Nurse Shark Haven

May 15th, 2010

The joys of spring- the end of school is near and summer is right around the corner. Unfortunately, it also is the end of the always exciting shark trips with the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program for the participating students and many interns (including myself).  Fortunately for us, the students from MAST Academy were able to join and help in all the observing and data collecting.  The weather was cooperative, with the sun shining, temperatures just right, but the wind howling. Over the course of the day, the wind was able to calm down to give us a more enjoyable ride out to the Gulf side. Being able to absorb instructions quickly, the MAST students were able to get the drumlines out in their designated sites in record time.

MAST Academy smiling because they know sharks are a coming!(click to enlarge).

Adam, shark intern, giving students instructions on tagging sharks. (click to enlarge).

During lunch/soaking time, the topic of everybody’s favorite shark came up in the conversation. Standard species were named- Hammerhead, Bull, Tiger, Lemon, Mako, Great White-however, there was one stand out that made many of the interns shiver in horror—the Nurse shark.  Thanks to their tough skin and endless ability to roll and not stay still for measuring, these sharks are not a favorite among us researchers. Pondering the decision on what her favorite shark was, one student replied-“They remind me of my cat because those little whiskers by their snout. I hope we catch a lot of nurse sharks”! Little did we know that this students hopeful wish for a nurse shark would haunt us for the rest of the day…..

Dominique trying to calm down a frisky nurse shark! (click to enlarge).

Ready to see what the day brought us, we rounded up the first round of drumlines. The first drumline brought a shark, but the excitement was soon turned to groans. It was a female nurse shark, and thanks to its liveliness, we were only able to get a total length- approximately 180 cm. The next few drumlines in the round produced nothing until the final one which had a female Blacknose on it. The students were quick to get all the data collected and the total length registered about 115 cm, the smallest shark of the day.  The students were getting excited due to the success we had thus far and decided to make up a new dance to celebrate their “new” favorite shark. This of course was related to the Nurse shark, so the dance included shuffling around with fingers being brought up to one’s mouth to look like barbels. This did not sit well with a lot of the interns so it was banned as quickly as it was started!

Shark Team, Virginia, Adam, and Julia releasing a Blacknose Shark (click to enlarge).

The next round of the drumlines brought two more nurse sharks. The first one was a female that was around 220 cm and a bit calmer than the first one. The second one however, was one that caused some problems. Brendal was nominated to bring the specific drumline in and right away we knew something was on the line. What we did not know however, was the massive size of the shark we had. There was hardly any tension until one of the last reeling in. With this one, the shark sensed it was caught and suddenly veered off in the opposite direction, snapping the yo-yo into pieces. This threw off Brendal’s balance and she almost ended up in the water. But thanks to a quick thinking group of MAST students taking pictures, they were able to save her but not the yo-yo, as it fell into the water and floated away. Due to the struggle, we believed that it was possible to have been a huge bull or hammerhead on the line, however it was just a very mature male nurse shark that came in over 245 cm, the largest shark of the day!

A very large Nurse Shark swimming away after data collection. (click to enlarge).

The third round did not hold on to much of the excitement of the second round but we were able to bring in another nurse shark who’s struggle did not permit us to even check the gender of it! The estimated total length of the shark came in around 235 cm. The fourth round of drumlines proved just as successful as far as shark monotony, bringing in a male and female Nurse shark whose total lengths were approximately 235 cm and 205 cm, respectively.

So for the day, we ended up being 7 for 20 as far as sharks caught. Out of those seven, six of them were Nurse sharks with most of them totaling over 200 cm! Even though the majority of the sharks were of the same species, we were still successful to get as many as we did! Thanks to everybody that went on this trip, especially MAST Academy and the interns. Hopefully the trip tomorrow will be even better!! See you all next season!

Even interns Dom and Julia have a lot of fun with bait. (click to enlarge).

Elasmobranch Love,

Julia Lampe (Shark Intern)

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