“Boulevard of Broken Dreams”

Wednesday, June 22nd 2011

A slew of late-June trips saw our team returning to the biologically rich waters of Florida’s Gulf Coast (near Ft. Myers) for a 3-day research trip with Florida Gulf Coast University. You may remember from previous entries that our sampling trips in Ft. Myers are generally quite high-octane, usually involving the satellite tagging of several tiger, hammerhead, and bull sharks, as well as sampling from some pretty feisty blacktips. Our last trip to Ft. Myers broke that streak unfortunately, crushing our high hopes and leaving a bad taste in our mouths. This blog earns its name from Green Day’s 2004 hit song….in fact, stop reading for a second, open your iTunes or Youtube and listen to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” while you read. This way, you can live vicariously though a couple of tough days of research.

Captain Curt dreaming of the elusive cookie-cutter shark. Click to enlarge.

Anticipations were high as a local television crew seeking to document some of the shark research and satellite-tagging program joined our team. The drumlines went in as usual, an hour later the lines were pulled up, and baits were still present. This trend became the norm for most of our trip in Fort Myers. Where had all the sharks gone? Every ten or so we were greeted by a nurse shark, each of which were promptly worked on—measured, biopsied, blood sampled, conventionally tagged, and released.

A nurse shark waits comfortably as she the RJD team does their job. Click to enlarge.

Luckily, we were able to sample a few blacktip sharks, and even put a satellite tag on a bull shark, which is always a great accomplishment for the ongoing conservation research. But where had all of the larger coastal species gone? Where were the sub-adult tigers we had grown accustomed to at this site? And the elegant hammerheads? The presence of several small blacknose and Atlantic sharpnose sharks on our baits would suggest that the big boys were indeed “out of town.” While these species are not as “romantic” as others we tag, this was a pretty neat observation. It’s always cool when you can see ecology unraveled before your eyes, especially when you can observe the important ecological role of predators such as sharks.

While we missed the sharks during this small window, there is always the chance to research them another day. Where did the big sharks go? While its tough to say exactly, the path back to their home range in Ft. Myers is a undoubtedly a tough one filled with risks….but we are still dreaming of their return.

Another chat at the water-cooler, Neil and the nurse. Click to enlarge.

In hopes of being there when they do,

Austin Gallagher

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