Category Archives: Nurse Shark

The Summer of Sharks

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The SRC team releasing a nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) back into the Atlantic Ocean

As I have written here before, I love sharks.

Every size and type of shark intrigues me and the more I encounter these amazing creatures, the more I want to learn. In fact, one of my goals this summer has been to spend at least 30 days aboard research vessels catching, tagging, collecting scientific data on and releasing sharks. I am happy to report that I expect to accomplish or exceed my goal and that my summer of sharks has been incredible.

Thankfully I live in a region of the world that allows me to study these amazing creatures and that’s particularly the case because of my college. I’m fortunate to attend one of the leading marine science schools in the world, the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and am deeply honored to be part of the small team that makes up Dr. Neil Hammerschlag’s renowned Shark Research and Conversation (SRC) Lab.

From nurse sharks, like the one above, and great hammerheads to black tips and tiger sharks to just about everything in between that you can imagine, we see them all in our work with SRC. In my own work this summer, over the course of almost 30 days in the field on board research vessels, I have been fortunate to have helped catch, study and tag at least 10 different species of sharks through my internship with SRC and as a student of the Field School’s Elasmobranch Course.

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Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

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Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

My summer began with a week-long trip out of Key West where we traveled to the Dry Tortugas and lived aboard the Field School’s Research Vessel Garvin. I was honored to have been selected for the trip and work with the incredible people from the Field School, as well as members of the SRC team so as to study the Tortuga’s Gulf of Mexico shark population.

During our week offshore, not only were we able to dive some exquisite sunken wrecks covered in all sorts of colorful tropical fish species and sea turtles, but we also caught, tagged and collected biological samples on 27 different sharks (8 species total) before gently releasing them back into the wild. The SRC and Field School teams also spent another two weeks in the Dry Tortugas where they caught and released 51 more sharks for a total of 78 over the three weeks of research we performed there in May and June.

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SRC quickly working up a great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)

I then spent another week on the RV Garvin with the Field School staff as we sailed the waters off the coast of Miami out in the Atlantic Ocean. Each day we performed science on the sharks that we caught and released and learned about their role and importance within our natural environment as an apex species. During that week we caught and released some very cool species including bonnethead sharks, blacknose sharks and even a smalltooth sawfish that we quickly released back into the water before reporting our sighting to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as is required due to their highly endangered status. Protecting important species like the sawfish or the great hammerhead is critical to every element of our environment and the news out of Washington, which you can read here, that the Trump Administration wants to reduce those protections is deeply disappointing.

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Drawing blood from a nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

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Processing a shark’s blood in the on-board lab to extract plasma

In the event that you are curious about such scientific work, what we do when catching and releasing sharks, I’ve included a few pictures within this blog from this summer. When ‘working up a shark’, as we call it, we carefully and gently secure most of the sharks onto a special platform off the back of the boat (the stern) and in the short time it’s there we quickly collect all sorts of data including measurements, fin clips, muscle biopsies, blood samples and then we tag each shark using either a NOAA tag, acoustic tag or satellite tag.

Some species, such as the majestic and protected Great Hammerhead, never leave the water (I’ve included some pictures of our work this summer on these incredible animals as well) and in every single case great care is taken to respect the animal in every way and to release them as quickly as possible back into their natural environment.  The process is orchestrated like a symphony, a shark science symphony I would could call it, as each member of the team has a specific role for that day’s trip, has gone through extensive training and is supervised at all times by highly knowledgeable leaders with years of hands on field experience.

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Drawing blood from a blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)

I’ve also, of course, been aboard many trips throughout my first two semesters that SRC has conducted and it was on one of those trips that I have one of my fondest memories of my first year. It was the first time that I had ever been offshore with the team, meaning we were in 100 feet deeper water than usual and had to add extension lines to our gear. It was an amazing day where we caught two bull sharks, two great hammerheads, and one tiger shark. I should mention that it was actually my first time ever seeing a great hammerhead and a tiger shark in person. It was such an exciting (and exhausting day) that I fell asleep as I was telling my family about our adventures and good fortune!

As my Summer of Sharks continues, I want to remind everyone that Dr. Hammerschlag and the University of Miami’s Shark Research & Conservation Lab will be featured in three different Shark Week episodes this summer! Be sure to check out “Monster Tag” Monday July 23rd at 8:00pm, “Shark Tank Meets Shark Week”Wednesday July 25th at 9:00 pm, and “Tiger Shark Invasion” Thursday July 26th at 10:00 pm!

My friends at Field School will also be featured in “Alien Sharks: Greatest Hits” Sunday July 22nd at 7:00 pm and “SharkCam Stakeout” Wednesday July 25th at 10:00 pm.

You can catch these shows on The Discovery Channel so tune in or set your DVR to record all of the fun and excitement.

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Releasing a nurse shark after a work up (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

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Measuring a Great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran)

Thank you to everyone in SRC and at the Field School for making this summer so absolutely amazing and one full of sharks!

I want to especially send a shout out to Dr. Hammerschlag, Steve, Abby, Shannon, and Trish from SRC for supporting, teaching and encouraging me. I might be the youngest person in our Lab but no one is more honored to work with you and everyone at SRC. Thank you SRC.

I’d also like to very much thank Julia, Catherine, Christian, Jake, and Nick from Field School for embracing and inspiring me. My experiences offshore and on-board with you and the others on each of our trips this summer was life changing (so much so that I am now studying for my Captain’s license). Thank you Field School.

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Releasing a nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) after a quick workup

If you love sharks, or are just curious to learn more about these wondrous creatures, I have GREAT news for you. You, too, can go shark tagging or attend other educational trips with us. To learn more about Shark Research and Conservation, please click here or to learn more about Field School, please click here. I hope you will consider joining us on what I promise will be a once in a lifetime experience that you will never forget.

Okay, enough about my summer “vacation,” my summer of sharks. I am off on another two trips with the SRC team this Saturday and Sunday and hope you will tune in and learn more about sharks on TV this week or join us out on the water soon. Fins up and enjoy the rest of your summer!

We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

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I love sharks.

All sorts of sharks. Nurse Sharks, Mako Sharks, Tiger Sharks, Black Tips, Great Whites, Spinners and my favorite, the Crocodile Shark, to name just a few. With ‘Shark Week’ starting tonight on television I’d like to share some of my own shark related adventures with you while also telling you about some of my science heroes as a way to thank them for the amazing work they are doing for our planet.

My fascination with sharks led me to go on my first shark tagging trip with the University of Miami’s Shark Research & Conservation Program (SRC) through my school, Palmer Trinity, when I was in sixth grade. In honor of the fact that Shark Week begins tonight on The Discovery Channel and National Geographic, I’d like to share some incredible pictures from my last shark tagging adventure with you, as well as tell you a bit about the program and the inspiring people who are involved including two of my science heroes.

The SRC Program was created in 2010 by the University of Miami’s Roni Avissar (Professor at and Dean of the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science), Dr. Kenny Broad (Professor at and Chair of UM’s Department of Marine Ecosystems and Society), and Dr. Neil Hammerschlag (Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Marine Ecosystems and Society and Director of the Shark Research & Conservation Program).

The SRC Program allows students and others to learn about these awesome animals up close and to participate in real shark research by testing their nictitating membranes, taking fin clip samples, measuring their length and helping place identification tags on them before they are safely released back into the wild. Between my school’s affiliation with the University of Miami’s SRC and my participation in the University’s Summer Scholars Program I’ve been fortunate to go on three tagging trips, thus far, and each one was absolutely incredible.

Last summer I was far away from South Florida and any thoughts of shark tagging when my family visited Washington D.C.’s many museums and sights. Upon check-in at our hotel we learned that, coincidentally, we were staying across the street from the Headquarters of the National Geographic Society, so naturally we had to add a visit to their offices to our list of things to do. I am sure glad we did because not only were their exhibits great fun to see but it was an incredible surprise to walk around the building’s exterior and come across a huge photograph of Dr. Hammerschlag standing on the sea floor with a 12′ long Tiger Shark swimming above him! I guess even though I was in Washington I was never really that far from the SCS, the sharks or Dr. Hammerschlag’s fine work.12440317_10154620482268265_3583103700094699566_o

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag (in the orange shirt above) is a marine ecologist whose research centers broadly on the behavioral ecology, conservation biology, and the movement ecology of marine predators, primarily sharks. Dr. Hammerschlag’s research includes investigating interactions between sharks and their prey, identifying and learning about shark habitats, studying the impact of urbanization on sharks including the impacts of over fishing on their ecosystems and how sharks respond to climate change. Dr. Hammerschlag is not only an educator and research scientist but also an inventor. For example, using ultra sound technology and techniques that he’s invented he studies pregnant sharks without harming them as would have been the case in the past.160318_123308_191_PalmerTrinity_Web

My most recent shark tagging trip was even more exciting and humbling than is normally the case because not just one, but two, of my science heroes were on board that day. In addition to Dr. Hammerschlag we were joined by none other than Philippe Cousteau who was aboard to film a segment on shark tagging for his Xploration Awesome Planet television show (that’s Philippe in the blue shirt) on FOX and Hulu.

Philippe Cousteau is a world renowned adventurer, educator, filmmaker and author. He is the grandson the iconic Jacques Cousteau and part of perhaps the most important family in all of marine biology. Philippe is also the founder of EarthEcho International which he created to “inspire young people worldwide to act now for a sustainable future.”  I am deeply proud to be a member of Philippe’s inaugural EarthEcho International Youth Council and for him to be with us on my last shark tagging trip was something I will always remember.

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So with Shark Week upon us I hope that you will tune in and watch these cutting edge research educators do their thing.

Dr. Hammerschlag will be premiering in tonight’s Tiger Beach and will also star in Air Jaws: Night Stalker on Tuesday June 28th, both on the Discovery Channel. He will also star (along with the sharks!) in Mega Hammerhead on the National Geographic Channel on June 30th. I also hope that you will tune in and watch Philippe Cousteau’s Nuclear Sharks on the Discovery Channel when it premieres on June 30th.

Allow me to end this post with a special thanks and shout out to a few folks from Palmer Trinity including Dr. Caroline Hammerschlag who was also on the most recent tagging trip my school participated in a couple of months ago. You see, she’s not only an amazing scientist and educator but also a professor at Palmer Trinity and, as I sometimes call her, Mrs. Dr. Hammerschlag, Neil’s wife.

I’m also excited to mention that she; Traci Holstein, our school’s wonderful Science Department Chairperson; and Coach Clint Jones took a small group of Palmer students, myself included, on an absolutely epic Marine Biology Expedition to Hawaii this past Spring. We hiked a volcano, went night diving with Giant Manta Rays, explored nesting sea turtle habitats on black sand beaches and followed Pacific porpoises among other incredible adventures but that, as they say, will be the subject of another post one day.

Thanks to both Palmer and the University of Miami for making such incredible, and indelible, education available and don’t forget to catch some of my heroes on television this week, Shark Week 2016!
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