One of the best shark trips ever! 3/26/2010

Sooo, I totally did not expect what 3/26/10 had in store for me when I woke up, exhausted at 5 am and under a not-to-promising-looking dark sky.  “At least its hot,” I thought, and headed out.  Furthermore discouraging was the POURING RAIN all the way down US 1 and the expressway; not to mention the JOLTING hit to the back of my car by some lady who didn’t know red lights means STOP.  But, what the hayy?  When I called to confirm our outing given the weather, Neil rhetorically asked me “Are you a shark researcher or what” .  Well, shucks, I guess I am, and kept going (P.S. Magically nothing happened to my car, in case anyone was wondering).  The rain stopped once I got down to Homestead and the weather cleared up and it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful day.  Once I got Captain Curt’s house we loaded what we had and drove over to SeaBase to get the rest of the equipment and lunch.  Curt spotted a nice little ray on the side of the boat and made me think the day would be more promising than I thought.  And it was.

Group photo of our shark team, we got Captain Curt to smile! (click to enlarge)

A really cool stingray spotted off the boat by Capitan Curt. (click to enlarge)

On the way to our first spot we were followed by a small pod of dolphins that enjoyed jumping through our wake (makes me remember why I live in South Florida ).  As I spotted another ray jumping out of the water, Neil said, “I hope he’s running from a hammerhead.”  Me too Neil.  Well, no hammerheads BUT 2 bull sharks, 2 blacknoses, 3 blacktips and a FOURTEEN FOOT SAWFISH!  Yes, you’ve read that right: a 420 cm long sawfish.  These animals are absolutely incredible, so incredible this blog entry should really be titled “I saw a dinosaur today.”  They are the only shark on the endangered species list in the United States so there is no tagging, no sampling allowed, so of course we were sorry we caught it accidentally, but, personally, SO EXCITED!  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I had been waiting for mine. We took an estimated measurement while Captain Curt and our team careful, very quickly and safely removed the hook and away it swam in great condition. We also notified the appropriate authorities of this very rare and incredible catch.

A 14ft sawfish caught in our gear by accident, we released the shark as quickly as possible in great condition. Proper authorities were notified (please click to enlarge)

Tagging and releasing a blacktip shark. (click to enlarge)

Virginia’s shark tattoo is bringing in a shark to tag. (click to enlarge)

As the sawfish swam happily away, I think it was Joe (from 333 Productions, who was with us that day taking pictures and filming) that said something like “oh wow it really looks like a ray and shark together.”  Curt calmly responds, “That’s exactly what it is; it’s a ray that has mated with a shark and a chainsaw.”  The laughter that followed definitely relieved the stress we all acquired from trying to release that beautiful being as quickly as possible.  It really was like seeing something out of a fairy tale, or a class B horror film, I’m not sure which.  I didn’t quite know what to expect as I waited for it to surface. I thought a mermaid was going to jump on the boat, or something.  It was crazy too because the breeze we had been enjoying completely stopped and the sky got real dark just as we were picking up that drumline, it felt like Jurassic Park.  Brendal said she felt something coming and once the shark reached the boat, she actually felt it because it smacked her across the face as she helped to secure it and remove the hook!  We cut a piece of her hair for good luck  to bring on future trips since she rarely has a trip without a hammerhead (or some equally impressive animal).  Whether it was her luck or an early birthday present from the sea to me (which I’d like to think it is because my birthday was two days later!), we’ll never know, but we got some GREAT sharks that day.

Dr. Hammerschlag, Captain Curt, and shark team put the first ever spot satellite tag on a bull shark, her name is BD Bull.(click to enlarge)

Out of two bull sharks (which I hadn’t seen around for a while), big mamajammas, we successfully deployed another satellite tag on the bigger of the two (210 cm long)!! The first spot satellite tag EVERRRR to go out on a bull shark!!! We named her BD Bull (for Miss Brendal Davis).  You can follow her and our other sharks live on our website, just go to and pick a shark!  Seeing a variety of sharks on the trip was awesome, since as of late, we have not been lucky enough to see a good diversity.  Don’t get me wrong, I love wrestling a little nurse shark (to make you sweat!), but it was nice to see more variety.

One of two bull sharks caught that day.(click to enlarge)

We had another guest on the boat, Tim Divoll from the Biodiversity Research Institute in Maine.  He has been analyzing some of the mercury samples from our trips and has also done work in Belize, collecting samples from dead sharks that are sought out as a food source during Lent in that area.  You can imagine how stoked he was with the outcome of the trip too.  Beats working with dead sharks, huh Tim?  Thanks for all your hard work in the lab, too! Without his work we would not be able to conduct the projects we are pursuing, so it was a pleasure to take him out one the boat so he could experience being in the field.

Our guest Tim Divoll from Maine, who was an amazing intern all weekend long. Thanks Tim! (Click to enlarge)

After we put everything away and we were getting ready to head back to Captain Curt’s we had another visitor! A tiny little warbler bird landed on me! Tim told me they migrate from Costa Rica all the way up to Maine, sometimes even Canada; it was super cute and had a nice yellow and orange color pattern.  Granted, it scared the life out of me before I could realize how beautiful it was (I’m not quite used to having birds land on me – who would figure, you play with sharks all day and a little bird scares you? Weird…), but I guess he must have been tired because he stayed on the boat all the way back to shore.  Joe named him Steve and took him under his wing before Dr. Hammerschlag could throw him in the bait cage (totally kidding).  Steve hitched a ride back with us to land and we all lived happily ever after.

This is Steve, a little bird that hitched a ride on our boat and helped put away our shark gear! (click to enlarge)

Steve is helping Captain Curt bring in a shark. (click to enlarge)

Thanks to everyone involved, specially Joe Romeiro from 333 Productions, for all your great video and pictures from all our trips!

By: Virginia Ansaldi (Shark Intern)

8 replies
  1. Ron & Emily Day
    Ron & Emily Day says:

    Avery interesting letter with pictures,especially of my nephew Tim Divoll, a great young fellow and enjoys his work.

  2. Joana Fernandez de Carvalho
    Joana Fernandez de Carvalho says:


    Congratulations for the great trip!
    I am the representative of the National Sawfish Encounter Database curated by the Florida Program for Shark Research at The Florida Museum of Natural History. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind to report your sawfish encounter to us, using our online reporting form at
    FWC forwards me all the reports, but we prefer to have them first handed if we can.

    Thanks a lot for all your help!
    Good luck with your research!


  3. Sherry Divoll
    Sherry Divoll says:

    Sounds like you had an amazing day of shark tagging and made history as well! Now I understand what my son say’s when he tells me he absolutly loves his job. All the hard work, long hours, blood , sweat, and tears, put into what you do makes it all worth while when you have a day like this! Thank you to everyone at UM and BRI for all your hard work and dedication!

  4. Nicolas Polignan
    Nicolas Polignan says:

    Wow!What an amazing fish I have never seen anything like it! You guys are so lucky to be able to see it in person!! Congratulations!

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

    Joanna, I reported the Sawfish encounter online via FLMNH website on April 1 and sent you accompanying pictures on April 2.

    I also reported the counter to Everglades National Park Dispatch & their Scientific research permit coordinator.

    I also reported to Gregg Poulakis at Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

  6. Tallulah Orcel
    Tallulah Orcel says:

    WOW! This sounds like an absolutely fantastic trip! I cannot believe you guys caught the sawfish. I didn’t know they were found here in Florida. It must have been an absolutely marvelous experience!

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