By Dana Tricarico, RJD Intern
Friday October 23, 2015 was officially my second trip as an RJD intern. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to get the day started and to become more familiar with all the jobs on board. It was a beautiful morning for some shark tagging as the team met at the University of Miami’s RSMAS campus to begin the transport of the gear to the dock at Diver’s Paradise. Upon arrival at the dock, we met the group of South Broward High School students, specifically from aspiring marine scientists in the Marine Magnet program, better known as the South Broward “Reef Dogs.” Many of these students were also part of the high school’s Shark Club and/or were RJD citizen science veterans. We also had local volunteers and two science communicators on board as well to help in our efforts and to document the day!
Our trip leader for the day was David Shiffman, who explained to the group the benefits of our gear and how our team deploys it. While David explained this, our team got the gear ready as the boat headed out to our destination. Despite the sunny skies, the wind was strong, so the decision was made to tag in shallower areas within Biscayne Bay. Once all 10 drum lines were placed into the water, Eric Cartaya, captain of our ship, gave a brief history of the area while we waiting for the bait to soak in the water. We learned that the area we chose to tag in that day was right near Soldier Key, the northernmost of the Florida Keys. He also explained that although Key Biscayne is further north, it is not a true key because it is made of sand, and not limestone.
After a full hour passed from the deployment of the first drumline, we began pulling up each of the drumlines with the help of our citizen scientists on board. The first set of 10 drumlines was pulled without any sharks, but we definitely did not lose hope. We continued to place them back in and keep our spirits high with several group shark dances! They must have worked because after we pulled up almost half of the second set up drumlines, we got our first shark- a nurse shark! This was by far the largest nurse shark I had ever seen as it was well over 2 meters. The coloration was extremely interesting because it was so dark.
The South Broward High School students and other volunteers broke into four different teams. Each person within the team had a job which they helped us with once we pulled the shark onto the platform. These jobs routinely include measuring the shark, taking a fin clip and tagging the shark with something we call a “spaghetti tag.” For other species of sharks, we also have the volunteers help us with a stress test by checking the presence of the nictitating membrane on the eye with a squirt of salt water. All of the data collected through these jobs is used in ongoing research projects in the lab, in order to protect these species and to learn more about them. Additionally, volunteers were able to watch RJD intern Laurel Zaima take photos of some of the fins of the shark for morphology information, and were also able to watch intern Jake Jerome take blood from the underside of the tail for his ongoing Master’s research.
The day moved quickly with small rain showers every once in a while to help and cool us off. Later on in the day we were able to tag another large nurse shark with similar coloration to the first we found. David, who has seen a great deal of nurse sharks throughout his research, said that the two nurse sharks we saw were two of the darkest nurse sharks he had ever seen! From my experience, sometimes, people tend to overlook nurse sharks and do not realize how incredible they are. As someone who personally has now had to secure a nurse shark in order to get the necessary data collected, the sheer strength of Nurse Sharks is impressive in itself. I was very lucky to be able to work with both of these sharks, and to do so with a very enthusiastic group of volunteers! Not only that, but I was able to learn from experienced RJD interns who made me increasingly more confident in all the jobs onboard, so I can be even more knowledgeable next time!