A week and a half before I got the opportunity to take a trip with the University of Miami RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program , I overheard that on Sunday, May 27th, they pulled in a record catch estimated over 1,000 lbs! Man was I more excited to go on this trip and the days couldn’t go by faster.
WORLD OCEANS DAY
As the day came, I woke up a little tired, since I somewhat had a sleepless night due to how excited I felt about this opportunity and what lingered in my mind was I didn’t know for sure if we were going to catch any sharks. Why? – Because we are seeing their population diminishing to the point of extinction. These predators are being killed every day at an alarming rate and there is no question that sharks are the most misunderstood fish in the sea. They have gained the reputation of savage beasts hungry for blood as it appears in some shows and movies. More than 400 species of sharks swim in our oceans. Up to 73 million sharks are being killed every year, that’s catastrophic to the Ocean’s ecosystem!
I arrived in Islamorada, Florida Keys – I was greeted by Christine Shepard, Multimedia Specialist, Kyra Hartog, and other colleagues who also expressed how pumped they were to hit the water and start their research. Not long after, I met the man! Scientist Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, Director of the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program. As Curt Slonim, Boat Captain of the Curt-A-Sea embarked to the chosen grounds and since we had 45 minutes to burn I sat down with UM’s PhD student Julia Webster – she showed me the techniques and tools they use to catch and track these magnificent fish.
SOLAR POWERED WITH A KICK
Of all the tools that really stood out was this satellite tag that looked very unique to me. Sure enough; it was specially designed for Dr. Hammerschlag conservation program by Desert Star Systems. This thing was pretty cool, it is wrapped in a solar cell which works just like a solar panel and transmits to a capacitor which powers the tag’s electronics. On a full charge under direct sun light the solar cells gives the capacitor the benefit to hold power up to 2 weeks. There is still a powerful battery inserted into the tag just in case these predators decide to take those long deep dives in pure darkness. There is a thin layer of gun powder in a special chamber at the bottom of the tag that when its ready to detach, a charge gets sent down to that capsule to blow the tag back to the surface without causing any harm to the shark. Once recovered, the tag that initially was programmed to every time the shark moves – it will measure depth, temperature, position, light levels, earth magnetic fields in the area, and acceleration of the sharks in all different directions every four minutes – incredible information.
When we got to our destination, it was like clockwork, everyone knew their role, and the research had begun! As we were deploying these Drum line Gear (Weights & Numbered Floats, Pop Timers, Yo-Yo’s w/70’ Mainlines and Leaders, Bait Crate & Assortment of various baits such as Tuna Heads, Barracuda, & Amberjack) and we had to deploy 10 of these, now we just sit back and wait for the sharks to eat.
As soon as we picked up the first drum, game on. Our first Shark! It was a nice big Nurse Shark and I started thinking “It could be a good day”. As the shark was placed in the platform – Virginia Ansaldi who is the Lab Manager and Dr. Hammerschlag – started their normal procedures to secure the shark. Numerous important test are conducted on them such as the nictitating membrane response blood work to check their diet, gender, measure overall length, fork length, pre-caudal length, a piece of the their fin clipped off for eco-toxicology, and biopsy to test for toxins. Once the test were done, a satellite tag or a yellow dart tag AKA spaghetti tags is inserted. All this is done in several minutes not to put stress on the fish.
Overall: 2 lemon Sharks, 2 Nurse Sharks, 2 Black Nose, and 1 Black Tip. For me, the experience with Dr. Hammerschlag and his colleagues was very rewarding. I recall as Dr. Hammerschlag asked if I was having a good time. I replied,” This is awesome! Thank you.”
What is the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program? What is their objective? – Engage students and the public in awareness of the threats facing Oceans and Coasts and to the solutions of conservation. What really makes this program special is the fact that they provide hands on experience trips for students from local High Schools to develop conservation stewardship, attitudes, behaviors, and much more. To learn more about this program please visit WWW.RJD.MIAMI.EDU.
The worldwide battle to protect Sharks species are really heating up. Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Groups of Conservation around the world and domestic such as UM’s RJ Dunlap program shows true dedication and passion to study and raise awareness. Spread the word, be a Steward, show global Shark conservation.