The first shark trip of the spring semester took us out onto the water near the Key Largo Dry Rocks, which are part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. With a boat full of drumlines and eleven great students and two great adults from South Broward Marine Charter School’s Shark Club (go Reefdogs!) we headed out to sea.
On the way out we passed a wrecked barge and got to take a look at some of Florida’s beautiful seabirds, including double-crested cormorants, brown pelicans, and royal terns. Although we were lucky to have a warm and sunny day in January, it was also windy, and wind often leads to rough water: several of the students on the trip turned a little bit green over the course of the day.
After setting 10 drumlines, some of our students took a dip while we waited for our hook soak time to elapse. They had only a short time to swim, but made the most of it, reporting that the water was “freezing” before jumping right back in.
After hauling in a few lines, we brought in one that gave us quite a fight. It turned out to be a six-and-a-half foot female nurse shark who was not very interested in hanging around with us! While nurse sharks can be up to 14 feet in length and weigh up to 330 lbs, even a smaller one is still a very strong animal. As RJD Interns worked to bring her on board so she could be measured and tagged, she managed to slip the hook out of her jaw and swim away.
Luckily she wasn’t the only shark in store for us. Another line yielded an immature male Caribbean reef shark. Although their range technically extends into the Carolinas, Caribbean reef sharks are rarely found north of the Florida Keys. They are “requiem” sharks, which means they belong to the family Carcharhinidae and are related to tiger, bull and blue sharks. They play an important role in regulating reef ecosystems and are therefore considered primarily a shallow water shark, but have been recorded swimming at depths up to 378 m (1240 feet!)
RJD Interns are always happy to see a Caribbean reef shark, as they are very beautiful, “sharky” looking sharks (in fact, because of their good looks, and because they are easy to find and work with, the sharks you see on TV are often Caribbean reef sharks). Students from South Broward Marine Charter were a great help in working up the shark, assisting with collecting measurements, a fin clip, and a small muscle biopsy.
Because some of our students were definitely wishing they had taken their Dramamine, we returned to dock after setting 20 hooks instead of the usual 30. Although it was a slightly shorter and rougher day than usual, any day you are out on the water meeting sharks is a good one!
-Catherine MacDonald, RJD intern