By Alison Enchelmaier, RJD Intern
This trip couldn’t have come sooner. I’d been in my office for far too long and a tagging trip was long over due. Before the sun began to rise Sam and I piled into the car and headed to West Palm Beach. We met the rest of the team at Jim Abernathy’s Scuba Adventures at 7:30am and began loading up gear. With only 4 team members, I knew today would be a busy one. When our guests, Gulliver Preparatory’s Oceanography Club, arrived Dr. Neil gave everyone a briefing about shark conservation and the importance of our research before heading out.
As we left the harbor the waves began to grow higher and higher, until we were in 5ft high seas. It was difficult to safely move around the boat, much less tag, so the captain suggested we set lines closer to the harbor. To a resounding yes, we headed to the intercostal area, a location we had never tagged in before. The ocean flattened out to minimal waves as we reached our location and set our lines.
After we demonstrated how to set the lines, the Gulliver Prep students enthusiastically helped set the first 10 lines of the day. We headed back in to pick up a guest photographer and Dr. Neil demonstrated how to work up a shark and the research behind each sample. After letting the lines soak for an hour, we headed back out to pull in lines. As the first line was pulled in, no one expected anything to be on it since we rarely catch a shark on the first line. To our surprise the line was taut and a 216cm (~7ft) male nurse shark came to the surface! The deck was a flurry of activity as we brought the shark on to the boat, everyone excitedly chattering about such a lucky find. We worked up the shark in a few minutes and released it back into the water in good condition.
The first shark put us in high spirits, and we continued to pull in lines. On the 9th line we caught another male nurse shark, this one smaller at 186cm (~6 ft). After working up the second shark we continued to pull up lines, but didn’t see anything until the 18th line. As the line was pulled in, Jake said that something was on the line but it didn’t feel big enough to be a shark. As it reached the surface we got our answer: a gafftopsail catfish! The hook was quickly removed and the catfish was returned to the water, but not before getting slime on everything it touched!
In total we caught two male nurse sharks. We rarely find so many male nurse sharks in one trip! Hopefully the data we collected can help us figure out why they were there. Over all it was great day out on the water. I hope the Oceanography Club From Gulliver Prep had as much fun as we did!