In about one month, our expedition to study large aggregations of hammerhead sharks in Japan will begin. Before we leave and fly halfway around the world (most of our team is from the United States or the United Kingdom) to start collecting data, there are lots of preparations to be made.
As for any field-based research expedition, considerable time is spent securing travel plans, purchasing and shipping our research equipment, and contacting and planning with our local operators and collaborators on the ground. These travel prerequisites prepare the mission and its operation team in a way that maximises success and efficiency before arriving in a foreign country. For this trip, however, we also need to prepare our bodies, and this involved obtaining a series of immunisations for travelling to Japan. While this might be a less glamorous or exciting aspect of the expedition, it is necessary for certain types of international travel, especially when one is travelling in warmer months.
In order to boost my system for the different environments I would be experiencing in Japan, I recently scheduled an appointment with a travel vaccination doctor from the University of Miami hospital. They provided me with two booster shots for the expedition.
Interestingly, it was this moment – sitting in a chair covered with that white paper, getting two tiny shots in my right arm – that made the expedition a reality, not the hundreds of emails I had been exchanging with my international team, nor the moment when we all purchased our flights to Japan (my first time travelling to Asia). I instantly thought of my collaborators getting their shots in London, Scotland and Hawaii, and it all became very real. We were going to Japan to study sharks.
When I told the doctor why I was heading to Japan, he didn’t believe me.
‘They have hammerhead sharks over there?’ he replied.
My answer to him summarises the whole point of the expedition: yes, hammerhead sharks exist in Japan, and they are highly threatened. This is perhaps the final aggregation site for this species in the northern hemisphere, and it could be one of our last opportunities to study their natural migratory and social behaviour in hopes that we can create meaningful protective measures for their populations.
Our team is ready, and hopefully the sharks will be.