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.
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.
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.
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!