthralling. They surrounded us for a couple of minutes, some swimming under me, some above me. I didn’t know where to look, they were too beautiful. But they soon swam away and I was out of air from all the excitement.

Figure 2 Shark Paper

An image taken of one of the scalloped hammerheads spotted on a dive at San Cristobal as it swam away from us. Photo taken by me.

I have always been a strong advocate of shark conservation. Back in the states, I am part of the RJ Dunlap program which focuses on shark research and conservation. However, this trip gave me an insight into the shark finning problem that I had never had before. Besides being able to see these majestic creatures underwater, I have also lived with a host family the past two months where my host dad used to be a shark fisherman here in the Galapagos. It was interesting to hear his story, he had been a pepino diver, and when the pepino fishery was banned, he switched to shark finning. He says he didn’t have an alternative, he had to feed his family and the shark fishing brought in good money for him and his family to survive. Eventually, shark fishing was also banned in the Galapagos and he had to find another job. Luckily, he was able to find a job with the government. However, he tells me he would like shark fishing to continue. This time not because of the money, but because a lot of the locals are terrified of the sharks. He himself is scared of sharks, every time I tell him about my day’s stories involving sharks, he cringes and tells me to be careful.

It’s interesting, on one hand I love sharks and would love for the massive killing of sharks to end completely. However, then there’s the people that rely on these jobs to support their family; this is something I had never fully considered before. You can’t ask someone to stop their job when it’s the only source of income they have and the only way they can get through life. It made me realize that banning shark finning all together is unrealistic. However, other things can be done to reduce the number of sharks that are killed every year. We need to set up a comprehensive education program to teach locals of these small fishing communities about sharks. From talking to many locals and hearing their stories, I have come to realize that a lot of them don’t have much education when it comes to things about the natural world, especially sharks. People need to be educated about sharks, the threats they face and how catastrophic it could be to lose sharks. They need to learn that taking out sharks from the environment could cause environmental impacts, such as throwing the food web off balance. In addition, removing sharks from the environment could cause ecotourism to cease, causing them to lose a crucial part of their income.

In addition, we can’t just ask shark fishermen to stop fishing without giving them alternatives, especially when this is their only source of income. When the park banned shark finning and pepino fishing, they started to set up a lot of road blocks so the fishermen couldn’t use their boats for tourism and ferrying people between islands. The park needs to help those fishermen displaced by the ban to find new jobs, this way it will be less likely that the fishermen will go back to illegally fishing for sharks.

There also needs to be more enforcement against illegal fishing. The park currently only has one patrol boat for the island of Isabela. It’s not only enforcement to prevent local fishermen from fishing sharks. They also need to have more stringent penalties for foreign vessels that come into the Galapagos Marine Reserve to fish for sharks.

A combination of education, alternative jobs and enforcement could help the Galapagos in their conservation effort for sharks. It is imperative that these issues be faced because if the Galapagos Islands were to lose sharks, the rest of the marine reserve could be severely affected. One of the major things that attracted me to the Galapagos was the idea that I would be able to see iconic species like the whale shark and the scalloped hammerhead. Luckily, I had that experience along with the chance to meet people that once depended on these species; future generations should get the chance I had of seeing all these incredible animals and sights.

Shark Tagging with St. Thomas Aquinas High School

By Brittany Bartlett, RJD Intern
4/21/2013

When I woke up at 4:45am and saw that it was still dark outside, I had every intention of rolling over, putting the pillow over my head, and going straight back to sleep. But, it then hit me that I was going shark tagging down in Islamorada! I quickly jumped up, got ready and was out the door by 5:15am to pick up our photographer, Amanda! It was going to be a great day!

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A Familiar Surprise!

Thursday, May 10th

by Laurel Zaima, RJD intern

It’s time to celebrate! Exams are finally over, and summer has officially started! What better way to kickoff summer 2012 than going on an exhilarating and action-packed shark tagging trip. After an early morning, 2 hour drive down to Islamorada, all of the RJD interns took a second to stretch and got right to work. Captain Curt notified us that we will be adding 100 foot extensions onto the already existing 100 foot long drumlines (the fishing gear that we use to catch the sharks), which means we will be going to the deep water reef (125-145 foot depth). I was extremely excited because last time we went to this fishing spot we were extremely successful!

After we brought all of the gear on the boat, all we had to do was wait for the rest of our group. We were taking out some gentlemen that were members of the bonefish and tarpon trust fishermen and conservationist group, and Joe Romeiro, a filmmaker. Susan Gerrish, the RSMAS Assistant Director of Advancement, and Rose Mann, the RSMAS Assistant Dean of Advancement, also joined us on this excursion. The water was calm and the skies were clear; the only thing that could have made this trip any better was if my mom and brother would have been able to join us. They both drove down to Miami from Michigan to help me move all my stuff back home for the summer, and they had hoped that they would be able to shark tag with me before we made our long trek back. Unfortunately, family members are not allowed on most trips because other groups are scheduled for that trip already scheduled to take out another group.

Little did I know, everyone was playing a trick on me. As we organized the gear, I turned around only to see my mom and brother start boarding the boat. I was completely shocked! Susan Gerrish and Dr. Neil Hammerschlag had secretly talked to my family and planned for them to come on the boat without telling me. I was overjoyed and extremely pumped because I could finally show my family the work and research that I do for the RJD program. It was going to be a perfect day!

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