Chief Executives, Extra Chum, and Newfound Shark Wranglers: Who Could Ask For More?

Thursday, November 3rd 2011

Today was a special day for the RJ Dunlap Program as we ventured out on the waters off of Key Largo with a group from the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), rather than our more traditional group of high school students.  YPO is a worldwide group of young chief executives that aims to create “better leaders through education and idea exchange,” and they like to have some adventurous fun while doing it.

Among the group was the conservation-minded (and newly deemed shark wrangler extraordinaire) Leonard Abess, co-founder of the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami.  Dr. Kenny Broad, director of the Abess Center, was also aboard.  With all the muscle and brainpower aboard we were extra hopeful for a successful day of sharking to put it to use!

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag shows Leonard Abess and Dr. Kenny Broad of the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy a SPOT satellite tag. Click to enlarge.

Although the sharking team on board was strong and ready for a good day of sampling, some of the stomachs were a bit weak.  The seas were a little rougher than we prefer and because of it there was some extra “chum” added to the water (if ya know what I mean…).  Regardless, our YPO visitors were troopers about it and didn’t let it stop them from helping us deploy the drumlines and even partake in our superstitious rituals like kissing the bait.

Sometimes the seas get the best of us. Click to enlarge.

Tossing the buoys. Click to enlarge.

It’s your fault if we don’t catch anything and you didn’t kiss the bait. Even Mr. Abess knows that… Click to enlarge.

Even with all the sharky energy and extra chum in the water, the day started out slow, pulling in line after line without a shark on the other end.  The boat continued to rock on the rough seas.  So much so that we decided to put those who were not feeling well out of their misery.  No, we didn’t throw them overboard.  We called in another boat to take them back to the stability of land.  Unfortunately that seemed to do the trick!  Shortly thereafter we pulled in a gorgeous, and quite feisty, two-meter Caribbean reef shark (my very first one). With the help of Leonard Abess stepping in as shark wrangler to secure her, we quickly collected all necessary samples and she was released in excellent condition.

Beautiful 6 ft. Caribbean reef shark being brought to the boat. Click to enlarge.

Newfound shark wrangler Leonard Abess and a Caribbean reef shark. Click to enlarge.

However, Leonard did not prove to be so lucky as the shark left him with his very first “shark burn” – the best souvenir anyone can take home from a day on the water, in my opinion. Rubbing your skin against the skin of a shark, covered by modified teeth called dermal denticles, has a similar effect to rubbing your skin against sandpaper. However, the former type of burn is way better to show off with.

After several more empty lines, we pulled in another two-meter shark, this time a nurse that we worked up while keeping it in the water.  Dr. Kenny Broad and Mr. Abess were quick to get in the water with the animal in order to collect the necessary data.  Again, after data collection, the shark swam off in excellent condition this time with an audience watching right from the surface.

Even though we only sampled two sharks, with the global decline of shark populations, any shark we sample makes for a very successful day.  So sorry part of the YPO group had to miss out on an experience with these amazing animals.  But don’t you worry, you can all virtually check out the experience in this video.

Until next time,
Rachael Kraemer, RJD Intern

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