A stormy shark trip….

July 14th, 2010

When we woke up this morning, the weather didn’t look very good.  We walked outside to an ominous sky, and the sounds of not so distant thunder.  Even with the possibility of bad weather, the shark team eagerly loaded the boat at Keys Marine Lab, checking to make sure all of our gear was ready to go before the group from the Miami Museum of Science’s IMPACT program arrived.  Upon arrival, we warned the students that we were still checking the weather forecasts to determine whether or not we would be able to go on the water.  The radar showed some heavy storm activity moving over our fishing sites and moving towards Keys Marine Lab. We took shelter at Keys Marine Lab, just in time to watch the storm unfold around us.  After a dazzling lightning show, the weather started to clear, and the radar indicated that the threat of thunderstorms had finally passed, so we headed out on the water for a fun day of fishing.

An excited student from IMPACT is pondering on what today’s trip will bring. (click to enlarge)

Once on the water, we quickly got to work.  All of the students were eager to help in any way possible.  They all took turns baiting hooks and dropping our drumlines in the water.  Halfway through setting our first round of drumlines we watched another set of rain showers build and slowly roll towards us.  Luckily, there was no lightning in the storm, but we were pummeled by the rain as we put out our last 5 drumlines.  Even though we were getting drenched by the rain, the students and interns seemed to have a great time putting out the drumlines and fish traps.  Once all of our fishing gear was set, we all huddled up under the hard top that covers the helm and cabin.  Scrunched in like sardines we tried to enjoy our lunch, and avoid the torrent of rain.

The rainy weather didn’t stop the students from IMPACT from having a great time. (click to enlarge)

Once lunch and our hour and a half soak time expired, we headed back to pick up our lines.  As we started to pull up to our first line, the rain stopped and we enjoyed sunshine for the rest of our day.  We started putting out shark vibes and started making guesses about the sharks that we would catch on our lines.  Luckily we caught 6 sharks on 10 lines.  It was a day of nurse sharks and blacktips, we caught 3 of each.  The nurse sharks ranged in size from 7.7 ft to 8.5 ft.  One of our nurse sharks started to death roll, tangling itself up in the monofilament.  As one of the interns reached down to try to unwrap it, it slapped its tail and spun around again.  After shaking the water that was splashed on us out of our eyes we realized the nurse shark had bitten down on its own tail.  A few seconds later the nurse shark seemed to figure out that it was biting itself, and then released its tail and calmed down so we could sample it.  We used an in water crew member to help measure and tag the nurse sharks.  We’ve found that this method is a lot easier on the crew and the shark, so we can cut down the time the shark is on the line.  The three blacktips were all fairly small, all a little over 5 ft long.

A nurse shark tries to grab its own tail and succeeds in the excitement, which it quickly realized and then calmed down. (click to enlarge)

Fiona, a shark intern helps straighten out a nurse shark. This method is much easier for the shark team and for the nurse shark. (click to enlarge)

After we got samples from the 3rd blacktip we headed for our fish traps.  We normally pull in smaller pinfishes and grunts, but were surprised to find a larger variety, number and length in our specimens.   There were over 15 yellow-tail snapper in one of our fish traps.  We also found a few mutton snappers, red grouper, and lots of flannel mouth grunts.  We made sure to get plenty of fin clippings from our commercially important species, as the students help get the many grunts back into the water quickly.  Once all of our lines and fish traps had been retrieved we headed back to the dock.  I think the stormy weather really took it out of us, because almost the entire group slept the whole way back to the dock.  Thanks again to our group from IMPACT.  They were a great group to have on the boat, and were easily able to tackle every hurdle that was thrown at us over the course of the day.

A blacktip shark gets ready for some tag and release action. The shark is only out of the water for a few minutes. (click to enlarge)

Thanks to everyone involved,

Dominique Lazarre (RJ Dunlap Shark Program Manager)

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