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.
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.
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.
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 https://www.sharkresearch.rsmas.miami.edu/learning-tools/ 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.
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.
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.
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)