Shark Tagging with Experience Aviation

by Gabi Goodrich, RJD Intern


My alarm sounded promptly at 5 am. Coffee deprived and still half asleep, I got in the car with Meg and made my way to Islamorada. As I began waking up, my sleepiness was replaced with excitement; I was going to shark tag today. It was my first day as an RJD intern and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I had done this before, or something similar to it, in the Gulf.

Before I knew it, we pulled up to the house. Meg and I walked around to find everyone setting up on the boat. The boat itself was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. When I shark tagged in the Gulf, we went out on a single engine old research boat. This boat was bigger with a full cabin. Suddenly, I was greeted by a smiling Virginia. Before I had a chance to meet anyone else, I was loading the equipment we would use to catch the sharks on the boat. One after another, we hauled ten floats tied with long line to weights on the boat, then we loaded the research equipment itself. It was finally sinking in that this wasn’t going to be like what I had done before. Eventually everything was loaded on the boat and I finally got a chance to meet the rest of the crew. I was happy to find out that I was not the only new person on the boat. Most of us would be learning the ropes

Virginia gave us a quick run down on how to do everything. I tried very hard to understand but information seemed to be coming at me from all angles and I couldn’t quite retain it all. Without skipping a beat, the Experience Aviation group arrived. Virginia told us she would explain more later and that we would be learning as the day progressed. After all the guests were on the boat, we were shuffled into the cabin for a quick briefing with the guests. I looked around the room and to my surprise there were many more people than I had expected.

Once the briefing was done, we had a 45 minute trip out to the site where we would be taking samples and fishing. You can’t help but take in the beautiful views as you go out. The rich blues and greens of the ocean, the light blue colors of the sky, and the warmth of the sun against your skin were all mesmerizing. Forty five minutes later, we arrived to our destination. As soon as we got to the site, things started moving very quickly. We were throwing the lines, weights, bait, and floats in the water. Everything was happening so fast I barely had time to process it all. After getting all the lines in the water, we were able to relax a little and eat lunch before it was time to pull the lines up and check them. After the lines had been in the water for approximately an hour, we pulled them up. The first two had nothing on them. I worried that the third line would be a bust, too. As we pulled it up, I could see there was tension on the line. Yes! There was a shark on the line – a BIG sandbar shark.

As the captain fought with the shark, I thought to myself – this is worth the wait! The shark eventually won and broke the line. However, the day wasn’t over yet. I was disappointed we lost the shark, but remained motivated. We would land another one. The next few lines, however, would prove otherwise. Finally, after time and time again of empty lines,
we finally hooked at 7 foot nurse shark.

The RJD team secures a nurse shark

The RJD team secures a nurse shark

We wrangled her onto the boat. I wasinstructed to jump onto the shark with two other girls. The first shark made me feel like I was in a rodeo. Although just a nurse shark, this shark was powerful and big. We used all our strength to quell her. The shark was measured, blood was taken, her fin was clipped, and eventually a spaghetti tag was placed into the fin. We carefully pushed the shark back into the water. I watched as she slowly swam out of sight.


It took a while, but we were bl

A large nurse shark

A large nurse shark

essed with catching another 7 foot female nurse shark. We did the same procedure as the last time. This time, however, I wasn’t a “jumper”. Instead, I was the hook cutter. After all the data was collected off this big girl, I had the job of using bolt cutters to cut the hook from her jaws. I was finally face to face with the biggest shark I had ever seen. I knew I was safe but it was still a very exciting and tense moment. She was the last shark we caught for the rest of the day. As we packed up, I couldn’t help but smile. This was definitely one of the best days I’ve had since I moved to Miami. I love this work and these animals. But most importantly, I understand the importance of our research. I feel so fortunate to have an internship like this!

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