Shark tagging with Island Christian School

October 12th, 2012
by Dani Escontrela, RJD Intern

It had been about two months since my last shark tagging trip, so needless to say, I was super excited. I barely got any sleep the night before thinking about how incredible this trip would be. At the same time however, I tried to not get my hopes too high as sometimes we don’t catch anything, but boy was I in for a surprise!

Austin, Fiona, Stacy, Becca, Christine and I loaded up the boat with all the supplies we would need for the day and then had a couple moments to relax while our group got to the boat.

When the guys from Island Christian School got there I immediately recognized a few familiar faces from previous trips. We also had Greg Markham join us that day and Margarita Cubano, one of Neil’s students. We loaded everyone on the boat and where soon our way to Everglades National Park. We were to set our lines at Middle Grounds, a shallow water site.

We had a long ride out and on our way we did our briefing about sharks, the perils they face and the procedures we would be using when deploying and then collecting drumlines. An hour later we were at our site and we deployed all ten of our drumlines in less than twenty minutes!

After an hour of waiting, and my hopes at an all-time high, I was ready to go back and collect our drumlines. As luck would have it, when pulling up our second drumline we got a small blacktip shark. I reeled it in while my fellow RJD teammates secured it on the platform. The rest of the guys did a fabulous job of collecting samples and then setting it on its way.

RJD interns Dani and Evan secure a blacktip shark as an Island Christian school student attaches spaghetti tag to the individual

Once again we were in luck, as we were pulling up the next line we got another blacktip. This time I got to secure the shark down. I was so ecstatic; it had been a while since I had been face to face with one of these fierce predators. Everyone did an amazing job of working up the shark and we soon released again.

I was so content with the way things were going. What more could I ask for when in the first three lines we had already caught two beautiful sharks; but was I in for a surprise when we pulled up the third drumline. We knew we had something big on as the lines were all tangled and there was a mess. As we pulled the line, my expectations were increasing. What animal could have caused such a mess of our lines? Then, there it was; a gorgeous 2 meter (6.56 foot) female bull shark. We got her on the platform and immediately three of us went to secure her. She was a beauty and so big that her tail stuck out from the back of the platform. I held down her tail, but she was calm. The students quickly came in to do the work up and did it not only effectively but quickly. This was now the third shark and they definitely knew what they were doing, they were total pros. After everything had been done, we released her back to her home. She left me with some intense shark burn between my legs that burned for the rest of the day, but it was completely worth it.

RJD PhD student Austin shows off the impressive size of the female bull shark before she is released

As the day progressed, we caught four more blacktip sharks. The students did each and every work up like pros. They took muscle biopsies, measured the sharks, took fin clips, and tested the nictitating membranes. One of the sharks, might I add, did manage to slap me on the arm with its tail as it swam off, but of course I immediately forgave her.

We were on our next to last line and we knew we had something as the hook timer was popped. Before we had even seen what it was Austin commented “It’s probably that random lemon shark at the end of the day”. I must give him props because as we reeled it in, we found that at the end of our line we had a 1.75 meter (5.74 feet) lemon shark. Once again we did a quick work up and released it back to the ocean.

An Island Christian School student tests the reflex of the lemon shark by squirting a jet of water into the sharks eye and seeing if the nictitating membrane fires or not

By the end of the day, my legs hurt and I was tired but the adrenaline rush continued and I didn’t get any rest on our way back to the dock’ I couldn’t believe the day I had just experienced. It was a perfect day.


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