Tagging sharks with the University of Denver, Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, and Derrick!

by David Shiffman, RJD student

Last Sunday, the RJD team headed to one of our newest sample sites, “the bridge”, a popular recreational fishing spot for locals. We were fortunate to have three different enthusiastic groups with us- a course from the University of Denver which joined us as part of a series of adventures throughout the Keys, students from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy who liked their past shark trips so much that they came back again (this time wearing RJD shirts), and Derrick Whitcomb, a 7th grader who raised money for our research as part of his Bar Mitzvah project.

The bridge. Photo credit David Shiffman

While hauling in the first set of drumlines, we realized that something big was hooked. It turned out to be the largest goliath grouper I’ve ever seen. At over 6 feet in length and 300 pounds, it was even one of the largest that Captain Curt had ever seen! Goliath grouper populations are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, and are protected in both state and Federal waters, so we released this amazing animal immediately. As seen in last week’s “Photo of the Week”, it swam away just fine.

Later that day, we caught a gorgeous juvenile blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus). This species is easily recognizable by the black tips of their fins. Curiously, the similar-looking spinner shark can be distinguished from a blacktip because they have more fins containing black tips than these sharks do. Blacktips are common in coastal warm waters throughout the world, and are an important component of the global shark fishery.

RJD lab manager Virginia and Derrick Whitcomb with the blacktip shark

After all of the lines had been pulled, many of our participants and staff went swimming and took full advantage of the beautiful Florida Keys weather. The University of Denver group headed on to further adventures, including the Sea Turtle hospital and the Everglades, before heading home. We expect to see the Lourdes Academy girls again soon, particularly those who graduated and are starting college at UM or FIU in the fall. Derrick was able to raise enough money from his Bar Mitzvah project to adopt a satellite tagged shark. We thank each of these groups for their help!

The girls of Our Lady of Lourdes Academy and their teacher, Ms. Taylor

Students from the University of Denver

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