Shark Tagging with UM Summer Scholars

By Jake Jerome, RJD Graduate Student and Intern

Last Saturday, the RJD crew headed offshore in hopes to collect more data for the ongoing research projects that are taking place. Leaving from Key Biscayne, we were joined by students from the UM Summer Scholars Program, a mix of high school students from across the country that come to the University to experience college for the first time and get involved in the fields that they are interested in. It was exciting to hear that many of them were not from coastal states and were getting the chance to see sharks for the first time! With the Miami summer sun beating down on us, we pushed off the dock and headed out on the Divers Paradise.

After explaining to the group what we had planned for the day and how our gear worked, the students helped to deploy our first 10 drum lines in about 110 feet of water. While we let our lines soak with fresh tuna and barracuda, we collected environmental data with the help of our participants. Temperature, dissolved oxygen, and salinity are measured at each site that we fish at and after each set of 10 drum lines are deployed. While we were counting down until our hour soak time was complete, we briefed the group on our work up process and how they would be helping us collect data if we were lucky enough to catch any sharks. With spirits high, we headed to our first drum line to see if we had any luck on line number 1.

Our first 10 drum lines yielded a large nurse shark that we were able to quickly secure on the platform and begin collecting data from. After everyone got the chance to see the shark up close, we released it in healthy condition. The whole work up process took less than 5 minutes. With no luck on our second set of drums, we rebaited each line and headed back to the beginning for our final set. Like the first one, our last set of the day yielded a large nurse shark. With the help of our participants, we gathered our data quickly and watched another shark swim away in good condition.

Image A

A participant helps with the measurement of a nurse shark.

Throughout the day, we set out and retrieved a total of 30 drum lines which gave us a good opportunity to catch sharks. We were able to collect data from two large nurse sharks with the help of our participants. We also managed to capture a green moray eel on one of our lines but successfully cut the hook and watched it swim back down into ocean in a healthy condition. In addition to assisting with data collection, the students of SSP were a huge help in pulling up our drums from our deep site, which take a lot of strength considering they weigh 45 pounds!

Towards the end of our day, we noticed a huge rain cloud just off in the distance. While some considered it good luck that we were never caught in the middle of it, I think most of us were secretly hoping that we could get a break from the hot sun and enjoy a nice rain shower to help cool ourselves off. Nonetheless, we had a successful day out on the water and were able to collect valuable data that will aid in the conservation of these awesome animals.

Image B

UM Summer Scholars and the RJD team.

Shark Tagging with AMI Kids

By: Hannah Calich, RJD Graduate Student and Intern

Friday’s trip with AMI Kids was an intimate one with only six individuals from AMI, five RJD interns, and our awesome captain, Ramon. Once everyone got to the boat we did a round of introductions, went over gear deployment, and we were on our way! We decided to set our gear at one of Ramon’s favorite sites, Solider Key. After the students helped us deploy the gear we recorded the environmental conditions and took a break for lunch.


Friday’s group.

After lunch our trip leader, Pat went over RJD’s shark workup procedure and we went back to check the lines. Despite our first few hooks coming back empty we remained hopeful because something was clearly nibbling on our bait. When line 9 came up it was clear we had hooked something. We quickly brought the line in and saw we had caught a nurse shark! Everyone rushed to their posts and got ready to collect some samples. Unfortunately, as we were trying to restrain the shark it managed to slip the hook and swim away. We determined it was a male based on the presence of claspers, and estimated he was approximately 2.1m long. After resetting lines 9 and 10 we left our sampling site and went for a quick swim while we waited for our lines to soak.


An AMI student gives the bait a kiss for good luck!

After a fun and refreshing swim we went back to check our gear. Similar to our first set, as we pulled in the lines we could see something was biting our bait, but one by one the lines came back empty. By line 10 we were all pretty sure that the only shark we were going to see was the one that got away. Then all of a sudden there was tension on the line! We pulled in line 10 to find a large nurse shark on the other end! Once the RJD team had quickly and carefully restrained the shark the students went to work helping us collect data. The students helped us determine we caught a 2.4m long male nurse shark. We collected a small fin clip sample, took some blood, tagged him, and set him free. He was in great condition and quickly swam away.


Our last hook of the day caught a large nurse shark!

While it was a slow start to the day, in the end we were able to show a great group of students a powerful and beautiful animal while collecting data to help protect sharks, I cannot think of a better way to spend the day!

Shark Tagging with Citizen Scientists

By Kyra Hartog, RJD Intern

On Sunday, March 30th, RJD embarked on a shark-tagging trip with a group of Citizen Scientists from around Miami. Despite the less than desirable weather, the group was eager and excited to participate in a day of shark conservation research. We headed out from Crandon Park Marina to the waters near the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. Though the waves were a bit rough, the group did a great job helping us deploy the first ten lines, which later yielded two nurse sharks and a lemon shark! Our usual workup was conducted with each shark as participants helped to take measurements and tissue samples and to place tags in the shark’s dorsal fins for identification if they are captured later!


A Citizen Scientist takes measurements on a Nurse shark for use in our research projects related to morphology

 We decided that the water was a bit too rough for the workups to go smoothly so we pulled in the drumlines and reset them at a more sheltered location closer to Key Biscayne. Unfortunately the next two sets of ten drumlines did not yield any sharks at this location. Although the sharks were only caught in the first ten lines of the day, it was still a great day of research and fun out on the water with a phenomenal group of Citizen Scientists.


After the workup is complete, the Lemon shark swims away in excellent condition.



Shark Tagging with Rho Rho Rho

by Heather Alberro, RJD intern

On the calm, grey, and breezy morning of Saturday, March 29th, the RJD team and I headed out for a day of shark tagging with the University of Miami’s Marine and Atmospheric Science Honor Society, Rho Rho Rho. We loaded the Diver’s Paradise with the necessary gear for the day and awaited captain Eric’s signal before departing. The Rho Rho Rho group was most enthusiastic and eager to get started, thrilled by the day’s prospects. We reminded them that even catching a single shark would be a stroke of luck, as a significant number of these predators are in decline. Despite the chances of high winds and scattered showers, once we were all set, we headed out for our destination: Safety Valve, located about half an hour away from Biscayne.


A Rho member kisses the bait for luck.

Our first few deployments were unsuccessful, as many of our hooks came up missing both a shark and the bait we had set out. Finally, towards our second set of deployments, we felt tension as we pulled up one of the lines. As we reeled in the line, a very large and healthy female nurse shark emerged out of the depths putting up quite a fight. After three RJD team members successfully secured the shark, The Rho Rho Rho group was ready to assist in the usual workup, assembling into teams, each with their own task. After a successful workup session and a quick photo session with the Rho Rho Rho members and the shark, it was released in prime condition, and we watched as it disappeared into the sea. Shortly afterwards we caught another nurse shark, to our delight, a recapture, which is a very rare occurrence. This one, a male, was slightly smaller than the previous one, yet no less lively. We safely secured the shark, gathered our data with the help of the Rho Rho Rho team, and promptly released him in great condition. Having already been lucky enough to catch two large and healthy sharks, we caught two more: two lemon sharks. Compared with the incredible strength of the nurse sharks, the lemon sharks were far easier to secure, and were thus a welcome break from the force and strength needed to secure the two nurse sharks. The two lemon sharks were also in great condition, both displaying the characteristic yellowish hue that gives them their name. We performed the usual workup and once again, before releasing each one, allowed each Rho Rho Rho member to pose for a quick picture with the sharks, as these are not as commonly caught as the nurses.


Rho members discuss the day’s catches.

After successfully catching and tagging four sharks, two nurses and two lemons, the day began to draw to a close. We picked up all remaining deployed lines and headed back to Biscayne Bay. Tired after a hard day’s work, some of us sat down, relaxed, and enjoyed the ride back, while others took in sights of nearby boats and sea birds flying overhead. The trip went smoothly on all accounts; even the weather remained pleasant all throughout the day with overcast skies, a cool breeze, and smooth seas. Tagging with Rho Rho Rho was a pleasure, as the group remained enthusiastic and engaged throughout the entirety of the trip. Once we docked and took some of the gear to shed beneath the Diver’s Paradise office building, we said goodbye and parted ways, some of us only momentarily, as another tagging trip was scheduled for the following day.


Rho members and RJD crew throwing up the “U” after a successful day on the boat.


Tagging with Bonefish-Tarpon Trust

By Gabi Goodrich, RJD Intern

While our mornings may be early to most, it’s at this time of the day that can be the most exciting for our team. This past Friday’s trip with Bonefish-Tarpon Trust was no exception. As we crossed over the bridge onto Key Biscayne, the beauty of the ocean seemed overwhelming.

This trip was going to be different for me. I had never been on a trip using the boat R/V Maven, however despite this fact the day would prove to be nothing but spectacular. We met on the dock of the Miami Seaquarium and loaded all our gear onto the boat. Today we were going to a new spot that Neil had a “great feeling about.” We greeted our guests and before I knew it we were on our way out to the site. Around an hour later, we were there. The conditions were amazing. The water was so clear you could see every detail of the reef. We promptly set the lines and took the salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen levels. We then left for Broad Key to pick up the rest of the guests. From there, the excitement started to grow. We headed back to the lines and started pulling them up one by one. On the very first line, a huge 248 cm (8.136 feet) male Nurse Shark had been hooked! I couldn’t believe it! The kids on the boat were so excited! They felt the shark and one exclaimed, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done!” From there, our day would get busy. On line four, a beautiful 199 cm (6.528 feet) female tiger shark! Already we were getting a wonderful variety of sharks!


Neil Hammerschlag high fives a student participant.

But it didn’t stop there. Line five of the same set of ten a gorgeous male Nurse Shark. Line eight was one of the most exciting for this set. Pulling in the line on the yoyo (a circular device used to reel in the monofilament), a fin emerged out of the water. Neil got on the highest vantage point and exclaimed with so much excitement that it was a Great Hammerhead Shark. If you know Neil, you know how excited he gets when we hook a Great Hammerhead. This beautiful male was 230 cm (7.545 feet) long and was in amazing shape. The team promptly satellite tagged him, did the work out, and before we knew it we parted ways with him. After, Neil let out a “YAY!!” in rejoice and the excitement was felt throughout the boat. You’d think this would be the most exciting part of the day, right? Well little did we know we had so much more to come. Line ten of this set had another beautiful 180 cm (5.905 feet) female Tiger Shark. I couldn’t believe the variety and diversity of species we had gotten in the first ten lines!


A great hammerhead is reeled in towards the boat.


We deployed the lines again for the next round of ten. After about an hour, we pulled up the first line to find again another Nurse was hooked! This female Nurse Shark was 222 cm (7.283 feet) and a force to be reckoned with. Most people we take on the boat don’t think Nurse Sharks are powerful but they are! We a struggle, we finally got her to the boat. Line six of this set brought us another 240 cm (7.874 feet) female Nurse Shark! I couldn’t believe it! So many sharks! The fun didn’t stop there. The next line brought in a 268 cm (8.792 feet) female Tiger Shark! We had already gotten eight sharks of three different species! On our last round, we deployed five lines. Again the first line we pulled had a shark! This would be a huge 242 cm (7.939 feet) male Bull Shark! 25 lines deployed, nine sharks caught and tagged of 4 different species! Everyone on the boat was overcome with joy and appreciation for what was caught. It was by far one of my favorite trips I had ever been on!


A tiger shark is released back into the water.

Shark Tagging with Our Lady of Lourdes Academy

By Hannah Calich, RJD Graduate Student and Intern

Despite not being a morning person, I never seem to have a problem waking up on trip days. This past Saturday was no exception. I was especially excited because this was going to be my first trip with the Our Lady of Lourdes Academy (OLLA) and my first overnight trip on Broad Key!

It started as many do, we met OLLA at the Miami Seaquarium and before too long we were on our way. We decided to fish near Stiltsville because the RJD team had a very successful trip there the day before and we had a hunch the sharks were still hanging around. We set our gear, recorded the environmental conditions (temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen level), and had some lunch while we waited for the lines to soak.


A group shot before we pulled the lines in.

An hour later we checked on our lines and saw that our hunch was right! In the first 10 hooks we caught two male nurse sharks, one of which was one of the largest nurse sharks I’ve ever seen, 3.3 m! Once the RJD team restrained the sharks the OLLA girls went to work collecting data. The OLLA team helped us identify the species, determine the sex, measure the sharks, and collect small fin clip samples for future genetics and diet research. In the next two sets we caught three more nurse sharks (two females and one male) that were all approximately 2 m long. Just like with the first two sharks, the OLLA team went straight to work so we were able to collect our data and quickly release the sharks.


A nurse shark being restrained by the RJD team.

After we pulled our last drum out of the water we headed to Broad Key. We docked, cleaned our gear, and went for a quick kayak trip before dinner. Dinner was a delicious mix of buffalo burgers, mushrooms, corn, salad and even s’mores! After dinner the girls went up on the rooftop and spent the rest of the evening stargazing. Sunday morning we ventured back up to the roof for some sunrise yoga led by RJD’s own yoga instructor, Virginia! After yoga we made breakfast and got back on the boat.

To vary our sampling sites we decided to sample in the Broad Key channel. Despite our best efforts, our first 10 hooks came back empty. Since we hadn’t reached our hour soak time yet, we left our sampling site and the girls went for a quick swim near some mangroves to cool off. We returned to our gear to find a nurse shark! Unfortunately, the nurse shark slipped the hook and swam off before we could get it on the platform. Just as we were beginning to think we were going to be skunked, line 9 came up with a powerful, healthy, 2.1 m long bull shark! Just as before, the OLLA girls sprang into action to help us sample this beautiful animal as quickly as possible.


An OLLA student helping the RJD team take measurements of a bull shark

All in all, it was a successful trip. We caught 7 sharks in total, 6 nurse sharks and 1 bull shark. We got to spend the night at the beautiful Broad Key Research Field Station, and the RJD team got to enjoy the company of another fun and enthusiastic school group. Thank you to all of the OLLA girls, Ms. Taylor, Chris, and our fantastic captain, Eric for all your hard work over the last few days! I can’t wait for the next one!

Shark Tagging with St. Thomas Aquinas High School

by Michelle Martinek, RJD Intern


This most recent trip on Captain Curt’s trusty vessel is likely one that the RJ Dunlap team and guests will not soon forget. What started as a bleary eyed, early morning trip to the keys turned into quite the adventure courtesy of our unpredictable friend Mother Nature. In the span of only an hour, we saw beautiful blue skies give way to a lightning storm that relentlessly pelted our faces with warm rain and rocked the boat with large waves. To a native Floridian, this changeability is no surprise. Our steadfast team and all the students from St. Thomas Aquinas braved the elements and had an extremely successful day, catching and collecting data on 6 sharks! Even wet and chilled, we returned a very happy crew.

The day began with a carpool of the RJD team with two new interns, myself included, setting off at 5am from RSMAS. After our trip leader David introduced us to the wonders of a deep fried breakfast burrito called the “tornado” and the following discussion of the recent “Sharknado” film, we arrived a little more alert to Captain Curt’s house at 7am. Our relief was great upon seeing that most of the supplies were still onboard from the previous expedition that weekend. Curt made sure we didn’t have it too easy however by informing us we would be going to the shallow waters of the everglades, meaning we had to completely re-rig all of the drumlines since they were set for far deeper water. After preparations were complete, we welcomed a wonderful group of students from St. Thomas Aquinas High School, most of whom are part of their school’s marine science club, and set off.

Read more

Shark tagging with the Sarasota Military Academy

by Emily Rose Nelson, RJD Intern


In the midst of finals, the best study break you can ask for is a day sharktagging in Islamorada. I was eager to put down my books and get on the water. After it had been raining for a few days straight I was nervous the trip may be cancelled, but the weather looked like it was going to hold out and I would get my much needed study break. The RJD team prepared the boat, Sarasota Military Academy arrived, and we were off.

Upon arrival at the site drumlines were deployed with no problem at all. The sun began to beat down and we still had about an hour to wait, giving us the perfect opportunity to go swimming. After some fun splashing around we were off to pick up drumlines.

Read more

Shark Tagging with the University of Miami Citizens’ Board

by Becca Shelton, RJD Intern

The excitement on board the R/V Endsley was pretty apparent before we pushed away from the dock. During the prior two days, RJD had successfully tagged and released 12 nurse sharks and 2 bull sharks around Key Biscayne! You never know what you’re going to catch from day to day, but since it was nurse shark mating season, we predicted that we would catch a decent amount of feisty nurses. With high hopes, we headed off to the channel at Bear Cut.

An hour after we deployed the first set of drumlines, it was time to pull them in and see if there were any sharks on the lines! We highly encourage all of our guests to be as involved as possible and help us with collecting samples from the sharks as well as help with reeling in and deploying lines.


Read more

Shark Tagging with St. Thomas Aquinas High School

By Brittany Bartlett, RJD Intern

When I woke up at 4:45am and saw that it was still dark outside, I had every intention of rolling over, putting the pillow over my head, and going straight back to sleep. But, it then hit me that I was going shark tagging down in Islamorada! I quickly jumped up, got ready and was out the door by 5:15am to pick up our photographer, Amanda! It was going to be a great day!

Read more