By William Evans, RJD Intern
I woke up on Thursday morning and saw that it was slightly overcast and drizzling. For more people, this would be a sign of a gloomy day inside but for me and the rest of the RJD crew, it was the perfect set up for a day of shark tagging. The crew met at Crandon Park at 8 AM, along with high school students from Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. As we boarded the boat, reviewed some boat safety and pulled out from the marina, the skies began to clear up and the sun was shining.
Our trip leader for the day, Christian Pankow, began to speak to the students about our fishing methods and why we use the specific gear that we do. While Christian was talking, the rest of the team began to set up the gear, bait the hooks, and deploy the drums. After the 10th drum was deployed, we waited to let the bait soak in the water and allow time for sharks to get on the hooks. While we were waiting, Shannon Moorhead, an undergraduate student at UM, and I saw a blacktip breach on the 6th drum! We knew it was a good sign for how the rest of the day was going to go. Because of our sighting, we went to the 6th drum first and sure enough, there was a blacktip shark on the line. That was only 1 of 4 blacktips from that days trip. Of the four, the last blacktip that we pulled in was 1.92 meters, slightly over 6 feet, which Christian said was the “first or second largest blacktip” that he’s ever seen!
The Pine Crest students were able to interact with each shark by assisting the team in collecting data. The student tasks were checking the presence of the nictitating membrane on the eye with a squirt of water, measuring the shark, taking a fin clip, and tagging the shark. These opportunities allow students to not only interact with sharks but to participate in meaningful research and will hopefully light a spark in them to pursue science or at least be more knowledgeable about sharks importance to the ocean ecosystem. It was also beneficial to the students to be able to witness another graduate student, Robbie Roemer, be able to collect blood samples from all of the blacktip sharks.
Towards the end of the day, we also caught a small, adult blacknose shark in addition to the 4 blacktips that we caught before. Because of its size, it was placed on the deck for the work up and the students on board were able to get a chance to see the differences between the blacktips we caught before and this new species. We made it back to the dock to unload and clean the gear for the next trip going out the following day. Aside from all of the sharks, not having to remove the drums from the boat was my favorite part of the day! Although it was an exhausting day, that was the most amount of blacktips that I have personally seen on a trip and even though they are not my favorite shark, they are still beautiful animals. Every tagging trip makes me more excited than the next because I come on the boat more equipped with knowledge than the time before!