Shark Tagging with MAST

By Daniela Ferraro, RJD Intern

On Saturday, December 6th, RJD embarked on a shark-tagging trip with a wonderful group of students from MAST Academy. Right before finals, this trip couldn’t have come any sooner. I woke up early to absolutely beautiful weather and knew the day was going to be a great one. I grabbed my gear and headed off on Dani’s taxi service, picking up several other interns on our way to Diver’s Paradise. We arrived around 8am and quickly went to work loading up all of our equipment and gear so we could get out on the water!

 A participant conducts a reflex test of a shark’s nictitating membrane, or ‘eyelid,’ which is a measure of stress levels.

A participant conducts a reflex test of a shark’s nictitating membrane, or ‘eyelid,’ which is a measure of stress levels.

We headed out from Crandon Marina and headed towards Stiltsville Channel. With higher wind activity than normal, we decided not to add extensions onto our lines. After a safety talk with trip leader Austin and Captain Eric, we were on our way. As the rest of the interns got busy setting up our drumlines, Gabi and Beau gave a quick overview of all of the workup we give each shark: nictitating membrane test, measurement, fin clip, and tagging. With the help of the students from MAST, and our additional guests, we set out the first ten drumlines to soak for an hour.

Hannah and Gabi assist a participant in taking measurement data of a shark.

Hannah and Gabi assist a participant in taking measurement data of a shark.

Our day began with a bang and we pulled up a 158 cm female blacktip on our very first line! The group did a great job helping us take measurements and tissue samples and placing a tag in the shark’s dorsal fins for future identification. For some of the group, this was their first time seeing a shark and the RJD team was just as excited to share this with them. With spirits high, we had a lot of help pulling in the lines on our first set. Most of our bait came back with a few bites out of them, if they came back at all! In the middle of our second set of lines, we managed to pull in a beautiful male lemon shark, measuring in at a total of 224 cm. Towards the end of the day, our group kept up their enthusiasm and it paid off: on our second to last line, we pulled in another female blacktip! Hannah and I held down the shark while our team did a quick workup and she was released in excellent condition.

Our whole group after a successful shark day!

Our whole group after a successful shark day!

The group was essential in helping us do our work ups on the sharks, and each shark team was prepped and enthusiastically ready to go just in case we caught a shark. With the help of Beau and new intern Emma, we also managed to take morphology measurements on all three sharks. Gabi and Austin also got blood from both blacktips and the lemon shark. This data will be used in several projects going on in the lab. Overall, we had a fantastic day on the water and the RJD team looks forward to going shark tagging with MAST Academy again!



Shark tagging with Our Lady of Lourdes Academy

By Jessica Wingar, RJD Intern

Waking up on Sunday morning, I was extremely excited to be going shark tagging, since it was my first trip in a few months.  I got up, checked the weather, it said less than 60 degrees. I was very surprised, doned my sweatpants and sweatshirt, and set off to Diver’s Paradise at Crandon Marina.

We arrived at Diver’s Paradise around 8am and loaded the gear onto the boat. Despite the fact that we were freezing, we were all anticipating a great day of shark tagging. The group from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy arrived around 9am. Captain Nick gave a quick safety briefing followed by an explanation of our drumline system by trip leaders Dani and Jake. We had added extension lines because we were going to go to a deeper site.

Dani cuts up bait on the way out to the site.

Dani cuts up bait on the way out to the site.

The girls and teachers were all very excited while we headed out to the site. Once we got the site, the captain made the decision that it was too choppy to shark tag there. Instead of the deep site, we went to Stiltsville instead. The team quickly took the extension lines off, and prepared the first several lines to go out.

After about another half an hour, we suddenly felt the boat start to slow and we saw the famous houses at Stiltsville. The team gathered the students near the back of the boat to demonstrate how we were going to deploy the lines. After the first line, the students were given the opportunity to deploy some lines. The students were organized into groups, which made the whole process run very smoothly.

Our first shark was a gorgeous blacktip. We swiftly brought the animal up onto the boat and did the work up. With the help of the students, the shark was back in the water within five minutes. Our next shark was a small nurse shark, which wriggled its way off of the line. We then worked up a blacknose followed by a beautiful 230cm lemon shark. This was only the second lemon shark I have ever seen. They have such distinctive teeth and I was in awe at the splendor of this animal.

A beautiful blacktip shark.

A beautiful blacktip shark.

After the lemon shark we were able to work up another blacktip, blacknose, and a sizeable nurse. All of the sharks were worked up quickly with the help of the students and teachers. We had a great, busy day seeing a lot of variety of shark species. Every trip that I go on is different and every trip gives me the reminder that I am so lucky to have these opportunities. I hope that the students and teachers had as great of a day as I did and are now encouraged to go out and do more conservation work.


Group picture back on the dock.


Shark Tagging with Gang Alternative

By Jake Jerome, RJD Graduate Student and Intern

On Wednesday, July 16, the RJD crew set out to waters around Miami’s historic stiltsville just off Key Biscayne in hopes to tag and release sharks for our ongoing research. We were joined by kids from the Gang Alternative program and a few citizen scientists. Many had never been on a boat before and were excited to see what was in store for the day. After a discussion about sharks, led by our trip leader Pat, we set off for our fishing waters.

Once we arrived, we deployed our first set of drumlines with the help of our guests. Everyone was very helpful and we were able to get our gear in the water in no time at all. While we let the lines soak for an hour, we collected environmental data and watched a big storm loom over the city. With the sun shining on us, we kept an eye on the fast moving storm clouds looming offshore.


A storm dumps rain on Miami.

Our first ten drums yielded nothing more than the annoying sargassum that crept along the surface of the water we were fishing in. The empty hooks gave us a chance to show the kids how the floating sargassum acts as a tiny ecosystem for small fish and crustaceans. With our lines rebaited, we headed back to our first buoy to see if our luck had changed.


A student helps deploy a line with a chunk of bait.

One by one we pulled up our lines to find nothing but empty hooks and half eaten chunks of bait. We got skunked again! With spirits low and the Miami sky opening up above us, we rounded to buoy one for our last set of drums. After switching around the crew and trying everything we could to change our luck, we managed to catch a blacknose on line number four. Excitement filled the boat as a relieved RJD crew safely secured the shark and placed a pump in its mouth to flush water over its gills. With the help of our guests, we were able to collect all of our data in less than three minutes and then had time for everyone to see the animal up close and personal before we got it back in the water and watched it swim away in good condition.  Before the excitement had time to settle, we realized we had a shark on the very next line!


Measurements are taken of the blacknose shark.

Another blacknose was pulled on the boat and quickly worked up to collect data. After a quick release, we began pulling up the rest of our lines. While pulling up our seventh line, we realized we had another shark on, something bigger than a blacknose! A nearly 8 foot lemon shark had taken our bait and was brought onto our platform. It was great to have a larger shark to show our guests and to be able to compare it to the smaller blacknoses that we caught. Once we collected all our data, we released the shark and watched it head back into the ocean.

By far the best part of the day for me was seeing the change in perception that our guest had about sharks. In the beginning, half of them were scared just coming aboard the boat, but towards the end they had no problem unloading, with many having a new appreciation for sharks! Being able to show others the true side of sharks is the most enjoyable part of working with the RJD team and why I am always excited for one of our shark tagging trips.


The awesome group for the day!

Shark Tagging with Rutgers

By Laura Vander Meiden, RJD Intern

Our chartered boat, the Diver’s Paradise, headed out under sunny skies early Friday, July 11th with a volunteer crew of Rutgers graduate students. There was a slight swell to the ocean, but given the stormy weather earlier in the week we were happy to be out on the water no matter the conditions. The boat was headed to a tagging location nicknamed Sandbar Palace by one of the RJ Dunlap interns. Located within sight of Miami Beach, this spot acquired the name due to a large number of sandbar sharks caught there on a recent trip.

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Our crew for the day.

After pulling in two empty lines, the third drum line was pulled in to a call of “tension” by a Rutger’s volunteer. We had something. As we pulled it in, Captain Eric spotted the large, sickle shaped dorsal fin of a hammerhead from the upper deck. We brought it alongside the boat, completed a speedy partial workup and released the large female in just a few minutes. An estimated measurement put her at 308 cm, around ten feet long. Five of the next seven hooks were empty; the other two held nurse sharks. Because the nurse sharks are not nearly as prone to stress as hammerheads, the crew and volunteers worked together to do a full workup including  measurements, a fin clip and a blood sample.


The hammerhead swimming away in great condition.

The first line of the second set of ten held a lemon shark that was nearly three meters long. The feisty male latched on to the platform as we pulled him in and refused to let go for a minute or two. He was immediately followed by a nurse shark on the next line. The last drum line of that set held a beautiful female sandbar. Her skin shone with a faint iridescence, much like the inside of some seashells. For someone who had never seen one before, it was breathtaking.

sandbar workup

A Rutgers student tests the stress levels of a sandbar shark.

At that point, everyone on the boat was pretty happy. With ten lines to go we had already caught six sharks of four different species and the day was far from over. Lines three and four held nurse sharks, and line six another lemon, but it was the seventh line that held the most exciting catch, a tiger shark. At 2.5 meters, it was quite small (tiger sharks can reach lengths more than double that), but it still managed to put up quite a fight both being reeled in and on the platform. The two empty hooks after the tiger shark were met with relief as the crew took advantage of the opportunity to rest. Finally, on the last line of the day, we caught another sandbar, bringing our total shark count for the trip up to one hammerhead, five nurse sharks, two lemon sharks, a tiger shark and two sandbar sharks. It was a very successful day.

tiger shark

The tiger shark’s release back into the ocean.


Shark Tagging with Citizen Scientists

By Kyra Hartog, RJD Intern

On Sunday, March 30th, RJD embarked on a shark-tagging trip with a group of Citizen Scientists from around Miami. Despite the less than desirable weather, the group was eager and excited to participate in a day of shark conservation research. We headed out from Crandon Park Marina to the waters near the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. Though the waves were a bit rough, the group did a great job helping us deploy the first ten lines, which later yielded two nurse sharks and a lemon shark! Our usual workup was conducted with each shark as participants helped to take measurements and tissue samples and to place tags in the shark’s dorsal fins for identification if they are captured later!


A Citizen Scientist takes measurements on a Nurse shark for use in our research projects related to morphology

 We decided that the water was a bit too rough for the workups to go smoothly so we pulled in the drumlines and reset them at a more sheltered location closer to Key Biscayne. Unfortunately the next two sets of ten drumlines did not yield any sharks at this location. Although the sharks were only caught in the first ten lines of the day, it was still a great day of research and fun out on the water with a phenomenal group of Citizen Scientists.


After the workup is complete, the Lemon shark swims away in excellent condition.



Shark Tagging with Rho Rho Rho

by Heather Alberro, RJD intern

On the calm, grey, and breezy morning of Saturday, March 29th, the RJD team and I headed out for a day of shark tagging with the University of Miami’s Marine and Atmospheric Science Honor Society, Rho Rho Rho. We loaded the Diver’s Paradise with the necessary gear for the day and awaited captain Eric’s signal before departing. The Rho Rho Rho group was most enthusiastic and eager to get started, thrilled by the day’s prospects. We reminded them that even catching a single shark would be a stroke of luck, as a significant number of these predators are in decline. Despite the chances of high winds and scattered showers, once we were all set, we headed out for our destination: Safety Valve, located about half an hour away from Biscayne.


A Rho member kisses the bait for luck.

Our first few deployments were unsuccessful, as many of our hooks came up missing both a shark and the bait we had set out. Finally, towards our second set of deployments, we felt tension as we pulled up one of the lines. As we reeled in the line, a very large and healthy female nurse shark emerged out of the depths putting up quite a fight. After three RJD team members successfully secured the shark, The Rho Rho Rho group was ready to assist in the usual workup, assembling into teams, each with their own task. After a successful workup session and a quick photo session with the Rho Rho Rho members and the shark, it was released in prime condition, and we watched as it disappeared into the sea. Shortly afterwards we caught another nurse shark, to our delight, a recapture, which is a very rare occurrence. This one, a male, was slightly smaller than the previous one, yet no less lively. We safely secured the shark, gathered our data with the help of the Rho Rho Rho team, and promptly released him in great condition. Having already been lucky enough to catch two large and healthy sharks, we caught two more: two lemon sharks. Compared with the incredible strength of the nurse sharks, the lemon sharks were far easier to secure, and were thus a welcome break from the force and strength needed to secure the two nurse sharks. The two lemon sharks were also in great condition, both displaying the characteristic yellowish hue that gives them their name. We performed the usual workup and once again, before releasing each one, allowed each Rho Rho Rho member to pose for a quick picture with the sharks, as these are not as commonly caught as the nurses.


Rho members discuss the day’s catches.

After successfully catching and tagging four sharks, two nurses and two lemons, the day began to draw to a close. We picked up all remaining deployed lines and headed back to Biscayne Bay. Tired after a hard day’s work, some of us sat down, relaxed, and enjoyed the ride back, while others took in sights of nearby boats and sea birds flying overhead. The trip went smoothly on all accounts; even the weather remained pleasant all throughout the day with overcast skies, a cool breeze, and smooth seas. Tagging with Rho Rho Rho was a pleasure, as the group remained enthusiastic and engaged throughout the entirety of the trip. Once we docked and took some of the gear to shed beneath the Diver’s Paradise office building, we said goodbye and parted ways, some of us only momentarily, as another tagging trip was scheduled for the following day.


Rho members and RJD crew throwing up the “U” after a successful day on the boat.


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.

lemon shark

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.

blood work

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.

participant helps

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 with St. Thomas Aquinas High School

by Michelle Martinek, RJD Intern


This most recent trip on Captain Curt’s trusty vessel is likely one that the RJ Dunlap team and guests will not soon forget. What started as a bleary eyed, early morning trip to the keys turned into quite the adventure courtesy of our unpredictable friend Mother Nature. In the span of only an hour, we saw beautiful blue skies give way to a lightning storm that relentlessly pelted our faces with warm rain and rocked the boat with large waves. To a native Floridian, this changeability is no surprise. Our steadfast team and all the students from St. Thomas Aquinas braved the elements and had an extremely successful day, catching and collecting data on 6 sharks! Even wet and chilled, we returned a very happy crew.

The day began with a carpool of the RJD team with two new interns, myself included, setting off at 5am from RSMAS. After our trip leader David introduced us to the wonders of a deep fried breakfast burrito called the “tornado” and the following discussion of the recent “Sharknado” film, we arrived a little more alert to Captain Curt’s house at 7am. Our relief was great upon seeing that most of the supplies were still onboard from the previous expedition that weekend. Curt made sure we didn’t have it too easy however by informing us we would be going to the shallow waters of the everglades, meaning we had to completely re-rig all of the drumlines since they were set for far deeper water. After preparations were complete, we welcomed a wonderful group of students from St. Thomas Aquinas High School, most of whom are part of their school’s marine science club, and set off.

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Shark Tagging with South Broward High School

By Jon Dorsey, RJD Intern

Today the RJD crew met at the dock nice and early to welcome our shipmates from South Broward High School and special guest Steve Cooke. Despite the long bus ride and early arrival time, the Reef Dogs were in high spirits once they arrived on the dock and boarded Captain Curt’s boat. We had a long trip ahead of ourselves to a site named the Middle Grounds in Everglades National Park, but without the blazing sun beating on us and the cooler weather coming in, it was more than enjoyable.

Anticipation was high as we anxiously pulled in 6 empty lines, but of course on lucky number 7 the timer was popped! Leann did a great job pulling the Lemon Shark up onto the platform and the team immediately went to work. The students took turns collecting data and measurements for the team and before we let the little guy go we got the opportunity to sneak in some pictures.

The crew bring the final lemon shark of the day on deck to pose for a group shot.

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