Shark Tagging with South Broward

By Daniela Escontrela, RJD Intern

It was another day of shark tagging and I was excited as it had been a while since I had been on the boat. Not only that but this was going to be my first trip out of West Palm Beach on Jim Abernathy’s boat. This was an unusual trip too in that our departure time was 1:30pm instead of 8:30am. We all were fresh and ready to go after being able to sleep in

Once we were at the dock, we unloaded all the gear that was in Emily’s car and moved all the drums and floats from storage on to the boat. Promptly after this, the participants from South Broward high school arrived. Our fearless trip leader, Pat, greeted them all and we all did our usual introductions to get to know each other. This was an enthusiastic group with great questions, and judging from our past success with them, I knew today would be a good day.

We all loaded onto the boat and headed out to the day’s site. We would be fishing at a shallow spot only ~20 feet deep at McArthur Park. It was about a 30 minute ride out and on the way we did our usual prep work- cutting bait, setting up drumlines to be deployed and getting everything in order. Once we got to the site we started deploying all the drumlines with the help of the students. All of them did a fantastic job of helping us and were being great sports considering the sea conditions weren’t optimal.

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One of the participants helps us deploy drumlines

Once all our lines were deployed the wait began. This is always the longest part of the trip because there is so much anticipation as to whether we’ll even catch anything, and if we did what would it be. During our wait time, we talked to the students about the work up procedures we would be conducting; they listened intently and once we talked to them they each formed teams with particular jobs to do.

Once the hour soak time was done we started to pick up our lines. A couple of lines in we had caught something! It was an Atlantic sharpnose and since this species is so small we didn’t know we had anything on the line until we had pulled it up right next to the boat. Once we had this little guy secured, we put the pump in its mouth and the students diligently did their jobs getting this work up done within minutes. Soon enough we released him in great condition and he got on his way.

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One of the South Broward High School participants helps in the data gathering process by taking a fin clip from the Atlantic Sharpnose

On the second set of lines we came up empty handed despite all out shark dances and positive vibes. We let our third set of lines soak an extra ten minutes to increase our odds of catching something on the last set. As we were picking up lines, halfway through the set we had another little guy! This shark was so small that we thought it was another Atlantic sharpnose or a blacknose, which also doesn’t grow big. However, as we pulled it even closer we were able to see the gorgeous stripes running down its sides and the beautiful defined spots running downs its tail. We pulled him in secured him and put a pump in its mouth. This small tiger shark came in at a mere 109 centimeters (~3.5 feet). Neither I nor anyone on our team, who at this were seasoned veterans, had never seen such a small tiger shark. These animals are amazing for so many reasons, but they are especially marvelous when they’re young because their spots and stripes are so defined. The students once again worked up this shark like experts and we gave them the chance to quickly touch it so they could understand what dermal denticles felt like. Soon enough we released this small tiger shark into the water in excellent condition. This was such a marvelous sighting! I know everyone on the boat was extremely excited because we had the rare opportunity of spotting such a small tiger shark which doesn’t happen very often.

We then proceeded to pick up the rest of our drumlines. Something strange happened on lines eight and nine though. As we were pulling up these lines we felt several tugs on the line. We thought we had something big on here. As we pulled the drum onboard and then reeled in the rest of the line however, we found that something had bitten through our 900 pound test monofilament line. This sure had to be a big animal. Then Emily made the discovery on one of the lines of a black slime, characteristic of a tiger shark.

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A picture of the day’s participants, South Broward High School. Thank you for a great day of tagging!

This had been another exciting day out on the water, and the positive side of starting the trip so late is that we had a wonderful ride back into the dock with a beautiful sunset, and we were even graced with the presence of some dolphins that started to follow our boat on the way back. This had been another wonderful day out on the water and I felt extremely fortunate to have been able to see something I had never seen before. I can’t wait to get back out there and see what’s in store for us!

Shark Tagging with Westminister Christian School 9/19/2014

By Hanover Matz, RJD Intern

September 19th proved to be an exciting trip to begin the fall RJ Dunlap shark tagging season. Students from Westminister Christian School joined the RJ Dunlap interns along with Dr. Neil Hammerschlag at the Crandon Marina for a successful day of shark research. The interns loaded the gear onboard as Captain Eric prepared the Diver’s Paradise boat for departure. Once the students arrived, we were ready to set off for the nearby waters just off the coast of Miami. As we made our way out to sea, Dr. Hammerschlag briefed the students on the various research techniques we would be employing that day. Morphological measurements, fin clip samples, nictitating membrane tests, and blood samples would be collected in order to gain valuable data from any sharks we caught.

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Dr. Hammerschlag briefs the students on research procedures

After reaching our destination, the RJD interns with help from the students of Westminister Christian began setting out the drumlines. Each line consists of 70 feet of monofilament attached by a swivel to a weight that rests on the sea floor. The swivel allows any hooked sharks to remain swimming and breathing, as sharks are ram ventilators. At the end of the line is a circle hook that allows for the safe capture of sharks without damaging their internal organs. Once ten drumlines had been set in the water, they were allowed to soak for an hour. The students helped the RJD interns collect environmental data in the meantime on water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen levels. This information provides a better understanding of the environmental conditions encountered by different shark species.

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An RJD intern helps a student collect salinity data

Once one hour had passed, we returned to the lines to see what we had caught. Our first shark of the day was a small blacknose shark. The RJD team quickly brought the shark onboard and secured it to the platform. A water pump is placed in the shark’s mouth to pump water over its gills, helping it to breathe and remain calm during the workup procedure. The students assisted in quickly measuring, sampling, and dart tagging the shark before it was released back into the water. While the blacknose was a good start to the trip, the weather decided to take a different course. A steady rain began to pelt the boat as we headed to collect the other lines, and we could see downtown Miami receiving its own dose of showers in the distance.

The weather may not have held up, but our luck in bringing in sharks did. The team was able to bring in a large nurse shark next. Unlike the blacknose shark and other shark species, these powerful animals lead a less active lifestyle on the ocean bottom, and do not need to continuously swim to breathe. We performed a work up on the nurse shark, collecting all the necessary data, and then released it back into the water. Samples such as dorsal fin clips and blood can give us a better understanding of shark diets and physiology.

The remainder of the trip saw us bring in another nurse shark and two tiger sharks. The tiger sharks were truly an amazing sight for the RJD team and students. Both tiger sharks measured over six feet in length. Such large animals are key predators in the ocean ecosystem, often exerting top down control from the peak of marine food webs. One of the tiger sharks seen that day circled the boat a few times, offering us a beautiful sight of its dark stripes that give the animal its common name. With three more sharks tagged and released, we reached a total of five sharks for the day. In an area so close to a major city with increased pressures on marine ecosystems, even seeing one shark can be a lucky experience. The data the Westminister Christian students helped collect on these sharks will be invaluable in contributing to ongoing research in shark biology and conservation.

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A tiger shark is successfully released by the RJD team

We headed back to the dock after an exciting day of shark research. The students departed from the boat, hopefully with a greater appreciation for one of nature’s most amazing predators. We cleaned and stored the gear, enthusiastic after what promised to be a great start to a successful season of shark tagging.


Shark Tagging with South Broward 9/26/2014

By Jake Jerome, RJD Graduate Student and Intern

Last Friday marked the first time that RJD went shark tagging out of West Palm Beach, and it proved to be an exciting first! We were joined with one of our more frequent school groups, the South Broward Reef Dogs. After making the trek up to West Palm, we loaded up the Deep Obsession with our gear and set out with the crew from Jim Abernathy’s Scuba Adventures aboard.

With choppy seas and rain falling down on us, we launched our first 10 drumlines in the hopes of catching our first shark in West Palm Beach. Despite the weather conditions, everyone on the boat kept spirits high and we all had a good feeling about the day. After letting the lines soak and collecting some environmental conditions with the help of our guests, we began pulling up our lines.

After a slow start and the rain still pelting down on us, we managed to pull up an Atlantic Sharpnose, the most abundant shark species in South Florida. Once we brought the shark aboard, we began our quick workup to collect data for our over 9 research projects. In less than 4 minutes we were able to collect multiple morphological measurements, a fin clip, draw blood, place an identification tag and perform nictitating membrane stress tests. Once these procedures were completed, we released the shark and returned to pulling in our lines.


A participant helps take a fin clip, a small cartilage sample that will help reveal long-term toxicology and dietary patterns.

After our first shark we seemed to hit a slump going into our second set of drumlines. After switching the crew around, our luck took a drastic turn for the better! While pulling up one of our final drums of the second set, we knew immediately we had something big on the line!

After hearing our captain shout “Shark,” all eyes turned desperately towards the water looking for the animal. Once the shark hit the surface we could see that it was a hammerhead! After we had the large male secured next to the boat, we realized that we had a Scalloped Hammerhead, a species that we rarely get to collect data from. Knowing this, we quickly collected as much data on the animal as possible and then attached a satellite tag so we could follow the shark’s movements after we released him. For the rest of trip, spirits remained high and we were fortunate enough to catch two more sharks, a feisty blacktip and a large bull on our very last line of the day.


Measurements of the scalloped hammerhead are quickly taken while a satellite tag is being attached.

All in all, our first trip out of West Palm Beach proved to be a successful and exciting one. We were able to collect data from four sharks of four different species and were able to satellite tag a Scalloped Hammerhead! Thank you so much to the always awesome South Broward Reef Dogs and the rest of the crew from the day.


Our awesome group for the day, the South Broward Reef Dogs!

Shark Tagging with Gang Alternative

By Jake Jerome, RJD Graduate Student and Intern

On Wednesday, July 16, the RJD crew set out to waters around Miami’s historic stiltsville just off Key Biscayne in hopes to tag and release sharks for our ongoing research. We were joined by kids from the Gang Alternative program and a few citizen scientists. Many had never been on a boat before and were excited to see what was in store for the day. After a discussion about sharks, led by our trip leader Pat, we set off for our fishing waters.

Once we arrived, we deployed our first set of drumlines with the help of our guests. Everyone was very helpful and we were able to get our gear in the water in no time at all. While we let the lines soak for an hour, we collected environmental data and watched a big storm loom over the city. With the sun shining on us, we kept an eye on the fast moving storm clouds looming offshore.


A storm dumps rain on Miami.

Our first ten drums yielded nothing more than the annoying sargassum that crept along the surface of the water we were fishing in. The empty hooks gave us a chance to show the kids how the floating sargassum acts as a tiny ecosystem for small fish and crustaceans. With our lines rebaited, we headed back to our first buoy to see if our luck had changed.


A student helps deploy a line with a chunk of bait.

One by one we pulled up our lines to find nothing but empty hooks and half eaten chunks of bait. We got skunked again! With spirits low and the Miami sky opening up above us, we rounded to buoy one for our last set of drums. After switching around the crew and trying everything we could to change our luck, we managed to catch a blacknose on line number four. Excitement filled the boat as a relieved RJD crew safely secured the shark and placed a pump in its mouth to flush water over its gills. With the help of our guests, we were able to collect all of our data in less than three minutes and then had time for everyone to see the animal up close and personal before we got it back in the water and watched it swim away in good condition.  Before the excitement had time to settle, we realized we had a shark on the very next line!


Measurements are taken of the blacknose shark.

Another blacknose was pulled on the boat and quickly worked up to collect data. After a quick release, we began pulling up the rest of our lines. While pulling up our seventh line, we realized we had another shark on, something bigger than a blacknose! A nearly 8 foot lemon shark had taken our bait and was brought onto our platform. It was great to have a larger shark to show our guests and to be able to compare it to the smaller blacknoses that we caught. Once we collected all our data, we released the shark and watched it head back into the ocean.

By far the best part of the day for me was seeing the change in perception that our guest had about sharks. In the beginning, half of them were scared just coming aboard the boat, but towards the end they had no problem unloading, with many having a new appreciation for sharks! Being able to show others the true side of sharks is the most enjoyable part of working with the RJD team and why I am always excited for one of our shark tagging trips.


The awesome group for the day!

Shark Tagging with Rutgers

By Laura Vander Meiden, RJD Intern

Our chartered boat, the Diver’s Paradise, headed out under sunny skies early Friday, July 11th with a volunteer crew of Rutgers graduate students. There was a slight swell to the ocean, but given the stormy weather earlier in the week we were happy to be out on the water no matter the conditions. The boat was headed to a tagging location nicknamed Sandbar Palace by one of the RJ Dunlap interns. Located within sight of Miami Beach, this spot acquired the name due to a large number of sandbar sharks caught there on a recent trip.

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Our crew for the day.

After pulling in two empty lines, the third drum line was pulled in to a call of “tension” by a Rutger’s volunteer. We had something. As we pulled it in, Captain Eric spotted the large, sickle shaped dorsal fin of a hammerhead from the upper deck. We brought it alongside the boat, completed a speedy partial workup and released the large female in just a few minutes. An estimated measurement put her at 308 cm, around ten feet long. Five of the next seven hooks were empty; the other two held nurse sharks. Because the nurse sharks are not nearly as prone to stress as hammerheads, the crew and volunteers worked together to do a full workup including  measurements, a fin clip and a blood sample.


The hammerhead swimming away in great condition.

The first line of the second set of ten held a lemon shark that was nearly three meters long. The feisty male latched on to the platform as we pulled him in and refused to let go for a minute or two. He was immediately followed by a nurse shark on the next line. The last drum line of that set held a beautiful female sandbar. Her skin shone with a faint iridescence, much like the inside of some seashells. For someone who had never seen one before, it was breathtaking.

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A Rutgers student tests the stress levels of a sandbar shark.

At that point, everyone on the boat was pretty happy. With ten lines to go we had already caught six sharks of four different species and the day was far from over. Lines three and four held nurse sharks, and line six another lemon, but it was the seventh line that held the most exciting catch, a tiger shark. At 2.5 meters, it was quite small (tiger sharks can reach lengths more than double that), but it still managed to put up quite a fight both being reeled in and on the platform. The two empty hooks after the tiger shark were met with relief as the crew took advantage of the opportunity to rest. Finally, on the last line of the day, we caught another sandbar, bringing our total shark count for the trip up to one hammerhead, five nurse sharks, two lemon sharks, a tiger shark and two sandbar sharks. It was a very successful day.

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The tiger shark’s release back into the ocean.


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.

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.