Shark Tagging with Big Brothers- Big Sisters

By Laurel Zaima, RJD Intern

It was a dreary and blustery morning in Key Biscayne for our Saturday shark-tagging trip. The heavy clouds were rolling in and the wind started to pick up. We all hoped that this weather would soon pass because wind and rain is not ideal weather for shark tagging. Sharks attend to move off shore with high winds, which might make our trip less successful than we would have hoped. Nevertheless, we were still going out on the water and everyone kept high spirits! After we loaded the boat with our equipment and the guests were all settled in, we were on our way! The guest group, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, that came out on the boat with us were excited to become citizen scientists by helping us collect data for our shark research. Some of our guests have never seen a shark up close before, so our RJD team was equally as excited to share this experience with them.

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The enthusiastic Big Brothers-Big Sisters group were eager to catch some sharks!

Led by our RJD trip leader, Pat Goebel, and Captain Eric, our enthusiastic RJD team for Saturday’s trip was Catherine, Christian, Kyra, Sam, and myself. It was only a quick boat run out to our site off of Key Biscayne; however, by that time the clouds had already started to lift and we could see the sun peaking through.

Once we arrived at our site, we deployed our first set of 10 drumlines with the help of our guests, and we let them soak for 1 hour. It seemed that with the change in weather, our luck changed as well! We caught a male nurse shark (1.91 meters total length) on the first drumline of the first set! We were able to collect data swiftly and accurately, and the shark swam off in great condition. The second drumline we pulled up had a lot of tension on the line and we predicted that this shark was going to be a big one! All of a sudden… the line snapped! That means that the shark on the other end of the line was strong enough to break 900-pound strength monofilament fishing line. Although we were a little disappointed we lost the shark, we were that much more determined to catch him again. On the fourth drumline, we caught a large (2.46 meters total length) female lemon shark, and from the body’s girth, we predicted that this female is pregnant.

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The RJD team (left to right: Sam, Kyra, Laurel, Pat, Catherine) secures and prepares the female lemon shark for a safe release back into the ocean.

 On the very next drumline, we caught another lemon shark; however, this male lemon shark was slightly smaller in size (1.78 meters total length). To conclude the first set, we caught a female black tip shark (1.70 meters total length) on the tenth drumline.

This was a great start to the day, and our success only continued! On the first drumline of the second set, we caught a beautiful male Tiger shark (2.42 meters total length). Tiger sharks are one of my favorite species, so I was especially excited to catch such a gorgeous fish. When we finally saw the tiger shark break the surface, everyone was amazed by the intricate markings of this species of shark. Tiger sharks can be most easily identified by their distinct tiger print pattern on their body. Once we pulled the shark on the platform, I secured the head of my first tiger shark! I have collect samples and data from tiger sharks before, but encountering this shark so up close was a completely different experience. While at the head of the shark, I was captivated by the tiger shark’s big glossy eyes. I think I fell in love! After a quick work up, the tiger was released back into the ocean in great condition. We didn’t catch any more sharks in the second set, but we still had one more set of ten drumlines to catch some more sharks!

The first drumline of the third set we caught another nurse shark (female; 2.06 meters total length). To conclude our data collection, we caught we caught a blacknose shark! Blacknose sharks are a smaller species, and this female had a total length of 1.29 meters. Our team doesn’t catch blacknose sharks very frequently, so today was our lucky day!

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The guests from Big Brothers-Big Sisters worked together to pull up a drumline in hopes that there is a shark on the other end!

Just as everyone thought the excitement was over and it was time to head back to shore, I took one wrong step and slipped right off the platform and into the water! Fortunately, Captain Eric was the first one to see me fall into the water and immediately put the boat in neutral so I didn’t get left behind. The brisk water gave me a little shock, but I was absolutely fine. I’ll just have to be careful where I put my clumsy feet next time!

Although the morning began a little gloomy, the weather cleared up very nicely and it ended up being a beautiful and sharky day! The guests of the Big Brother-Big Sister program not only had an opportunity to see a shark for the first time, but they also were able to touch a shark and help us collect data! The RJD team was very fortunate to go out with such an enthusiastic group, and we look forward to go shark tagging with Big Brothers- Big Sisters again!


Shark Tagging with Advancement

By Michelle Martinek, RJD Intern

On Thursday, March 27 we welcomed a group of beloved friends and benefactors, Advancement, aboard the ship Diver’s Paradise for a day of fun, good food, and of course shark tagging. The weather was chilly yet invigorating. As the last remnants of sleep left my eyes, we reached our nearby location for the day. Captain Eric took us to the waters of Stiltsville since the weather was causing unpleasant waves farther offshore. For anyone unfamiliar, Stiltsville is a small group of wooden houses on stilts built in the mid 1900’s on the sand banks of the Safety Valve on the edge of Biscayne Bay. Our delightful intern Sam shared the history of the area with me and some guests. I highly recommend looking into it if interested. The saying is always true: you learn something new every day! Though the semester is in full swing and RJD has already conducted countless successful boating trips, this was only my second of 2014. It felt so good to get back into the swing of things: cutting bait, attaching floats, talking about sharks with everyone. I could have never anticipated was just how helpful and eager our participants would be! It’s always amazing for us to see our passion spread to everyone we get to bring on the boat. Even though the research tasks never get old for us, it’s always a joy to see other people learn and preform them, interacting with the sharks and becoming a part of the scientific process.

Luck was on our side that day as our very first line had a handsome, male, lemon shark. It did mean I lost a bet on which line would have the first shark, but that’s the sort of thing you’re happy to be wrong about. When life hands you lemon sharks, you get to work! He measured close to seven feet in total length, all of our data samples were successfully collected, and the shark was released in good condition.

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The lemon shark is safely returned to the water

With the help of a new and improved centrifuge we ran blood work to test hematocrit levels. Hematocrit is the ratio of oxygen-transporting red blood cells to plasma in the blood. Same as it is used by doctors and vets for humans, cats, dogs, and other animals, it helps us monitor the health of the sharks. We’re very happy to have new technology on board to make this important test easier.

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The team uses the on board laboratory to analyze blood samples

Unfortunately our success on the first line was not indicative of a busy day. Our next catch came a while later and was a calm, 5 foot, female Blacktip. It was quickly obvious what an amazing group we had on board. All our guests both young and old were gathered nearby for a look at any shark and were always eager for any chance to assist in our research.

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A participant helps take measurements of a shark while others wait attentively, ready to do their jobs.

Every job was done quickly and efficiently and their respect for the sharks was apparent. The younger members weren’t squeamish at all about getting their hands on juicy pieces of tuna bait and they pulled in the 35 pound drumlines with no hesitation. I was delighted by the quick wit and enthusiasm of our citizen scientists. Having no younger siblings of my own, my favorite moment was when the kids began a friendly competition over hooking the floating buoys and had me help them. I may have joined RJD for the chance to do amazing shark research, but interacting with kids is one of many unexpected joys it provides.

Our last catch of the day was a 4 foot, female Blacknose. This was particularly exciting for me because it was the first time I was assigned to the head of a shark to bring it on board and hold. Even a small shark can provide an adrenaline rush the first time you get to be so close to the head. All of our samples were quickly taken and like the previous two sharks she was given a plastic spaghetti tag then released in good condition. Even though this was one of the calmest trips I’ve had, it was extremely enjoyable thanks to a great group of interns and participants. I want to thank both my more experienced interns for giving me advice as I got back into the groove of things, and of course the Advancement group for being so helpful on the boat and supporting all the research we do.


The whole group after a successful day!

Shark Tagging – Scouting New Locations

By Laura Vander Meiden, RJD Intern

I stared at buoy three as it floated further and further away. In my mind there was only one explanation; one of us had mistied a bowline, allowing the buoy to free itself from the weighted drum on the ocean floor eighty feet below. The drum was lost to us and with it the line and baited hook. If a shark got hooked now, there would be no way to free it.

We were an hour into a scouting trip to a deep reef right off of the coast of Miami. We had just finished deploying our first set of ten lines when the captain noticed the wayward buoy. With the Miami skyline in the distance and a glassy, flat ocean all around, it had been shaping up to be a beautiful day, but as the boat turned to go collect the buoy I stressed over such a bad start.

However, as we got closer to the buoy it became very apparent that it was moving in the opposite direction of the current and the buoy hadn’t come free. That could only mean one thing, we had caught something big. In a flurry of movement we prepared to bring the shark in. As one of the interns slowly reeled in the line, a large sickle-shaped dorsal fin broke the surface. One of the interns squealed with excitement, it was a hammerhead.

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Taking measurements of our first great hammerhead of the day.

We brought the great hammerhead along the back of the boat and quickly got to work. Hammerheads are particularly susceptible to stress, so instead of completing a full workup we took only cursory measurements and a small fin clip. Then it was time to tag him. Earlier that morning our lab manager  Christian had prepared a satellite tag just in case we had a catch like this. In less than a minute, the specially designed hammertag was in place, bobbing along just behind the shark’s dorsal fin as he made his way away from the boat.  From then on, every time the shark surfaces, we will receive data through a satellite on his location and other factors.

What a start. We hadn’t officially begun hauling in our first set of lines, and we had already caught a hammerhead. The mood on the boat was decidedly giddy. As we began to bring in the first set of lines, all of the RJD crew, staff and interns alike, could not stop grinning.

Our first few lines came up empty, then we realized we had another runaway. Buoy four was missing. We scoured the ocean around us seeing nothing, until finally the captain made out a tiny red dot halfway to the horizon. Could it be another hammerhead? It was. Out of hammertags, we quickly pulled him in, took our measurements and fin clip and sent him on his way, a standard spaghetti identification tag firmly in place.

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The great hammerhead swimming away. You can see the yellow spaghetti tag, just behind its dorsal fin.

The rest of the first set of lines was relatively uneventful, with the exception of a feisty green moray that had decided to latch on to one of our baited hooks. The moray put up a pretty impressive fight, tying itself in endless knots, until finally we were able to get the hook free. He slithered off the boat and back into the water, leaving a trail of yellow slime behind. Green morays are actually blue; their slime gives them their green coloration.

With the second set of lines we caught our third hammerhead of the day, allowing us to reach what we had thought was an ambitious prediction of three hammerheads by RJD intern Pat. We also hauled up a massive nurse shark and a line that had been chewed all the way through by what was most likely a bull shark.

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RJD intern Hannah Calich takes a blood sample from the nurse shark.

For the third set of lines Christian decided we should scout out another, shallower location. I was thankful, hauling in over 100 feet of line is no easy job, and everyone’s arms were starting to feel the toll. The set zipped by without a bite until line nine. With barely any pressure on the line, we thought we were just bringing in untouched bait, until we noticed a tiny nurse shark attached to the end. With a total length of just 95 cm, or just over three feet, it was the smallest nurse shark I had ever seen. Everyone gathered around, cooing at it with smiles almost as big as the ones for the hammerhead. Though I thought it must have been pretty young, Christian told us it was probably about three years old. It was our last shark catch, and a great way to end the day.

Check out a video of our satellite tagged great hammerhead here.


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 the University Of Miami President’s Council – February 22, 2014

By Jacob Jerome, RJD Graduate Student and Intern

It’s never hard to get up early knowing that I’m going out on the water with the amazing RJD crew, and Saturday morning was no exception.  Driving over to Key Biscayne I was excited to board the Diver’s Paradise and get the gear loaded for the trip so we could get out on the water. After loading the gear and checking out the new floating platform, we headed over to the Seaquarium to meet Dr. Neil and pick up our guests for the day, the UM President’s Council.

After meeting the diverse and fun group of members of the President’s Council and their guest, Dr. Neil gave the group a rundown of some of the projects that the RJD team is working on along with an overview of the gear that we would be using for the day. Everyone seemed very excited to have the opportunity to participate in our research! Shortly after the briefing, we left the dock and enjoyed the beautiful ride over to our sampling site for the day in Biscayne Bay.

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Members of the President’s Council take a minute to pose with the bait.

Once at the site, we set out our first ten drumlines with the help of our very enthusiastic group. During our hour soak time, Dr. Neil showed the group, with the help of our mascot Sharkie, what data we would be collecting if we were lucky enough to catch any sharks. You could see that everyone was getting more excited about the possibilities of the day. Captain Eric got us in position to check our first drumline and to our surprise we had a shark!

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Dr. Neil briefs the group about the workup that will take place for each shark.

As the drumline was pulled in, Captain Eric informed us that we had a hammerhead on the line. This news changed everything. We worked to get the shark to the platform as quickly as possible because we have learned from our research that hammerheads are very sensitive to capture. Unfortunately, the shark got off the line just as we were getting it to the platform. Though we weren’t able to collect any data from this amazing animal, everyone on the boat got to see this rare species up close and watch it swim gracefully away.

As we moved on to our next drumline, we were again pleasantly surprised to find a shark on the line! This time we were able to successfully get a big nurse shark secured on the platform for a quick workup and then release it back into the water.

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One of the guests helps bring in the line.

With spirits high, we pulled in the remainder of the lines from the first set. Another shark managed to escape us as we were pulling it in, this time a large nurse shark. After a delicious lunch provided by SALT Restaurant, we began pulling in the second round of drumlines with the help of our guests. We discovered two more feisty nurse sharks during this set and were able to successfully collect measurements, fin clips, and blood samples for our ongoing research. On our third and final set of lines, we were getting skunked by the sharks and began thinking that we were done seeing them for the day. But on our very last line, we were able to pull in another big nurse shark!

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A guest prepares to tag a nurse shark.

Our adventure was a great success — we were able to land 4 nurse sharks all over 7 feet long! To make the day even more successful, one of the nurse sharks was a recapture, meaning it already had an RJD tag in it. Because of this, the data we were able to collect was even more meaningful due to the additional information a recapture provides for our research. Research data obtained, a great  group of enthusiastic guests,  a gorgeous day, priceless! As always, I can’t wait for my next shark tagging trip with RJD.

Shark Tagging with University of Miami’s President’s Council

By Patrick Goebel, RJD Intern

It is always pleasant waking up to your alarm on a shark tagging day. My alarm went off at 5:30am and in no time I was on my way to Miami. I met the team around 7:30 am at Diver’s Paradise. We loaded the boat and set off to pick up our participants for the day. We picked up our citizen scientists, a group of Miami Alumni as part of the President’s Council at the Miami Seaquarium.

Before heading out, the group fueled up with some breakfast and coffee. We didn’t know it at the time, but we would need all the energy we could get. During this time, Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, our program’s director, gave a brief introduction about the importance of our research and why we use our research methods. He mentioned it is estimated over 100 million sharks are killed each year. This got the attention of our guests and set us up for a great day of shark research and conservation.

After a short ride out, we quickly deployed our first set of ten drumlines with the help of our citizen scientist from the President’s Council. The next step in was deploying our new platform, which weighs a good 100+ lbs. We slipped the platform into the water, attached it to the boat via 3 poles, to hold it in place. Our team was surprised it was a piece of a cake. Once in place, we took turns standing and talking about the logistics of the platform. Since this was the first time we had ever used the platform, no one was sure if and how it would work. It is like getting a new toy or car, we could not wait to try it out.

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The team inserts our new platform into the water.


We were hoping to catch a smaller shark first so we could test our platform and get the hang of it. However, as you know nothing goes as planned. I started to pull up our first drumline and noticed that the 40lb drumline felt a little heavier than normal. I quietly noted to a few members of the team that “we got something big on.” After a couple of minutes, we got the shark close enough to the boat to tell we had an 8+ bull shark on. The team quickly jumped into action ready to bring this big girl up onto the platform. Again to our surprise, we quickly and easily brought the shark onto the platform and began our workup. Our citizen scientists from the President’s Council took three measurements: precadual length, fork length, and total length, followed by a finclip, muscle biopsy. We then released and happily enjoyed, for a few minutes, how well the platform did.

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A member of the President’s Council assists with measurements.

It wasn’t long before we had another test for the platform. The next two lines each had on a 7+ ft nurse shark. These sharks are like armored tanks packed with muscle. If you have ever been on the boat with us before, you know nurse sharks don’t really cooperate with us, so this would be another great test for our platform. However, two nurse sharks later the platform yet again exceeded our expectations.

The day continued to get better and better. On our 18th drumline we caught another 8+ ft bull shark. This was exciting because we placed the first satellite tag of 2014 on this shark, which you can track here,

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The first satellite tagged shark of 2014.


We really killed it in our third set. In this set alone, we caught 6 sharks of 4 species in the following order: nurse, bull, nurse, blacktip, and lemon. I have never caught a lemon shark out of Miami so this was a unique experience for me. These sharks can be quite feisty and have a very unique pale yellow/brown coloring. Also, their two dorsal fins are very similar in size, which makes them very distinguishable.

This trip on February 20th will likely be a trip none of us will forget. Our guests from the President’s Council were a great help and showed a passion for our research. We left them with a plethora of new knowledge about the importance of the ocean, which hopefully they will share with others. Sharing our knowledge about ocean conservation is truly a remarkable experience, one in which we believe is a great way to help conserve the ocean for future generations. Thanks to all who participated today and our team for an excellent day on the water.