Our first weekend of trips for the semester ended with a beautiful day off the coast of Key Largo with RSMAS PhD student Rachel Silverstein and her friends and family. The day started with overcast skies but that didn’t stop the group from showing their excitement for the day of shark tagging that lay ahead. After explaining some to the group why we study sharks and some of the different aspects of RJD research, we headed offshore to set our first ten drumlines. The first set turned up two very large and feisty nurse sharks! The team and visitors got to work taking a tissue sample from the fin, measuring the animal’s length, and fitting each animal with dart tags.
The day continued with a bull shark dance for good luck and two small blacktip sharks! Both blacktips were measured, fitted with spaghetti tags and their muscle and fin tissues were sampled. The visitors on the boat were surprised to feel the differences between the dermal denticles of the nurse sharks versus those of the blacktip sharks. The nurse sharks have tougher skin to protect from scratching themselves on their ocean floor habitat while the blacktips have skin that feels more like sandpaper to make the animals more hydrodynamic as they swim through the water.
While we didn’t see any of our target species (Tiger, Bull, and Hammerhead sharks) during the day, the visitors as well as the RJD team had a great day on the water. The sun came out later in the day and the group headed back to Key Largo with a feeling of accomplishment for the data collected as well as new knowledge about sharks and the RJ Dunlap Program’s research endeavors.
Kyra Hartog, RJD Intern