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Hooked on shark science

By SharkLab volunteer Daniel Foley, 7th May 2019

Picture this scene: you’re a young college student from the Midwest having grown up fishing around tiny lakes and ponds your whole childhood. With a slight interest in ocean science, and curiousness as to what a living, marine goliath looks like, you accept an invitation to a small Caribbean research station in order to study shark science. A few days pass, and after plenty of safety lectures and brimming anticipation, there you are, staring into the eyes of a creature you never thought could exist beyond the realm of TV documentaries and YouTube videos. A 3-meter tiger shark caught on a thin looking piece of mono-filament rears its powerful body above the current. There’s that nictitating membrane we talked about in class! And the mating scars, they must be fresh! Adrenaline and serotonin mix in a fiery medley throughout your body. The shark is hooked, and so are you. This is the coolest sight you’ve ever witnessed in your life. And the people who work with these creatures? We have to become one…

Fast-forward three years: you’ve graduated with a fine degree and a steady job, but the wonder and excitement from years prior aren’t nearly sated. You come back to the research station as an official intern. Shark workups are now your reality; you get to hold the dorsal fin and witness firsthand the gargantuan strength of these creatures. You assist in the implantation of tagging devices, the sampling of blood, the finesse of surgery, the rush of tail roping. This and myriad more experiences are the reality of shark science, and you couldn’t be happier.

Lab manager James prepares to take blood from a large nurse shark (G.cirratum). Photo by Sophie Hart | © Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation - SharkLab

Longline setting is by far the favourite activity, but the amount of work and patience necessary to capture a shark was lost on me as a course student. The preparation required for baiting hooks, affixing anchors and weights, navigating the lines (sometimes in the blackest nights!) is enormous, but so is the payoff. Seeing these sharks firsthand, working them up right alongside the boat and knowing that the work you put it is integral to scientific data that could change the course of a species’ existence is beyond satisfying. It was for this reason that I came back to the Sharklab, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision!

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