Shark Trip February 19th, 2010

Shark Trip, February 19th, 2010

Today was special for the interns, as we got to head out on the water alone. Having the students is always a pleasure, but going out on the water without them allows the interns to be more hands on in the tagging process. It was a cold, cloudy, and windy day in Islamorada. Although our clothes were damp, our spirits were anything but. The day began slowly in terms of sharking. The fish traps on the other hand caught some fascinating creatures, including a remora, a black grouper, and a golden eel.

A beautiful eel that got caught in our fish trap!

Finally, towards the end of the final set, a shark was on the line. A four-foot female Blacknose glided toward Captain Curt’s boat, revealing a beautiful and mature streamlined body. We brought the shark aboard instead of using the specialized shark sling. She was small enough to be measured, tagged, and biopsied on deck. We worked her up quickly and returned her to the water safely. The blacknose shark was our first and last shark of the day. Even though the overall catch was small, it was still great to be out on the waters off of Islamorada, eagerly waiting to see what might be on the other end of the line.

Getting ready to tag our first shark of the day!

By: Cameron Rhodes (Shark Program Intern)

Satellite Tag Deployment 02/07/2010

February 7th, 2010

Today was an amazing day for the RJ Dunlap Shark Program.  As usual, the day started off with a morning of excitement, getting all the gear loaded onto the boat.  The kids were chattering and joking about what shark they were going to see first, most kids wanted to see the Great Hammerhead. Every time we leave the dock or at least every time I have been on the trip, a pod of dolphins escort us out into the blue ocean, not a bad way to start the morning.  Mostly, every time a shark trip goes out we have a group of school kids join us, giving them hands on experience on shark research and a chance to be apart of this amazing experience of saving these animals.   On Sunday, we were delighted to have a group of kids from Palmer Trinity High School brought out by Leann Winn, a Marine Science teacher and Shark Conservationist who has been coming out and helping the program for a few years now.

Leann and her kids from Palmer Trinity (Click to Enlarge)

Sunday’s group consisted of about 8 students and 7 interns who were ready and excited to get shark tagging! After setting out all of our shark gear, which doesn’t take very long, we had some lunch, talked about how badly we wanted to deploy a satellite tag.  Before I get to the rest of my amazing story, here is some information on our satellite tags and why they are so unique. Our tags are custom made with the best safety of the shark in mind.

One of the satellite tags on a Great Hammerhead! (Click to Enlarge)

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 fouling. These special bolts are similar to what is used 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 water pump in shark mouth. Shark swims away in great condition!  Pretty cool right?

Shark Team helping attach satellite tag…. (Click to Enlarge)

Why am I telling you about these tags? Because we got to deploy two of them!!  After lunch we started to pick up our drumlines hoping a shark was there, after the 10th one, we started to wonder if the dramatic drop in ocean temperatures has made the sharks move to another location and then we heard the Captain Curt say, “Get ready guys, there is a large great hammerhead on the line, lets get the large satellite tag out”.  Needless to say, we were applauding, yelling, and scrabbling to our places to get ready.  We brought the female 8.5 ft great hammerhead shark to the boat, deployed the tag in less then 4 minutes and the shark swam away in great condition.

Working up a nurse shark! (Click to Enlarge)

Then after pulling in some very large nurse sharks reaching 227 cm, we hear the captain yell again, “Your not going to believe it, we caught another larger great hammerhead, hurry and release the nurse shark”.  We were still shocked from the first great hammerhead, now a second?  We managed to bring the large male hammerhead to the boat, deploy the tag, and watch him swim away into the blue.  These sharks are extremely rare and their declining numbers are getting worse, so it was an honor to complete this mission.

Great Hammerhead swimming off the back of the boat:) (Click to Enlarge)

I could write four pages on how amazing Sunday’s trip was, but I won’t.  Just know that being apart of this program is a rewarding experience, specially knowing that high school kids can be apart of it.  Thank you to everyone who was involved all weekend and especially Sunday.  You guys ROCK! GO TEAM GO!

You can track our satellite tagged shark’s daily, real time, movements  using Google Earth by going to :

Also..find out how you can Adopt a Shark.

As Always,

Brendal Davis (Shark Program INTERN)

Fantastic Shark Trip 02/06/2010

February 6, 2010

Hello!  My name is Adam Matulik, a senior intern for the shark program.  I have been working with the shark program since April 2007, helping Dr. Hammerschlag with anything from counting and identifying fish species, pulling seine nets, and helping with improving handling methods.  I am also a graduate student at Nova Southeastern University working on a master’s thesis involving correlating the mercury concentration in shark tissue with relative trophic level determined through stable isotope ratios of nitrogen and carbon.

Intern Adam Matulik bathing in sunblock:) (Click to Enlarge)

I’ll be telling you a little bit about how today’s shark trip.  Most of the interns like to drive down the morning of a trip, but I’m usually much too tired to wake up at 5am and make a two hour drive from Broward County.  So I had stayed the previous night in the SeaBase scuba dormitory.  My morning started with getting my gear ready and setting it on the dock in preparation of the arrival of our guests and the other interns.

Today’s team included Dr. Hammerschlag, Captain Curt Slonim, Brendal Davis, Julia Lampe, Katie Sellers, and Jamison Farrell.  Over a steaming cup of runny pre-packaged oatmeal, I talked with the others as they arrived about how they were.  One thing you learn about this shark program is that its so much more than just a group of people who happen to do shark research, over time you feel like family and each member has something special to add to the program.

Adam, Dr. Hammerschlag, and Brendal enjoying the beautiful weather! (Click to Enlarge)

Once we were getting on the boat and about get going our guests of honor arrived – Edward and Hillary Smith.  Edward, a medical doctor, and Hillary, a partner for an event-planning company, joined us by meeting Neil through “Save the Blue.”  They were lots of fun on the trip, and it seems they had an absolute blast!  I certainly enjoy having new people on board, and Edward and Hillary were great.  They even posted part of their experience on their blog:

Edward and Hillary learning about our new satellite tags! (Click to Enlarge)

Despite some warnings of potential foul weather, the day turned out beautifully!  We pulled up two bull sharks, three blacktip sharks, and a good-sized lemon shark.  Unfortunately, neither of the bull sharks were large enough to deploy our satellite tags, but all of us still enjoyed a day out with our favorite elasmobranchs.  Even though it seemed like a slow day, we still were able to pull out plenty of data and samples with which we can work.

Shark Team measuring a Bull Shark (Click to Enlarge)

My heart goes out to the students from Mast Academy who missed out on the trip because of those weather warnings, but safety is always the number one priority on any trip.  Thanks to our crew from SeaBase!  Thanks again to Edward and Hillary!  And thanks to my sharky family for making it a fun day!

It already looks to be a very promising season.

Warm regards and good sharking,


First trip for R.J. Dunlap Shark Program 02/05/2010

I don’t think I really realized how much I missed “sharking” over winter break until we had that first nurse shark secured to the back of the boat.   That frenzy feeling filled the air as all the kids buzzed with their designated instruments clenched in their hands. It is truly a remarkable experience to be able to go out on the boat in the beautiful Florida Keys and have the opportunity to work with talented and FUN people collecting data from these magnificent creatures.

Blacktip Shark getting ready for the plunge… (Click to Englarge)

To hold down a blacktip shark, to be so close and to see the iridescent shine of their skin under the Florida sun is without parallel to anything I have ever done before. This trip was particularly awesome because we had a fantastic group of high schoolers. These kids from South Broward were just incredible. Everyone was really enthused ’til the very end, which was great to see because we usually loose a few by the end to the cell phones and ipods. However, this time we even had a lot of inquiries about how to work with the program outside of their school trips, how to become an intern like myself. Also, two teachers from the school were talking and came up with some great ideas on producing live video blogs into the classrooms, so that more schools could participate.

We started collecting data for a barracuda project that Laura Rock will be pursuing when she gets back from her semester abroad, so now we are measuring, weighing, and taking muscle samples from our bait. Yum! 🙂

Getting ready to collect tissue samples on Baracuda (Click to Englarge)

I also found out on Friday that we now have 30 SATELLITE TAGS!!! In addition to the ten we first had, we now have CUSTOM-MADE ones for hammerheads and bull sharks! I think I am overly excited about deploying these bad boys. I SIMPLY CAN NOT WAIT.

RJ Dunlap Satellite Tags for Bull and Hammerhead Sharks (Click to Englarge)

Ok, so, before I forget, final catch of the day: 6 nurse sharks, 5 black tips, with our biggest shark being a 250 cm (which is about 8.2 ft) nurse shark that we caught on our last line…nice way to end the day 🙂 We had two other nurse sharks come in at about 230 cm, so overall it was big nurse day.

We changed locations and went to another place outside the national park. I think it’s cool to look at this data in terms of what the park’s border is doing for the shark population it protects. Are we catching the same thing in and outside the park? The same sizes? The same types? Same amount? I’m taking a GIS class this semester and I can’t wait to make some maps with the data
from our trips so we can compare and look at these type of effects.

South Broward high school and Dr. Hammerschlag are releasing a tagged blacktip shark:) (Click to Englarge)

Cheers to everyone who was out with us on Friday and to everyone who is following this blog. We greatly appreciate the support and am sure this season is going to ROCK.  Also, thanks to Mrs. Mary O’Malley who came out with us and has provided some insanely beautiful pictures for us to share with everyone.

Excited to be back on the water,
Virginia Ansaldi


2009 Summary of Shark Field Work

We just finished the last field trip of 2009.

It was a busy year.. In total we tagged, sampled and released 255 sharks!

Here was the species breakdown:

Blacktips = 91
Lemons = 53
Bulls = 21
Great Hammerheads = 6
Nurse = 42
Atlantic Sharpnose = 16
Blacknose = 21
Spinner = 2
Sawfish = 1

The biggest shark was a 14 ft sawfish, following next by a 13 ft Great Hammerhead.


We brought over 300 students in the field with us to gain practical hands-on experience in marine science.

2010 is already shaping up to be a busy season and I look forward to sharing with you some of our results.



Neil Hammerschlag, Ph.D.

Research Assistant Professor,
Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science (RSMAS)
Leonard & Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science & Policy

Director, RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program

Univiersity of Miami
4600 Rickenbacker Cswy, Miami, Florida, 33149

O: 305.421.4356    F: 305.421.4600   C: 954.815.0920