Exploring Broad Key with Our Lady of Lourdes

By Megan Piechowski, RJD Intern

I was ecstatic about my first trip to Broad Key from the minute I heard about it weeks ago, so naturally not much sleep occurred that Friday night. Nonetheless, I woke up excited to begin my weekend with the lovely ladies of OLLA and my fellow RJD interns. I knew that I would be spending the first day in the water with half of the students, and Ms. Taylor, experiencing Dr. Diego Lirman’s coral nursery and surveying the surrounding seagrass. After a short period of organizing everyone’s things at the house, we set off on our snorkeling adventure. We all eagerly leapt into the cool, refreshing waters near Broad Key ready to explore.

For several of the girls this was their first time snorkeling, and for most of them it was their first time to be instructed on identifying marine organisms. The girls were very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the marine environment and did amazingly well! We spent the afternoon familiarizing them with the different species of coral and the names for all of the beautiful, colorful fish swimming past us.

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Photo of the week: Cage diving in the Bahamas

In this week’s photo of the week, participants at the Oracle Club Excellence retreat get to see a lemon shark up close with the new RJ Dunlap shark cage.

Shark Tagging with Experience Aviation

Sunday, September 16th, 2012
by Laurel Zaima, RJD Intern

I woke up bright and early Sunday morning, and I was ecstatic to get out on the boat to conduct some “sharky” research! Unfortunately, it was a dark and blustery day in Coral Gables. I was afraid that my first trip of the semester was going to be cancelled. I began to take the necessary precautions by preparing myself for some bad news, but Captain Curt didn’t call off the trip. My fear was lifted and we were off to Islamorada! James, our fearless driver, led Kyra, Jon, and I safely through the thunderstorm and right on time. Captain Curt instructed us to shorten our normal lines because we were going to a shallow site, about 15 feet (4.572 meters) of water. Captain Curt anticipated the water to be a little choppy that day due to the dreary weather. Luckily, the weather actually cleared up, and it ended up being beautiful and sunny!

We were all very grateful for the weather cooperation because we wanted everyone to have an educational and hands on experience while conducting research. On this trip, we went out with an enthusiastic group called Experience Aviation and a couple of students from the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. Everyone was eager to get involved. Thanks to the assistance of our large group on board, we were able to swiftly and successfully deploy our first 10 drumlines! The initial drumlines that we pulled up were, unfortunately, shark-less, but we remained hopeful because some of the lines were also bait-less.

I was feeling lucky that day, so I cannot say that my “shark summoning talent” was the sole reason for pulling in the first shark. She was a beautiful, female Lemon Shark. She was small shark, only totaling a length of 170 cm (5.577 feet). After we conducted all of our necessary research, she was safely released back into the water in great condition. After our first catch of the day, the boat had a positive vibe and everyone was ready to catch another!

In order for a shark to obtain oxygen while we conduct research, a PVC pipe pumps salt water over the Lemon shark’s gills


One of the members of the Experience Aviation group volunteered to pull up a drumline, and he knew instantaneously that there was a strong and large shark on the line. This mysterious shark was running the line aggressively, so I grabbed the line to help. Another RJD intern held onto the volunteer to make sure he did not slip into the water. All of the sudden, the line went slack. I assumed the shark released himself from the line, but in actuality, he had broken the line off at the base of the weight! I guess this shark friend of ours will remain a mystery of the sea!

Our next catch was another female Lemon Shark. She was slightly larger than the first shark; she had a total length of 193 cm (6.33 feet). Immediately after we released her back into the water, the next drumline caught another female Lemon Shark! She also was a little bigger than the previous; her total length was 198 cm (6.50 feet).

After those two exciting encounters with Lemon Sharks, we started pulling up “shark-less” drumlines. We thought that our day was over with a total count of three female Lemon Sharks, but much to our surprise, we caught another female Lemon Shark on the second to last drumline! There seemed to be a trend of increasing length. She followed this trend with a total length of 229 cm (7.51 feet). Our day of shark tagging was clearly dominated by the female Lemon Shark!

RJD interns, Jon, Megan, and Laurel, and volunteers from the Experience Aviation Group and the University of Miami Abess Center pose for a picture with a female Lemon Shark

We ended such a great day out on the water with some delicious cookies, “Curt-a-Sea” of Captain Curt! I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday than shark tagging in The Keys with my fellow RJD team and my new friends from Experience Aviation and the University of Miami Abess .


Shark Tagging with National Geographic’s Monster Fish

by Becca Shelton, RJD intern
Thursday, June 21

I have been dreaming of going shark tagging for as long as I can remember and last Thursday morning, I was headed down to Islamorada to join the RJD team for a day in Everglades National Park. Besides being a first timer and the chance to research sharks, there were other reasons to be excited for this trip. First, the boat trip was being sponsored by National Geographic for their show Monster Fish with Zeb Hogan. They bought a satellite tag and they wanted a nice, big bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), to wear it. After meeting up with Dr. Hammerschlag, the RJD team, the Monster Fish crew and Captain Curt, we loaded up the R/V Endsley and headed out to Middle Grounds in hopes of finding the film crew their shark.

RJD director Dr. Neil Hammerschlag and Monster Fish host Zeb Hogan work up a blacktip shark

Shark tagging on World Oceans Day!

Kyra Hartog, RJD intern

Driving down I-95 on Thursday afternoon, I couldn’t stop talking to my parents and grandmother about how excited I was to get back on the water with the RJ Dunlap team. Last Friday, I was lucky enough to have my parents and my grandmother, who just happened to be in town, out on the boat for some summertime shark tagging. As this was my only trip for the summer season, I was itching to tag some sharks. Also on the boat were some other University of Miami parents as well as some other guests from around South Florida and a reporter from Guy Harvey Magazine. Many thanks to Susan Gerrish, RSMAS’s Assistant Director of Advancement, for organizing this trip and coming along with us as well!

Our team and participants for World Oceans Day!

After all the guests arrived, we started up the R/V Endsley and headed to a spot called Middle Grounds in Everglades National Park. I was excited to fish in this spot as it was likely for us catch one of my personal favorite species, the Lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris). Our first line of the day brought up a good-sized Nurse shark! We performed our usual shark work-up in a swift manner, taking a fin sample, blood sample, and attaching a dart tag. The work-up for Nurse sharks is slightly different from our work-up for other sharks. We do not test their nictitating membrane response, as they do not have this membrane, and their skin is too tough for a muscle biopsy. We sent the nurse shark on its way and moved on to the rest of the drumlines.

The RJD team works up a nurse shark

The next set yielded a small blacknose shark and another nurse shark. The blackness was fairly small and in good condition so the group was able to take pictures with the shark as well as a picture for Guy Harvey magazine with a copy of the magazine. During the final set, my wishes cam true! Along with another blacknose and a juvenile blacktip shark, we caught two lemon sharks! Samples were taken, the sharks were measured, and a dart tag was placed on each shark.

All in all, the day was very successful. The group was able to interact with a number of different species and everyone got involved in our work-up process! The group came away with a new appreciation for these beautiful animals and I was reminded why I am so lucky to be involved with the RJ Dunlap Program’s research. I could not have asked for a better day or a better way to celebrate World Oceans Day!

When life gives you lemons…

Friday, March 2nd

Today was a wonderfully lemon-y day on the water for the RJD team and our friends from Miami Dade College. Captain Curt took us out in the beautiful R/V Endsley to a site in Everglades National Park called the middle grounds. We have often had great luck at this site before, catching blacktips, bull sharks and lemon sharks, but today we were in for a special treat: four female lemon sharks, the smallest of which was 242 centimeters—or just under eight feet! The largest was 8.3 feet, and estimated by the RJD team to tip the scales at around 350 lbs.

The use of cables help RJD staff and interns bring large sharks (like this lemon shark) on board safely, preventing too much pressure from being placed on the hook in the shark’s mouth.

Though we might joke that lemon sharks take their names from their zesty flavor (not true) or sour disposition (not true), the real reason is probably that they are yellowish in color. The intensity of their color varies based on the habitat they are in—lighter and brighter in sand, darker and browner in mud or seagrass. Because of the muddy bottom in the area where we were fishing, none of our lemon sharks were very brightly colored.  Luckily, there is another easy way to identify them: although most sharks have both a dorsal and a second dorsal fin along their back, in lemon sharks the second dorsal is nearly as large as the first.

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Photo of the week: RJD staff sample a large lemon shark

RJD student David Shiffman and intern Stacy Assael restrain a large lemon shark so that volunteers can take scientific samples