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


8 replies
  1. Victor Cantergiani
    Victor Cantergiani says:

    Wow! Those are some amazing shark photos. Its great that you guys can train high schoolers. They can get that hands-on experience early. They are the generation that will be taking care of the planet in the future, so the more learning of the conservation of the marine ecosystems, the better.

  2. Nicolas Polignan
    Nicolas Polignan says:

    Even though the trips may seem repetitive to the untrained eye, each and every single one of these trips have their own unique experience and memories that last a life time. All of these wonderfull memories would not be possible if it was not for the great people who dedicate their time, for example all of the UM interns, the students, Neil, and even our fellow teachers. Everybody makes these trips happen and ever body makes each one special.
    This trip was another great memory that will go down in my book. It was amazing going back to the water after the summer and getting up close to the sharks that we see in televesion. It was also exciting to be able to touch the shark’s flesh once more, and be able to work on it as if I was a marine biologist. The best part of the trip would have to be when we took the picture of the whole crew with the baby black tip. This picture will stay engraved with me for a life time. Thank you everybody, especial thank you UM for letting all of the South Broward Students participate in these kinds of trips.

  3. mike
    mike says:

    We need to do more as a planet to save the sharks and the environment. I am wondering about the orange plastic tags though. It looks like they actually pierce the fin, like an earring. I can’t image this is good for the shark. Do we know the long term effect? Do they fall off? What happens when the shark grows? If it falls off then will it leave a hole or does it grow back in? I don’t think leaving a permanent mark or hole is a good thing even if we, right now, think they’res no long term effects. I saw the satellite tags they are “glued” on I think and they are great. The kids can track the sharks and it’s a great way for them to learn about them when they don’t live near water. Thank you. Mike

  4. mike
    mike says:

    Between the entire family we have more questions! How much stress on the sharks when you have to catch them? Don’t they get tired out and injured on the line? Do the hooks do a lot of damage especially when they fight? What happens if they get really hurt like a broken jaw? Wouldn’t it be a lot for the shark to endure by putting a hose in it’s mouth? Why can everyone just protect the sharks without having to catch and tag them, it’s a shame that we can’t just protect the environment. What can we do at home where we don’t have access to an ocean to help education kids and adults? Can they make a smaller glue on tag for the smaller sharks so they don’t have to have an earring tag? Thank you again.

  5. Dr. Neil Hammerschlag
    Dr. Neil Hammerschlag says:

    All tags are not permanent. They fall off over time and the application point heals back quickly. The affects on the sharks are minimal considering the research and education it provides, which will help protect these threatened species.

    We use special fishing & tagging gear in order to minimize stress, handling time and promote shark safety. This includes using circle-hook drumlines, non-invasive tag application, water pumps in the sharks mouth etc.. More details are below. Our results have been proved successful with minimal shark stress. Our methods have been approved by the University Animal Welfare & Care Committee.

    Shark are captured with “circle-hook drumlines”, which are modified ‘hook and line’ fishing technique that selectively targets sharks, reduces capture stress and duration, and minimizes the bycatch of other species. This gear will allow us to capture animals in good condition and provide standardized catches of sharks to examine spatial and temporal abundance patterns. Circle hooks are used because they allow safe hooking of sharks in the side of the mouth, where they can be easily and quickly removed (this is compared to J hooks that sometimes cause gut hooking which can be lethal). Circle-hook drumlines also permit the shark to swim in circles around an anchor and thus maintains very good condition, a necessity for the goals of the project. When a shark is caught it will be quickly and gently brought alongside or in the boat and secured while their body and head will be cushioned with a wet towel to reduce stress to the animal and insure researcher safety. Shark are quickly sampled for select tissues. We have previously sampled sharks using this method and captured the sharks 2 weeks later with the biopsy wound totally healed and no evidence of any biopsy taken. Throughout this quick process (< 5 mins), a pump is inserted into the shark’s mouth to pass seawater over the gills constantly, allowing the shark to breathe easily and reducing overall stress to the animal as well as possible danger to researchers. Specimens will then be released back into the water at the site of capture. The purpose of this technique are to temporarily capture sharks for measuring, sampling and tagging using a means that reduces capture stress, handling and duration to ensure shark condition, while minimizing bycatch.

    To help protect sharks you can support our research through donations or adopting a shark.

    Also, you can support grass-roots shark conservation efforts..see the following websites (to name just a few):
    Shark Safe Network
    Shark Savers
    Oceanic Defense
    Save The Blue

  6. Mike
    Mike says:

    Thank you very much for your answers, now I have to find the correct words to explain this to my daughters. We are adopting a shark for both of them and my wife and I. We will check out the website you gave us also. Can regular people join the group on the boat? If so what would we have to do to facilatate that? My oldest is 15 and love the ocean and especially sharks. Thanks again.

  7. Vilma Sooknanan
    Vilma Sooknanan says:

    This was an amazing trip!! Coming face to face to the blacktip was really an experience!! Everytime I attend these trips, there is always something new to take back and share with my family and even my school mates. Being with new people is always a nice change and taking on new challenges is even better.

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