By Patrick Goebel, RJD Intern
It is always pleasant waking up to your alarm on a shark tagging day. My alarm went off at 5:30am and in no time I was on my way to Miami. I met the team around 7:30 am at Diver’s Paradise. We loaded the boat and set off to pick up our participants for the day. We picked up our citizen scientists, a group of Miami Alumni as part of the President’s Council at the Miami Seaquarium.
Before heading out, the group fueled up with some breakfast and coffee. We didn’t know it at the time, but we would need all the energy we could get. During this time, Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, our program’s director, gave a brief introduction about the importance of our research and why we use our research methods. He mentioned it is estimated over 100 million sharks are killed each year. This got the attention of our guests and set us up for a great day of shark research and conservation.
After a short ride out, we quickly deployed our first set of ten drumlines with the help of our citizen scientist from the President’s Council. The next step in was deploying our new platform, which weighs a good 100+ lbs. We slipped the platform into the water, attached it to the boat via 3 poles, to hold it in place. Our team was surprised it was a piece of a cake. Once in place, we took turns standing and talking about the logistics of the platform. Since this was the first time we had ever used the platform, no one was sure if and how it would work. It is like getting a new toy or car, we could not wait to try it out.
We were hoping to catch a smaller shark first so we could test our platform and get the hang of it. However, as you know nothing goes as planned. I started to pull up our first drumline and noticed that the 40lb drumline felt a little heavier than normal. I quietly noted to a few members of the team that “we got something big on.” After a couple of minutes, we got the shark close enough to the boat to tell we had an 8+ bull shark on. The team quickly jumped into action ready to bring this big girl up onto the platform. Again to our surprise, we quickly and easily brought the shark onto the platform and began our workup. Our citizen scientists from the President’s Council took three measurements: precadual length, fork length, and total length, followed by a finclip, muscle biopsy. We then released and happily enjoyed, for a few minutes, how well the platform did.
It wasn’t long before we had another test for the platform. The next two lines each had on a 7+ ft nurse shark. These sharks are like armored tanks packed with muscle. If you have ever been on the boat with us before, you know nurse sharks don’t really cooperate with us, so this would be another great test for our platform. However, two nurse sharks later the platform yet again exceeded our expectations.
The day continued to get better and better. On our 18th drumline we caught another 8+ ft bull shark. This was exciting because we placed the first satellite tag of 2014 on this shark, which you can track here, https://sharkresearch.rsmas.miami.edu/education/virtual-learning/tracking-sharks.
We really killed it in our third set. In this set alone, we caught 6 sharks of 4 species in the following order: nurse, bull, nurse, blacktip, and lemon. I have never caught a lemon shark out of Miami so this was a unique experience for me. These sharks can be quite feisty and have a very unique pale yellow/brown coloring. Also, their two dorsal fins are very similar in size, which makes them very distinguishable.
This trip on February 20th will likely be a trip none of us will forget. Our guests from the President’s Council were a great help and showed a passion for our research. We left them with a plethora of new knowledge about the importance of the ocean, which hopefully they will share with others. Sharing our knowledge about ocean conservation is truly a remarkable experience, one in which we believe is a great way to help conserve the ocean for future generations. Thanks to all who participated today and our team for an excellent day on the water.