National Geographic Filming: Day 1

By Julia Whidden, SRC Intern

On February 15th, a crew of 8 SRC members and 7 National Geographic filmmakers merged together for a 3-day tagging excursion in search of the Ferraris of the ocean: the great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran). With cloudy skies and a slim chance of rain, we made brief introductions and set off together from Diver’s Paradise at Crandon marina to the shallow waters of Cape Florida Channel. Spoiler alert: we got skunked.

SRC Intern Shannon Moorehead being filmed recording data.

SRC Intern Shannon Moorehead being filmed recording data.

While the etiology of the fishing term ‘skunked’ is debatable, most anglers can agree that catching no fish – oh, the irony – stinks. It was a first for many of the SRC interns on the boat that day, including myself, but we remained hopeful as we pulled in each of the 45 lines set that this next line would be the one. We baited our circle hooks with bonito (of the tuna family Scombridae) and barracuda (of the barracuda family Sphyraenidae, and the 1977 hit by Heart), and had several lines come up with the bait nearly intact! The sharks just weren’t ready for their on-screen close-up. The film crew used their free time to record us doing the less glamorous side of shark fishing, including cutting bait, organizing tools in our beloved “FatMax” toolbox, setting and retrieving (empty) drumlines, recording data, performing interpretive shark dances, and the fishing highlight of our day: retrieving the fish traps. At the beginning of most shark trips, we set out 2 baited fish traps near our fishing site to investigate the species assemblage of the area, or what fish our sharks may be feeding on. Today we baited both traps with cross-hatched jack, which we cut into to release juices and draw in nearby fish. After soaking for nearly 5 hours, we retrieved the 2 traps to find a combined 4 fish, including 2 white grunts, a juvenile redtail parrotfish, and a Houdini fish that escaped my slippery grip before we could identify it. From both a fishing and filming perspective, the day ended quite anticlimactically. However, we took the time to get to know the film crew, and the film crew took some time to learn about obscure and underappreciated sharks, thanks to SRC Intern Rachel Skubel having brought along her copy of “Sharks of the World”. While sound engineer Eddy’s newfound knowledge of lanternsharks did not prove useful over the rest of the trips, the chance to become friends with the film crew on our quiet first day was really valuable. Besides the obvious benefit of knowing someone before you end up in a confined space with them and a shark, talking to the film crew gave me the chance to ask questions about the holy grail of nature journalism that is National Geographic. Having grown up with the magazine being a staple of my family’s coffee table selection, I was beyond thrilled to be even somewhat involved with them, and mentally checked off “do work with Nat Geo” from my bucket list. As it turns out, getting skunked wasn’t so bad after all.


Film crew sound engineer Eddy reading about the sharks we weren’t catching in “Sharks of the World”.

At the end of the day, we had collected data about the day’s environmental variables, including water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen. Even though we weren’t able to add to it with any shark data, the saying in science goes that “no data is still data”. This means that despite not having caught any sharks in the Cape Florida Channel today, we can still learn something about why the sharks weren’t there or why we weren’t able to catch them, possibly relating to seasonal movement patterns, the day’s weather, species-specific behaviors, feeding and habitat requirements, fishing location, and a variety of other factors. Our crew remained optimistic through 45 lines of empty hooks that tomorrow would bring more action, and that today was the calm before the storm! Spoiler alert: we were right.


One of the two white grunts that we caught in our fish traps, looking like he’s not happy about his impending physical exam.

Shark Tagging with Hialeah High School

By Casey Dresbach, SRC Intern

On the fairly windy and overcast morning of December 3rd, the SRC team and honorary audience members set sail on yet another successful venture. The SRC team and I met at Crandon Park at 8 AM, along with high school students from Hialeah High School, and a very special guest, a Canadian documentary filmmaker. As we boarded the boat, the skies began to clear up and ensured a day filled with adventure.

Catherine Macdonald, the trip leader for the day, and Jake Jerome, my fellow intern, began to speak to the students about our fishing methods and why we use such specific gear. The two briefed the students on why SRC does what we do and how each and every one of them were about to help in collecting crucial data which impacts both shark research and management. While the explanation took place, I, along with the rest of the team began to set up the gear, bait the hooks, and deploy the drums. This was repeated three times, a total of 30 deployed drums for the day. After the first set of ten, we held tight to let the bait soak in the water for about an hour. Upon waiting, I got to speak with a couple of the students and their very enthusiastic teacher. For some students, it was their first time seeing sharks, let alone being aboard a boat! Having such an avid educator on board made all the difference; the energy was wonderful and not only did the team respond, but the sharks were pretty responsive too! Our first cartilaginous friend hooked onto line four to join our educational soirée. The beautiful male Black Tip came aboard at around 170 cm, about five and a half feet long. To avoid setting up the platform in such rough seas, we landed the shark onto the boat. Little did we know that this little guy would foreshadow the rest of our catches… all to whom were in fact Black Tips! I’m honored to say I took part in such a remarkable set of catches! Teams of four students were set up and each one got to take part in the four primal procedures: nictitating the eye membrane, measuring the shark, taking a fin clip sample, and of course, tagging the shark.

A student conducts a reflex test on the shark’s eye with a stream of ocean water, checking for its ‘eyelid’ called a nictitating membrane. This reflex is being tested as a possible measure of stress levels.

A student conducts a reflex test on the shark’s eye with a stream of ocean water, checking for its ‘eyelid’ called a nictitating membrane. This reflex is being tested as a possible measure of stress levels.

The rest of the day seemed to go by fairly quick; five more sharks were caught throughout the next several hours. We landed a male Black Tip at 157 centimeters (a little over five feet), followed by a male Black Tip at 159 centimeters (a little over five feet), yet another male at 170 centimeters (about five and a half feet), and two female: one with a total length of 170 cm and another at 173 centimeters (almost 6 feet!). The team aided the participants in their tasks, snapped photos of each to get accurate measurements to scale, and drew blood from each shark, which that was taken to the back of the boat and examined by my fellow intern, Stephen Cain. Eager students head back to join him and soak in his masterly shark blood handling. Catch after catch I was able to see the spark in each and every one of the students. In being apart of such an incredible Shark Research Program, I have learned to appreciate the most satisfying recognition: inspiring high school students to take in new knowledge.

A student assists intern, Casey Dresbach, with measurements of the shark.

A student assists intern, Casey Dresbach, with measurements of the shark.

Honorary Hialeah High School’s biology teacher helps pull in a line, with Blacktip hooked on!

Honorary Hialeah High School’s biology teacher helps pull in a line, with Blacktip hooked on!

Overall, we had an extraordinary day on the sea with Hialeah High School and the Canadian documentary team, in spite of the choppy waters. After catching a record six Black Tips, I can only presume that everyone on board left feeling satisfied and content with the day. The SRC team was able to gain valuable data from our catches and workups. The trip was made best because of the enthusiasm instilled in all of the students, thank you for your hard work and energy! We only hope you continue to instill your passion in the future; it truly is remarkable. Hope to you again soon!

Shark Tagging with MAST Academy

By Grace Roskar, SRC Intern

On the overcast morning of November 15th, the SRC team, the Diver’s Paradise captain and crew, and students of MAST Academy gathered at Crandon Marina to brave wind, clouds, and light rain to embark on a day of shark tagging. MAST Academy is one of our oldest participating school groups and although the weather was not the typical Miami sunshine, the students were eager to board the boat and get underway. We motored out through choppy waters to the Safety Valve in Biscayne Bay, which is a group of shallow sand flats that is intersected by the tides flowing in and out. After some quick introductions and a briefing on the process of deploying drumlines, the equipment was set out and allowed to soak for an hour. In the meantime, trip leader Christian Pankow demonstrated the process of working up the sharks to the MAST students. When an hour had passed, we set out to retrieve the first set of ten drumlines. To no avail, there were not any sharks on the first ten lines, so they were set back in the water after being reloaded with fresh pieces of bait. However, several of the hooks came up with the chunk of barracuda steak missing and two lines had bite marks and shredding on the tough monofilament line, so it seemed that sharks could be somewhere close. The second set of ten drumlines was pulled up and again, no sharks. They were set back into the water and were allowed to soak a little bit longer.

A MAST Academy student tosses the barracuda bait into the water.

A MAST Academy student tosses the barracuda bait into the water.

On the 21st line, a blacktip had been hooked! To avoid setting up the platform in such rough seas, the 1.64 meter male shark was brought directly onto the stern of the boat by Christian and grad student Robbie. Once secured, MAST students assisted the SRC team with several length measurements, taking a sample of the dorsal fin, and inserting a dart tag into the shark’s dorsal fin. The shark was swiftly released back into the water in great condition. Since time allowed, a fourth set of drumlines was deployed, bringing our total to 40 drumlines for the day. Another blacktip, slightly smaller at 1.53 meters, was pulled up and worked up via the same process on the back of the boat. Students were able to assist in the work-up process again and also touch the shark, feeling the unique texture of their dermal denticles. Another line later had a nurse shark on the hook, but just as Christian and Robbie were pulling it up to secure it onto the boat, it simply spit the hook out of its mouth and swam off! Although it was disappointing to be so close to pulling in our third shark of the day, Christian was able to estimate it at 1.5 meters in length and the students were glad to still be able to see the day’s second shark species at the surface of the water.

A student helps test the reflex of the shark’s ‘eyelid,’ or nictitating membrane, to measure the shark’s stress level.

A student helps test the reflex of the shark’s ‘eyelid,’ or nictitating membrane, to measure the shark’s stress level.

A student helps measure the total length of the shark.

A student helps measure the total length of the shark.

For the remainder of the trip, Christian dissected a barracuda eye as a demonstration for the students, and the SRC fish traps that had been deployed at the beginning of the trip were pulled up. The fish in the traps, including two filefish, were measured and photographed for the SRC’s ongoing study of fish populations associated with shark populations in the area. Although the weather was a bit less pleasant than we’re used to, it was still a great day out on the water with MAST Academy. For some students, it was their first time seeing sharks, and the whole group seemed pleased and more knowledgeable about these important apex predators after the day was over. The SRC team was able to gain valuable data from the two blacktip sharks and we hope to have MAST Academy back out with us soon!

Thank you MAST Academy for joining us for a day of shark tagging!

Thank you MAST Academy for joining us for a day of shark tagging!

Shark Tagging with South Broward High School

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!

At the start of the day, the team makes the final preparations before the fish traps and drumlins are deployed.

At the start of the day, the team makes the final preparations before the fish traps and drumlins are deployed.

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.

A student assists with taking a series of morphological measurements of a nurse shark.

A student assists with taking a series of morphological measurements of a nurse shark.

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.

Fin Clip

A student takes a finclip, a small cartilage sample that will help reveal long-term toxicology and dietary patterns. Trip leader David Shiffman, and RJD Graduate intern Emily Nelson assists in the process.

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!

It was a great day for some shark tagging. Thanks to South Broward High School for all of your help!

It was a great day for some shark tagging. Thanks to South Broward High School for all of your help!


Shark Tagging with Westminster Christian School

By Hannah Calich, RJD Graduate Student

Last Friday the RJD team was joined by the fabulous students and teachers from Westminster Christian School for another day of shark tagging!

The Westminster students, teachers, and the RJD team after a great day on the water

The Westminster students, teachers, and the RJD team after a great day on the water

The RJD team met at Crandon Marina at 8 am to begin loading up Divers Paradise. Despite the hurricane over the Bahamas, Miami’s coastal waters were calm and the weather was great, so we were eager to get out on the water. Once everyone was on the boat the RJD team introduced themselves, our trip leader, Emily Nelson gave everyone a briefing, and we set off!

Once we got to the site, the RJD team deployed a baited fish trap as part of a new project we’re working on to learn more about the fish communities at our tagging sites. Once the trap was deployed we set 10 drumlines, took some environmental data, and had some lunch while we let the lines soak. After the hour-long soak we began checking our lines. Our first line came up empty, but when we got to drum # 2 we felt a familiar tug on the line and everyone sprang into action. Our first shark of the day was a 171 cm male blacktip shark!

A Westminster student gives the bait a kiss for good luck!

A Westminster student gives the bait a kiss for good luck!

Once we tagged and released him we headed over to drum # 3 where once again we felt a familiar tug on the line. Our second shark of the day was a 174 cm female blacktip shark! What was particularly interesting about this girl was that she was a recapture! We checked our records and determined that we originally tagged her back on November 1st, 2013! Back in 2013 she was 169 cm and has grown to 174 cm since then. We get really excited about recaptures because they are relatively rare and give us a lot of interesting data about how these animals are growing, where they are living, and what they are eating!

A Westminster student helping collect a fin clip from one of the blacktips

A Westminster student helping collect a fin clip from one of the blacktips

Once we re-tagged and released her we went to drum # 4, where once again there was a shark on the line! On drum # 4 we caught another 174 cm female blacktip! She had only been on the line for a few minutes so we decided to surgically implant an acoustic tag in her abdomen as part of our Urban Shark Project, which is studying how sharks use highly urbanized environments.

Once she was tagged and released we went back to checking and rebaiting our lines. Unfortunately, the next 16 lines came up empty. However, something was clearly eating our bait and since the first few lines had been so busy we knew it was only a matter of time until we caught another shark, so we decided to set 5 more lines.

While we were waiting for those lines to soak we decided to pull up our fish trap and work-up the fish we caught. We ended up catching about 25 fish from approximately 6 species! Once the fish trap was back on the boat we went to check on our drumlines and found that we’d caught one last shark! This time we had caught a large (240 cm) male nurse shark! The RJD team secured him while the students went to work collecting data. Within a few minutes the workup was complete and he was on his way again.

RJD intern Julia Whidden takes measurements of a fish caught in our fish trap

RJD intern Julia Whidden takes measurements of a fish caught in our fish trap

In the end it was a very successful day because we caught 4 sharks! We caught 3 similarly sized blacktips (one of which was a recapture!) and a large male nurse shark. In addition to doing our usual work-up we also deployed an acoustic tag and gained new data on the local fish communities! Thanks again for all your hard work Westminster, it is always a pleasure to go out with you guys. I can’t wait until the next trip!

Our last shark of the day, a 240 cm male nurse shark!

Our last shark of the day, a 240 cm male nurse shark!


Shark Tagging with 360 Destinations

By Beau Marsh, RJD Inter

We enjoyed yet another beautiful day of shark tagging.  The RJ Dunlap team had the pleasure of taking out the 360 Destinations group.  Since the group was rather large, we had the added excitement of sending out two boats, in tandem.  Spirits were high as everyone assembled at the Crandon Park as it was a gorgeous day. Plus, there was some playful jesting between the two crews over who would see more sharks.  The competition would be fierce!  Today’s destination for both boats was Soldier Key, a brisk 30 minute boat ride away.  As we were preparing to depart the marina, we were met with a pleasant surprise.  A friendly manatee graced us with its presence in order to get a drink of freshwater from the dock hose.  Our sirenian friend was a great preface to a fun day, and saw us off to Soldier Key.

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In route to Soldier Key our enthusiastic guests were given a rundown on the kind of research our program conducts.  They were excited to know that they would be assisting in collecting real data that actively works toward the education and conservation of shark species.  Everyone was engaging and friendly and showed a true interest in the work our team does.  It was a treat getting to know some of our guests.  I even met a fellow Chicago native (Go Blackhawks!).  Upon our arrival at our fishing spot, both boats spread out and deployed our respective drum lines.  Of course, the helpful guests of 360 Destinations assisted us in deploying our lines.  I was impressed with their willingness to assent to our very serious superstition of kissing the bait before deployment.  Anyways, they were intrigued to interact with our specialty gear and learn how our drum line system allows us to safely catch and release sharks with the animal’s health in mind.  Once our 10 lines were in the water, we allowed them to soak for an hour.  This gave us the opportunity to demonstrate the process involved with working up a shark once we catch one.  We displayed all of the tools we would be using and explained what kind of samples are collected (e.g. nictitating membrane, measurements, fin clip, blood).  We also showed them how we insert our tags into the dorsal fin.  It was great to see the whole group getting involved by asking questions and getting a good look at all of our gear.  Our trainees were well prepared.

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Once the obligatory soak time was up, we headed towards our first line.  We demonstrated the proper form in pulling up lines, and then let our excited guests take have a try.  Unfortunately, our first set of lines did not hook anything.  Although, we were still having a great time on the water in beautiful weather.  We had been in communication with our other boat that was out, and they informed us that on their first set they were lucky enough to catch a nurse shark.  The pressure was really on now!  So, we put new baits on our lines in hopes of better luck on the next set.

We returned to our lines for our second (and final) set of lines.  We had 10 more chances left.  It was a slow start.  Our first five, again, rendered nothing.  We pulled up these lines and stowed them away for the day.  Finally, the moment everyone was waiting for came on our sixth line.  Like the other boat, we caught an amazing nurse shark.  Its total length was about 2.3 meters, and she was feisty until we carefully restrained her.  Everyone from 360 Destinations was standing by and ready with their instruments.  They did a fantastic job, and helped us to collect each sample without error.  It was a successful workup, we safely released the nurse shark in a timely fashion.  It was a great experience for everyone involved, crew and guests.  We retrieved the rest of our lines and returned to the marina.

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Over the course of the afternoon, each of our boats caught a nurse shark.  That is two new sets of data RJ Dunlap can use in our research.  Also, it is two rare opportunities for people to safely interact with two amazing animals.  We should all feel fortunate that to have had such an experience.  Thanks to all the 360 Destinations guests.  RJD had a great day on the water with everyone, and we hope you a memorable time.


Shark Tagging in West Palm Beach with American Heritage Academy

By Emily Rose Nelson, RJD Intern

I had been trapped in my office, with no sight of the ocean for over a month. If this trip had been one day later I might have gone crazy, I needed to get out on the water. That being said, I was even more excited than usual to go shark tagging. We met at RSMAS bright and early to load gear and somehow managed to fit all of our gear plus 4 people into my car. Before even leaving RSMAS I found barracuda scales in my hair, a sure sign that it was going to be a good day.

After an easy drive and an obligatory stop at the nearest Starbucks the team arrived at the dock in West Palm. This was only the second day trip we had run with Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures (RJD runs a research expedition in the Bahamas to “Tiger Beach” with JASA) and we were eager to check out the new fishing site. After loading gear with the help of our guests for the day, American Heritage Academy, we were off.

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The RJD team preps gear for a day of shark tagging.

The conditions were perfect; the ocean was flat calm and their wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We set all 30 lines and throughout the day did not pull up a single shark. However, everyone was still in high spirits. It was a beautiful day and we had time for a couple swimming breaks. We even had the chance to see a Loggerhead Sea Turtle swimming by. We set 6 additional lines with hopes that we would get lucky at the end.

On the 33rd line of the day someone yelled what we had been waiting to hear all day,  “tension!” The RJD team waited in anticipation to confirm that there was a shark on the line and suddenly it surfaced. My all time favorite, a beautiful, juvenile tiger shark was on the end of the line. As we pulled her up it quickly became clear that she was a strong girl. After a couple of attempts, we safely restrained her on the platform in order to perform a quick work up. One of my favorite moments of the day was helping one of the high school students place a dart tag in the shark. It was his first time on a boat and excitement was pouring out of him. After we collected all the data from her, we safely released the shark and she swam off in excellent condition.

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Removing the pump from the tiger shark in order to safely release it back into the ocean.

As we headed back to dock the RJD team started to clean up, feeling satisfied with the day. However, the fun was not over yet. A group of dolphins decided to hitch a ride with us. They were jumping and playing at the bow of the boat for quite some time. While I am not much of a “dolphin person” I can’t help but smile whenever this happens, it was the perfect way to end a great day on the water!


Shark Tagging with St. Thomas Aquinas

By Emily Rose Nelson, RJD Intern

After collecting gear from RSMAS I met up with the rest of the team at the dock of divers paradise. We had a great crew on board and everyone was excited to get out there. Our guests for the day, the marine biology club from St. Thomas Aquinas High School, made their way on board, and after introductions we were off.

We were fishing in the Key Biscayne Safety Valve right near Stiltsville. RJD had been to this sight a few times in the days before and had great luck so I was feeling optimistic. As I was pulling in a line toward the end of the first set I felt a little tug but not much; I assumed it was just a big piece of bait. As I continued to pull the line up I felt a number of tiny tugs, but still just passed it off as a big chunk of barracuda. After I had almost the whole line in I realized it indeed not just bait on the end of the line but an Atlantic Sharpnose. These sharks are one of the smaller species we catch, rarely reaching a total length much greater than 1 meter. Our team brought the shark on board for a quick work up. The students from St. Thomas Aquinas did a great job assisting in the process and the shark was back in the water in no time.

Not shortly after, as we were approaching one of our drumlines Captain Eric called down to the deck “shark on.” From up top he could see the beautiful Great Hammerhead we had on this line before we even started to pull it in. Knowing that hammerheads are especially vulnerable to capture stress I pulled the line in swiftly. We assessed the condition of the shark and after confirming it was doing well the team restrained it along the side of the boat. We attached a satellite tag to the animal and released it as quickly as possible. The shark swam away with no sign of stress, kicking hard back on its way. I am excited to watch where this beautiful shark travels through the satellite tracking data.


The RJD team carefully attaches a satellite tag to the great hammerhead.

Before the day was over we brought up one more shark, an RJD favorite, the nurse. Despite common belief, nurse sharks are very powerful and always give us a run for our money. The team brought the shark onto the platform for a quick work up. After collecting all of our data we released the shark in excellent condition.

All in all, we had a great day on the water with Captain Eric from Diver’s Paradise and the Marine Biology club from St. Thomas Aquinas. I’m already looking forward to the next trip!



Thanks for a great day on the water St. Thomas Aquinas!





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.

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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.

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UM Summer Scholars and the RJD team.

Shark Tagging Trip – Oak Ridge High – May 2, 2014

By Lindsay Jennings, RJD Intern

On Friday, May 2nd, RJD once again set out for a day of shark tagging, this time with the school group, Oak Ridge High. We headed out from the Miami Seaquarium and motored out to our first site, north of Soldier Key, in Biscayne National Park. Once all of the drumlines were baited and ready to go, the students eagerly volunteered to help deploy the first ten lines. While waiting for the first set of lines to soak, we were able to go for a quick swim and snorkel, which was most refreshing since it was beginning to turn into another hot Miami day. When it was time to starting pulling the hooks, the students from Oakland High all helped reel in and reset the lines. As the first three sets didn’t yield any sharks, we had to remind our guests that not catching any sharks is still important for our data collection.

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Students helping us take environmental data for dissolved oxygen and salinity.

Despite this setback and just when we thought we weren’t going to catch anything, on our fourth set we reeled in a female bull shark with a total length of 194 centimeters. Interestingly enough, she only had one eye, but still managed to be healthy and strong. Once secured on the platform, our usual workup was conducted with all of the students ready and willing to help at their various tasks such as taking measurements of the shark’s body length and tagging the dorsal fin for future identification. After all of our data was collected and everyone onboard was able to get a good look at the bull shark, the RJD team quickly and safely released her as she swam off in the distance.

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Post workup, the female bull shark swims away healthy and happy.

After pulling in a few more lines without any luck, to our surprise, we found ourselves hauling in a fairly large and strong barracuda! As barracuda are one of the main species of bait RJD uses in its research, we decided to keep it for future shark-tagging trips. We proceeded to pick up what lines were left in the water and gathered all our gear back on the boat. It was a sunny and successful day with the Oakland High students and RJD interns both excited and enthusiastic to help out where needed.

Once the boat was docked back in its slip, we took our customary group photo and said goodbye to our student helpers for the day. All in all, it was a successful day as RJD obtained more data for its ongoing research projects and the students from Oakland High were able to become shark researchers for the day! We look forward to seeing them again!

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Our awesome group of Oakland High students and RJD interns.