Reunited – Shark Trips June 9-11


Our most recent research trip took the shark team to Bonita Springs, FL, a new field location for us that is showing major promise for its abundance of large predators. This was the second time the RJ Dunlap Shark team traveled to the gulf for shark research, a partnership that involves researchers from Florida Gulf Coast University and the Vester Marine Station. Our previous trip to this site yielded some very exciting catches, including several tiger sharks. As we passed through the Everglades on our drive across south Florida, we hoped to get similar results as our previous trip. Little did we know that what would transpire two days later would shock us and really impact us as shark researchers.

Captn. Curt & the team gets ready for exciting research (Click to Enlarge)

The trip started with the usual pre-departure inventory. Enough bait? Check. Fishing gear intact and accounted for? Satellite tags ready to be attached to big sharks? Double check. We were off, ready to go sharking. As I sat on the bow of the boat enjoying the windy-salvation from the blistering sun, I couldn’t help but think of the oil catastrophe lurking just to the west. You can watch all the news specials and read as many articles about the spill as you want, but you don’t truly feel the implications of it all until you see firsthand what is at stake. As we navigated our way through the mangrove canals of Bonita Springs, we were constantly reminded of how impressive healthy marine biodiversity really is. Making our way out to sea, we were greeted by manatees, ospreys, cranes, and dolphins, all of which painted a perfect picture of a properly functioning marine ecosystem and its many connecting food webs.  The target of our research—the shark– sits precariously on top of all of those food webs.

Hammerhead swims off with a satellite tag (Click to Enlarge)

On day one we were accompanied by some local press and photographers interested in covering our satellite tagging project.  As usual, 10 drumlines went in the water and were picked up an hour and a half later. No sharks. Could the slack tide and/or high barometric pressure contributed to the lack of sharks on our first set? Staying positive, we re-baited and deployed another set of drumlines. While hauling up one of our first drumlines, a white body slowly appeared from the murky depths. The round and broad head quickly gave it away-it was a tiger shark. We brought the 9.5 foot female (given the name Virginia) into our sling and worked her up quickly, fitting her with her own SPOT tag and releasing her back to the productive waters of Florida’s gulf coast.

Dr. Hammerschlag Tags “Virginia” a 9.5 ft Tiger Shark (Click to Enlarge)

There is something truly mystifying about looking into the eyes of a tiger shark. It is almost unexplainable, but they seem to have their own personality and demeanor about them. Their seemingly calm “attitude” is quite the paradox to the aggressive, license-plate devouring reputation that tiger sharks have. That afternoon also yielded a blacktip, a blacknose and several nurse sharks—all of which were tagged, measured and released in healthy condition.  This is an exciting time for the RJ Dunlap program, as we are gathering data for multiple projects on each trip—including ongoing studies on tagging, predator abundances and ecotoxicology, as well as some new studies on behavior and physiology of sharks.

Stare of a Tiger Shark (Click to Enlarge)

The second day was also quite productive—filed with successful sampling on blacktips and nurse sharks. The second day’s highlights were also tiger-related.  We satellite tagged another tiger shark, an 8 foot female (named Domski). The sling on the research boat is a very helpful research tool, as it securely and safely holds large sharks such as tigers, bulls, and hammerheads. This practice maximizes efficiency and promotes safety for us and the sharks. As always, a water pump was used to keep water flowing over each of our shark gills while we took our measurements.

Pump in the Shark’s mouth and Research Assistant Austin Gallagher conducting behavioral tests to examien shark health (Click to Enlarge)

The biggest surprise that day came when we recaptured one of our previously tagged tiger sharks!  Recapturing ANY tagged shark is rare, but recapturing one of the tiger sharks we actually satellite tagged ourselves was such an amazing sight. The shark, which was later identified to be Kelli, actually swam right up to the boat by herself and investigated us. She also had a large cobia trailing her every move—an observation that suggests that she had been foraging and capturing prey naturally (most fish like remoras, pilot fish, etc that trail or hitch rides with sharks are there to pick up scraps). We brought her up to the side of the boat and got some excellent photos of her while inspecting the tag and then re-releasing her. This moment was really important for our tagging program, since it showed that our sharks are released in healthy condition—it was a perfect reunion.

Sat tagged Tiger Shark on Sling just before release – Beautiful!! (Click to Enlarge)

Our final day of sharking produced several nurse sharks, a species that always provides what seems like a wrestling match in order to get measurements. Lastly, we caught a 12 foot great hammerhead. We placed a satellite tag on the female leviathan and gave her the name “Jacques Cousteau,” in honor of the 100th birthday of the famous ocean explorer.  After releasing her, we watched in awe and appreciation as her large sickle-shaped dorsal fin and new satellite tag disappeared together beneath the waves, unaware that she may give way to new discoveries of shark behavior and conservation.

“Jacques Cousteau” the Great Hammerhead (Click to Enlarge)

Will we return to Bonita springs to continue our research on sharks? You bet.  Will she sharks be back or will they move off into other areas? Only time will tell, and we can’t wait to find out. Stay tuned and track our sharks as the data comes in!

Austin Gallagher (Research Assistant)

Check out several write ups on our recent shark collaboration with FGCU in the Island Press News Paper:

A slow finish to a fantastic weekend of shark research!

Nothing but Nurse Sharks!

June 6, 2010

After about a year of being away from the shark program, I couldn’t be more thrilled and excited to be back!  As great as my school is in the mountains of Colorado, I continue to find myself just as passionate for the ocean and sharks as I always have been.  It had been a great weekend so far, so I was super pumped for day 3 of the shark trip.  In addition, we had the pleasure of having the fabulous students from South Broward High School help out.

South Broward High School and Dunlap Crew sending out a Bull Shark vibe. (click to enlarge)

Enjoying the sunny day, South Broward and Dunlap Crew take turns jumping off the boat! (click to enlarge)

We headed out to Hawks Channel and set out ten drumlines in the water.  As we waited for the drumlines to finish soaking the full hour and a half, everyone on the boat was eager to somehow beat the extreme heat and cool off. The waves of the Atlantic were calling our name! The captain graciously allowed us all to jump into the water and take a swim while we waited. Best feeling ever! We all needed the cool off and rejuvenation, if we were going to reel in some sharks.

After our little swim break, we headed back to work. We pulled up the first drumline and pulled up a female nurse shark. Unfortunately, the shark got off the hook before we could tag it or take any measurements. We estimated it was about 100 cm though. The eighth drumline also had a female nurse shark on. This time we were able to secure it next to the boat and have Curt jump in and get a fin clip and insert a spaghetti tag. We measured her to be around 231 cm.

The infamous nurse shark awaits a tag. (click to enlarge)

Captain Curt and Austin struggle to get a tag into a Nurse Shark! (click to enlarge)

Once again we found ourselves waiting for the second round of drumlines to finish soaking. It was the perfect opportunity to cool off in the water once again. This time however, the students at South Broward went head to head in a back flip contest! Definitely a display of pure talent! South Broward also brought their shark club hat to be initiated. It was only proper to have it tagged and worn the rest of the day.

We managed to get two more nurse sharks that day. One was approximately 169 cm and the other 230 cm. Unfortunately the latter got off the hook. Much to our disappointment, the fish traps we set out in the beginning of the day were empty. It may not have been the most exciting of shark varieties, but I think a good time was had by all!

Empty fish traps seems to coincide with catching small sharks or just nurse sharks. With future studies, we can possibly determine that large predators are important for keeping fish populations healthy. (click to enlarge)

Happy sharking!

Katie  (shark intern)

June 5th, 2010

Another great day out with the R.J. Dunlap Marine
Conservation Program!

June 5th, 2010

Tired and sore after the previous day’s 10 sharks worth of excitement, we awoke anticipating another amazing day, and of course we were right. The day began with a nice big breakfast sandwich order and it only got better from there. We pulled out of the dock already hot and sweaty, but eager and excited nonetheless, and headed out to the edge of a reef, about 8 or 9 miles offshore. It was an especially hot, but a gorgeous day, and so any downtime we had while waiting for our drumlines to soak, we spent swimming in the perfect deep blue ocean surrounding our boat.

RJ Dunlap Crew posing in the water, hoping for a Hammerhead Shark! (click to enlarge)

Looking down, all you could see was a deep sapphire blue, and we all agreed that the only thing that would make the swim better would be to see a Great Hammerhead swimming gracefully up towards us. While, not surprisingly, this did not happen, we did catch a bull shark, two sandbar sharks, and a nurse shark that managed to pull itself free before we were able to secure it. Out of a total of 20 drumlines, we pulled up our second one to find a beautiful female 7 ft 4 inch bull shark on the end of the line. We quickly fitted her with a satellite tag and named her Rose, the second bull shark in the Atlantic to be spot tagged. She is named after our assistant dean of advancement at RSMAS, a woman who helps raise funds for the program and helps with program development. Welcome to the family Rose!

Rose, our second satellite tagged Bull Shark, welcome to the family! (click to enlarge)

Rose, get’s her new satellite tag. (click to enlarge)

On our ninth and second to last drumlines, we pulled up a pair of 6 ft 7 inch male and female sandbar sharks, a stunning golden colored shark that seems to be quite popular to the area.

Shark Team working fast to get the shark comfortable. (click to enlarge)

Shark Interns getting ready to take a biopsy from a Sandbar Shark. (click to enlarge)

After another exciting day out with the R.J. Dunlap Conservation program and one more shark swimming around with a satellite tag, we all agreed it was a very successful day!

Stay tuned for more sharky adventures and don’t forget to follow the movements of our sharks at


Fiona Graham (Shark Program Intern)

A great start to a sharky weekend!

June 4th, 2010

Although I did not begin the day to a cheerful – birds chirping – kind of note (as it was 5:45 am and the birds were still sleeping), once I hopped on the Turnpike headed south, saw the crimson sun burst out from behind the cloud-packed horizon, I knew today was going to be a day to remember. As it was my first boat trip with the Dunlap crew, all was new and all was unfamiliar. The tiny dive boat that we launched from the Keys Marine Lab dock appeared as if we had carefully booby-trapped the deck. From buckets of giant barbed hooks to miles of heavy-duty fishing lines and ropes, you definitely had to be careful where you stepped.

The Dunlap shark crew is bringing in the lines to see if there’s a shark! (click to enlarge)

Cruising out to the wreck, the skies began to open up, revealing a glistening sapphire blue ocean below. Once again, the Keys pull through with a range of visibility most divers only dream about. Of course as a diver myself, I couldn’t decide what kind of dream it was, since I would be jumping in shark-baited water to ease my sea-sick stomach.

Boating out to a beautiful deep blue ocean, looking for sharks. (click to enlarge)

With the first couple lines we heaved upward out of the water, our luck began. Number one: a male Dusky, at a total length of 195 cm. His left eye, however, seemed to be damaged to the point of possible blindness. As we would discover throughout the day, almost every shark we pulled out of the water would have their own scars and wounds that told unique stories of battle. Luckily, we were premiering our hook-timers that day, which allowed us to see how long the sharks had been hooked prior to being pulled on-board.

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag and crew bring in a Dusky Shark to tag and release. (click to enlarge)

Dr. Hammerschlag is testing our pop timers, so we can see how long the sharks have been on the line. (click to enlarge)

Over the following few hours, we pulled in all ten lines, studying and tagging the sharks hooked on the end and re-baited them for one more go. The first round turned up three Blacktips, all male, ranging in length from 151 to 159 cm. By the end of the day we also had 4 large female Sandbar sharks, ranging from 212 to 221 cm. These ladies were all determined to put up a fight, too. While attempting to heave the first shark onto the boat, Neil lost his holding and splashed into the deep blue alongside our shark (although he claims it was just to double check its species identification from a new angle).

A blacktip shark has water flowing through its gills. (click to enlarge).

Dr. Hammerschlag decides to take a dip in the ocean to double check species identification, haha. (click to enlarge)

The final two sharks were, in my opinion, the most exciting. On line number 9, we hooked a baby Tiger shark, a female with a length of 188 cm. She was so young her stripes had not even joined together, remaining spotted. And for the grand finale, a male Great Hammerhead at a whopping length of 277 cm. Once on-board, we attached a satellite tag to track his path. After a bit of debate, he was donned the name “Chad.” All in all, a great day! Ten sharks and very tuckered-out crew members…

Dunlap Shark Crew tags a young Tiger Shark. (click to enlarge).

A beautiful Great Hammerhead swimming towards the boat to receive his new satellite tag. (click to enlarge)

Thank you to everyone involved, it was a fantastic trip.  See you soon!


Christine Shepard (Shark Intern)

Day two- Gulf Coast Shark Trip in Lee County

May 26th, 2010

We normally do our shark research in the Florida Keys, however, as Dominique mentioned, we got the opportunity to start doing research in the Gulf of Mexico in collaboration with Florida Gulf Coast University and the West Coast Inland Navigational District.  On our way over to the Vester Field Station we all took guesses on what we would catch.  Most of us said Bull Sharks, some Lemon Sharks and a few Nurse Shark, since we know these species are quite prevalent over there.   Well, we were in for quite a surprise.  As you may have read on Tuesday we caught 2 Tiger Sharks and a Great Hammerhead shark.  We put satellite tags on all these animals.  Catching a Hammerhead is quite a treat because they are very rare and elusive animals, but catching a tiger shark?  This was to good to be true, wow!  Everyone involved couldn’t believe it could get any better!  The film crew Mark Rackley and Christian Gatti had captured everything with their ingenious techniques and our satellite tags were deployed in record time.

A Great Hammerhead getting her satellite tag, the shark team working hard to release her quickly. Great Job! (click to enlarge).

Keeping the Great Hammerhead stable so we can finish her sat tag. (click to enlarge).

After coming back to the dock on Tuesday we had all planned to take a shower and then actually head back out to do research at night, however, the storms were coming and we had to stay in.  As a group we decided to make the best of our bait and our time and catch as many sharks as possible the next day, so we got up at 5:00 am on Wednesday to head out for what turned out to be a 7.5 hour long shark fishing day!  We were sun burnt and dehydrated and it was really hot, but we didn’t care.  Why?  We caught 3 more Tiger Sharks and another massive Great Hammerhead!  It was the most amazing experience of my life.  I have a big tiger shark tattoo on my back and can you believe I had never really gotten an up close and personal view of this beautiful animal?  Well I did, we all did and it was all caught on film.  We also caught some of the largest Blacktip sharks I have ever seen and they were super frisky, as Dom will admit too.  She was almost flung over board.

In just two days we tagged and sampled 14 sharks (5 x tigers, 1 x blacknose, 3 x blacktips, 3 x nurse sharks, and 2 x great hammerhead sharks)!

Dominique trying to pull in a tiger shark, go Dom go! (click to enlarge).

Sweet Caroline is getting her satellite tag! We have a pump is her mouth and a towel over her head to maximize comfort out of the water. (click to enlarge)

Being apart of this tagging program is an amazing experience.  As an avid shark conservationist I have done a lot of shark awareness presentations to dive clubs, colleges, children etc.  For a while, you feel as though you only talk about saving these sharks, how endangered they are, and how vital they are to the ecosystem, but rarely do you get to combine educational awareness with research.  Not only can I educate the public on the plight of sharks, but I can also see first hand the beauty of these animals and help do research that may save their life.

One of our Tiger Sharks swimming away with her new tag! (click to enlarge)

I would like to take the opportunity to tell you about our tags: Our tags are custom made with the best safety of the shark in mind.

1) Although we mount the tag on the fin, we use special neoprene protectors between the tag and fin so that NO metal or plastic touches the shark fin (this prevents vibrations on the fin and prevents fouling and metal corrosion on the fin).

2) Instead of using plastic rods to secure the tag on the fin (which fouls and also does not disintegrate and never comes off)…we use special very expensive medical grade titanium bolts. This prevents any fin damage, corrosion or fowling. These are the bolts surgeons use in human surgery.

3) The bolts are attached by metal nuts (which do not touch the shark skin) but only the titanium bolts. In the seawater this causes a galvonic charge, causing the nuts to slowly corrode. Thus, the tag will eventually fall off!!

In the meantime, these tags provide real-time GPS info on shark movements. We can attach the tag in less than 4 minutes, with a water pump in shark’s mouth. The sharks can then swim away in great condition.  We have taken ever step to minimize harm and promote animal safety. This information is crucial to getting these animals on the protected species list.

Needless to say, it was the most amazing trip and I will never forget it.  Thanks to Dr. Neil Hammerschlag for allowing this program to exist, thank you to Captain Curt for so many things, especially your patience, and thank you to Dominquie Lazarre for running this program with lighting speed.

Putting our pump in the shark’s mouth so she can breath. The sling that this blacktip is on allows us to work up the shark faster. (click to enlarge).

Thank you to all involved and our collaborative project partners. We look forward to future trips and we would like to thank our project collaborators and partners:

Ray Judah, Lee County Comissioner; Bob Wasno, Vester Field Station Education and Resource Coordinator,Florida Gulf Coast University; Darren Rumbold, Associate Professor, Florida Gulf Coast University; Charles W. Listowski, Executive Director, West Coast Inland Navigational District; and Aswani Volety, Chair of Marine & Ecological Sciences and Professor of Marine Science, Florida Gulf Coast University.

Stay tuned for more amazing adventures with the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program!


Brendal Davis (Shark Intern)

P.S. Don’t forget you can track our sharks live!  Please go to and follow their adventure.

A new site for shark research!

Shark Trip May 25, 2010

Our shark team has a joint collaborative project between UM RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, The West Coast Inland Navigational
District (WCIND)
and Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), supported by Commissioner Ray Judah of Lee County. The primary area of research will in the southern waters of Lee County where ongoing nutrient cycling projects are being conducted by FGCU. The goals of this collaboration include: (1) Determine range and territorial waters of sharks; (2) obtaining tissue samples for analysis of methyl-mercury and red tide toxin for risk-assessment studies; and (3) examine the stable isotope analyses of sharks to investigate trophic dynamics in marine ecosystems.

This area is also known for its large shark inhabitants, so we were hoping to deploy more satellite tags to increase our sample size and range of shark tagged and compare these results to previous tagging in the Florida Keys.  Also joining us on our first sampling trip in the new area were videographers Mark Rackley and Christian Gatti, both loaded with film to capture as much footage as possible of any sharks we caught for educational purposes. Which they did!

The Shark Team is putting a satellite tag on a 11.9 ft Great Hammerhead in record time. The animal swam away in great condition. Great job guys! (click to enlarge).

It is always a little nerve-wracking trying out a new site, but hopes were high as we cruised out to our newest shark sampling site.  We reached the site quickly, and put our first 10 drumlines in the water.  We then anxiously watched the clock until our 1.5 hour soak time was completed, allowing us to check our lines.  The first 3 lines came up empty, and we started to wonder if we had assessed the area accurately when we picked our site.  Luckily on the fourth drumline we were rewarded with a small female blacktip shark (4 ft in length).  The energy level on the boat started to rise after catching our first shark of the day, and we looked forward to pulling up the rest of our lines to see what else was waiting on the hooks.

Blacktip shark breathing at the surface while we tag and take tissue samples. (click to enlarge)

Unfortunately we hit another dry spell, pulling up 5 empty lines.  Just as the crew was starting to get disheartened again, the shark gods came through for us.  On our 10th drumline we hooked a beautiful 8.3 ft female tiger shark.  The crew was ecstatic.  The cameras started rolling as we satellite tagged our first ever tiger shark, which I believe is also the first tiger shark to be SPOT satellite tagged in the Gulf of Mexico.  The crew worked quickly to attach the satellite tag to the dorsal fin of the tiger, which was later named Sophi after our youngest shark team member.  First grader Sophi is a budding shark conservationist, who has started her own funding campaign to save sharks.  She has been working hard in her hometown in Minnesota to raise awareness about the decline in shark populations.  Sophi the shark swam away well with her new satellite tag, and we look forward to tracking her on our website soon.  Also, don’t forget to keep up the date on human Sophi’s blog to learn more about her efforts to save sharks.

Sophi the Tiger Shark getting ready for her new satellite tag! (click to enlarge).

Now the whole boat was pumped and ready to check on our last 5 lines, we were all waiting on pins and needles to see what else we would catch.  The shark gods came through for us again because we caught another tiger shark and a huge great hammerhead on the last 5 lines.  The second tiger shark was next, a 6.6 ft feisty female that we named Sweet Caroline.   She was a tough shark to reel in, even though she was smaller in size than the previous tiger shark.  Again the shark crew sprang into action, attaching another satellite tag to the shark with lightning speed, so we could quickly release her back into the water.  On the following drumlines, we caught a huge great hammerhead. The great hammerhead was found to be 11.9 ft in length, and was named D-Money after me! She was a beauty and swam away from the boat like a champion.  The film crew captured some amazing footage of the hammerhead on the sling as well as swimming away after being satellite tagged.

Dr. Neil Hammerschalg and Captain Curt are making sure the satellite tag is secure before releasing the shark. (click to enlarge).

Matt, a student from Florida Gulf Coast University came out to help us these two days, thank you so much for your hard work! (click to enlarge).

The team set a new record by deploying 3 satellite tags during one day in the field.  We had high hopes for the day when we started out early on Tuesday morning, but none of us expected to have such a fantastic day on the water our first time at a new site.  After getting back to the boat, and organizing our gear for the next day’s trip we all crowded together around a computer monitor and watched some of the spectacular footage that was taken over the course of the day.  We all felt so lucky to have seen 4 beautiful sharks on the water that day, and tried to get to bed early so we would all be fresh for our second day of sampling the following morning.


Dominique Lazarre (Shark Program Coordinator & lab manager)

A beautiful day to go shark fishing!

May 17th, 2010

As usual, I was excited to venture out into the blue ocean and go shark fishing.  I always think to myself on the way out that the ocean is so full of surprises, you really never know what you may find.  Sometimes producing the most amazing creatures, other times, she seems quite empty.  This was one of those weekends where the sharks were just not around.  We did catch quite a few nurse sharks, which I fully understand are sharks, however, in terms of looking at the variety of apex predators, there were few to be found.  It could be anything really, maybe the oil spill slowly making its way to the keys, I feel the sharks can sense this kind of thing.  Or maybe it’s the fact that sharks are in decline worldwide and even if the keys are not heavily fished, other areas where sharks pup and then usually venture up north to our research area, we can see the decline.  But, this is why we do what we do.  We need to find out how many sharks are in the area versus what types of commercially important species are left, hopefully determining that our oceans in fact need sharks in so many ways, regulating the oceans, keeping them healthy, and providing a stable ecosystem for other predators. Research is the key to understanding just a small corner of our large oceans.

Shark Team is counting pin fish, a non-commercially important specie. We also don’t find a lot of large sharks in this area. (click to enlarge).

That morning we had the privilege of having South Broward High School come out with us. The school has been coming out with the program for awhile now and their passion for sharks is only getting stronger.  It’s so cool to see these kids go from weary to wonder.  We know most of the kids by name since it’s usually the same group.  They already know what to do, so we just talk to them about their school year and worldly issues.

Captain Curt is showing South Broward how to cut a good piece of bait for our sharks. (click to enlarge).

As we continued out to the site we were escorted by a pod of dolphins.  These graceful animals are frequent visitors to the area and you know when we see dolphins abound, there are sharks around!  I of course got super excited, grabbed the camera and started clicking away.  YES, I admit, I love dolphins too!  I am a trader.

A pod of dolphins came to pay us a visit, wishing us luck! (click to enlarge).

Of course, in between setting the lines and picking them up, we like to have fun.  We also like to put out the good shark vibes, which means getting everyone together, doing a little group hug and sticking our hands to our heads to mimic a hammerhead, lemon, or a bull shark.

South Broward and Shark Team in a circle for the Hammerhead Vibe. (click to enlarge).

South Broward volunteers kiss our bait for good luck and it worked! We caught a lemon shark shortly after. (click to enlarge).

Through out the day we caught a variety of sharks, better than the previous two days.  Our total:

-Nurse – Male, TL – est 195
-Lemon – Female, PCL-165, FL-180, TL-220
-Blacktip – Female, PCL-123, FL-137, TL-166
-Blacktip – Female, PCL-107, FL-120, TL-145
-Blacknose – Female, PCL-81, FL-91, TL-110

South Broward High School and Dr. Neil Hammerschlag getting ready to release a blacktip shark. (click to enlarge).

Thank you again to all involved for a wonderful weekend of sharking. Thanks to Dr. Neil Hammerschalg for this program, allowing students to be directly involved with shark research and giving interns the opportunity to grow in the field.


Brendal Davis (Shark Program Intern)

Another day of Nurse Sharks and Data Collection

May 16th, 2010

Tackling a Nurse Shark:

Sunday was a slow day again.  We took off from Sea Base with a smaller than normal boat load, mostly interns along with a few of the Sea Base crew.  Dr. Hammerschlag and Captain Curt rejoined us as we made our attempt to find and tag more sharks for the studies of the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program.

Trying to catch some zzz’s on the way out to the site, before some crazy shark action! (click to enlarge).

In total we captured three nurse sharks and two blacktip sharks.  For the first time in a long time, we actually decided to bring the smallest nurse shark (~170cm) on board the boat.  Generally, nurse sharks are more difficult to handle when they are on board due to their tendency to spin and twist.  But because it had been some time and because this shark was smaller, we tried it out.  As per usual, the nurse shark was less than agreeable while we had it out of the water.  But our team still managed to quickly collect all the relevant data and release this female shark quickly.  In addition, the students really like to see sharks up close, of course, so since we had been catching sharks that we usually keep in the water, we wanted to give them the opportunity to feel the shark and take pictures.

Attempting to bring a nurse shark on board to tag and take fin clip samples and we were successful! (click to enlarge).

When the day was over we worked up samples from some of the sharks that recently washed up in the local area.  Unfortunately, this is not the way the program wants to collect samples of any kind, and for us the process was an arduous and a saddening one.  But as a group of scientists and conservationists, we are determined to not let these sharks die and completely go to waste.  Samples are going toward several studies conducted through and within the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation program.

We took samples from 6 female and 6 male dead bull shark pups from a mother that had been washed up on shore. (click to enlarge).

We also took samples from 8 dead Great Hammerhead pups out of 35 in total from another shark that had washed up that same morning north of the Keys. Both sharks had J hooks stuck in their jaw. (click to enlarge)

Despite the slowness, the shark team made the most of it as we always do.  It’s an amazing opportunity to go out into the field and see a specie that most people will never see their whole lives.

Good sharking,
Adam Matulik
Sr. Intern

Nurse Shark Haven

May 15th, 2010

The joys of spring- the end of school is near and summer is right around the corner. Unfortunately, it also is the end of the always exciting shark trips with the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program for the participating students and many interns (including myself).  Fortunately for us, the students from MAST Academy were able to join and help in all the observing and data collecting.  The weather was cooperative, with the sun shining, temperatures just right, but the wind howling. Over the course of the day, the wind was able to calm down to give us a more enjoyable ride out to the Gulf side. Being able to absorb instructions quickly, the MAST students were able to get the drumlines out in their designated sites in record time.

MAST Academy smiling because they know sharks are a coming!(click to enlarge).

Adam, shark intern, giving students instructions on tagging sharks. (click to enlarge).

During lunch/soaking time, the topic of everybody’s favorite shark came up in the conversation. Standard species were named- Hammerhead, Bull, Tiger, Lemon, Mako, Great White-however, there was one stand out that made many of the interns shiver in horror—the Nurse shark.  Thanks to their tough skin and endless ability to roll and not stay still for measuring, these sharks are not a favorite among us researchers. Pondering the decision on what her favorite shark was, one student replied-“They remind me of my cat because those little whiskers by their snout. I hope we catch a lot of nurse sharks”! Little did we know that this students hopeful wish for a nurse shark would haunt us for the rest of the day…..

Dominique trying to calm down a frisky nurse shark! (click to enlarge).

Ready to see what the day brought us, we rounded up the first round of drumlines. The first drumline brought a shark, but the excitement was soon turned to groans. It was a female nurse shark, and thanks to its liveliness, we were only able to get a total length- approximately 180 cm. The next few drumlines in the round produced nothing until the final one which had a female Blacknose on it. The students were quick to get all the data collected and the total length registered about 115 cm, the smallest shark of the day.  The students were getting excited due to the success we had thus far and decided to make up a new dance to celebrate their “new” favorite shark. This of course was related to the Nurse shark, so the dance included shuffling around with fingers being brought up to one’s mouth to look like barbels. This did not sit well with a lot of the interns so it was banned as quickly as it was started!

Shark Team, Virginia, Adam, and Julia releasing a Blacknose Shark (click to enlarge).

The next round of the drumlines brought two more nurse sharks. The first one was a female that was around 220 cm and a bit calmer than the first one. The second one however, was one that caused some problems. Brendal was nominated to bring the specific drumline in and right away we knew something was on the line. What we did not know however, was the massive size of the shark we had. There was hardly any tension until one of the last reeling in. With this one, the shark sensed it was caught and suddenly veered off in the opposite direction, snapping the yo-yo into pieces. This threw off Brendal’s balance and she almost ended up in the water. But thanks to a quick thinking group of MAST students taking pictures, they were able to save her but not the yo-yo, as it fell into the water and floated away. Due to the struggle, we believed that it was possible to have been a huge bull or hammerhead on the line, however it was just a very mature male nurse shark that came in over 245 cm, the largest shark of the day!

A very large Nurse Shark swimming away after data collection. (click to enlarge).

The third round did not hold on to much of the excitement of the second round but we were able to bring in another nurse shark who’s struggle did not permit us to even check the gender of it! The estimated total length of the shark came in around 235 cm. The fourth round of drumlines proved just as successful as far as shark monotony, bringing in a male and female Nurse shark whose total lengths were approximately 235 cm and 205 cm, respectively.

So for the day, we ended up being 7 for 20 as far as sharks caught. Out of those seven, six of them were Nurse sharks with most of them totaling over 200 cm! Even though the majority of the sharks were of the same species, we were still successful to get as many as we did! Thanks to everybody that went on this trip, especially MAST Academy and the interns. Hopefully the trip tomorrow will be even better!! See you all next season!

Even interns Dom and Julia have a lot of fun with bait. (click to enlarge).

Elasmobranch Love,

Julia Lampe (Shark Intern)

The Best Shark Trip Ever!

The Best shark Trip Ever!  4/18/2010

Well, where do I start, how about the beginning of the day which did not look very promising. On the way down to the keys, Dominique Lazarre, Cameron Rhoads, and I were caught in such an immense downpour: not a good sign. We plowed through the torrential rain to Captain Curt’s house where we looked up the weather for the day and played with his adorable baby, Sawyer. Apparently, weather was supposed to get better in a few hours so the trip was still on! Joined by Leann and her students from Palmer Trinity High School, we set off and as if by a larger being, the clouds dissolved and the sun came out to start off an excellent day of Sharking. After the first ten drumlines were in the water, we sat down to our gourmet lunch of sandwiches and chips, while the boat was turned around to pick up the first drumline. No luck. We re-baited the hook and toss it out again. As drumline number two is hauled in, a 205 cm Lemon shark comes to the surface. The Shark was tagged as usual and released in good condition. With two more shark-less hooks, the moral on board starts to fade. Drum line number five was a different story.

A 205 cm Lemon Shark tagged and released. (Please click to enlarge)

Even as Adam pulled in the weight, we could all tell there was a big fish on the hook. Once the weight was pulled in, Curt was handed the line. Curt speculated that a sawfish could be on the other end. Dominique (who has been on countless trip but has never seen a sawfish) told him to stop getting her hopes up. Dominique’s dreams were answered as a 410 cm sawfish emerges from the murky depths wielding its massive saw like a knight holding a sword.  The fish cannot be brought onto the boat or handled because it is a protected and an endangered species, so we quickly and carefully removed all the fishing and released it again in perfect health. We also notified all the appropriate authorities of this amazing and rare catch.  This awesome encounter with such a magnificent fish brought up the moral of all on board and we eagerly anticipated bringing up the next drum line.

A 410 cm Sawfish got caught in our gear. The shark team quickly released the animal in amazing condition. (Please click to enlarge)

As if the sawfish wasn’t enough, a great hammerhead was on the next line! The hammerhead was a little tired so Curt kept the shark in the water and we put the boat in gear so we could get some water over the sharks gills. This trick seemed to work and the shark seemed to feel better. Curt still didn’t feel comfortable giving the hammerhead the usual treatment, so just the total length was taken and then the shark was released. Immediately after the hammerhead, we hooked a 243 cm nurse shark. Due to the size, we left the shark in the water and only took the total length and put in a spaghetti tag. On the very next line we had a black tip. Not only was this our fourth shark in a row, but the shark was a recapture! That is awesome news as we don’t often get recaptures. We took new measurement, samples, and also put a new roto tag in as the old one had been ripped out somehow. After this incredible run, we hit a dry spot until the fourth line in the second set where we pulled in a beautiful spinner shark. Three lines later we pull in yet another species, this time a black nose. After seven sharks and seven different species, we think that our luck couldn’t get any better but again, we were surprised. On our second to last line, a hefty 211 cm male bull shark comes to the surface. The shark (named by the Palmer Trinity kids as “Pee Tee”) was just big enough for one of our state-of-the-art mini satellite tags. Curt and Dom worked lightning fast to get the tag onto the Pee Tee so we could get it him back into the water as quickly as possible.

Pee Tee the 211 cm Bull Shark is getting his new satellite tag. (Please click to enlarge)

Between all of the amazing sharks that we caught, our fish traps were also packed! We had an astonishing 71 pinfish in one fish trap alone! We also brought up a couple of sand perch, two mangrove snappers and one baby cobia. On the ride back to shore, we all couldn’t believe our luck.  Eight sharks, eight species, one recap and one satellite tag! What started out being a lousy, cold, rainy day turned out to be one of the most active and diverse days of sharking this year. Good job team!

Captain Curt and Palmer Trinity with a Blacknose Shark. (Please click to enlarge)

By: Josh Levy (Shark Program Intern)