By Jake Jerome, RJD Graduate Student and Intern
On Wednesday, July 16, the RJD crew set out to waters around Miami’s historic stiltsville just off Key Biscayne in hopes to tag and release sharks for our ongoing research. We were joined by kids from the Gang Alternative program and a few citizen scientists. Many had never been on a boat before and were excited to see what was in store for the day. After a discussion about sharks, led by our trip leader Pat, we set off for our fishing waters.
Once we arrived, we deployed our first set of drumlines with the help of our guests. Everyone was very helpful and we were able to get our gear in the water in no time at all. While we let the lines soak for an hour, we collected environmental data and watched a big storm loom over the city. With the sun shining on us, we kept an eye on the fast moving storm clouds looming offshore.
Our first ten drums yielded nothing more than the annoying sargassum that crept along the surface of the water we were fishing in. The empty hooks gave us a chance to show the kids how the floating sargassum acts as a tiny ecosystem for small fish and crustaceans. With our lines rebaited, we headed back to our first buoy to see if our luck had changed.
One by one we pulled up our lines to find nothing but empty hooks and half eaten chunks of bait. We got skunked again! With spirits low and the Miami sky opening up above us, we rounded to buoy one for our last set of drums. After switching around the crew and trying everything we could to change our luck, we managed to catch a blacknose on line number four. Excitement filled the boat as a relieved RJD crew safely secured the shark and placed a pump in its mouth to flush water over its gills. With the help of our guests, we were able to collect all of our data in less than three minutes and then had time for everyone to see the animal up close and personal before we got it back in the water and watched it swim away in good condition. Before the excitement had time to settle, we realized we had a shark on the very next line!
Another blacknose was pulled on the boat and quickly worked up to collect data. After a quick release, we began pulling up the rest of our lines. While pulling up our seventh line, we realized we had another shark on, something bigger than a blacknose! A nearly 8 foot lemon shark had taken our bait and was brought onto our platform. It was great to have a larger shark to show our guests and to be able to compare it to the smaller blacknoses that we caught. Once we collected all our data, we released the shark and watched it head back into the ocean.
By far the best part of the day for me was seeing the change in perception that our guest had about sharks. In the beginning, half of them were scared just coming aboard the boat, but towards the end they had no problem unloading, with many having a new appreciation for sharks! Being able to show others the true side of sharks is the most enjoyable part of working with the RJD team and why I am always excited for one of our shark tagging trips.