Project news

Surreal, uncomfortable, but definitely magical

By Ryan Cake, 19th September 2019

There’s something surreal, uncomfortable but definitely magical about something you know will never happen again.

The Shark Lab’s annual juvenile lemon shark survey (more commonly referred to as PIT), as the name suggests, happens every year from the end of May until mid-June. 12 nights, 144 hours, 2 nurseries and 4 crews made up of staff and volunteers, some of whom know what’s about to happen from previous years.

Walking the gillnet. Photo by Sophie Hart | © Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation - SharkLab

Months of preparation have lead us all up to these crucial few weeks in the Shark Lab calendar. Days spent moving and building holding pens, fixing nets and of course gillnetting until you’d be comfortable taking a shark out of the net blindfolded (which we never do and isn’t recommended).

Night 1 arrives and everyone on Net 3 of the shark land nursery has a rough idea of what’s about to happen. This net has a history of being the busiest from start to finish, with sediment that can go over your knees and water so shallow at times, your boat could be stranded. Nevertheless, the net was set to cheesy 80’s music, courtesy of our home crew, and all we had to do now was carry out our checks every 15 minutes to see if we had something in the net.

Needless to say, we hit 3 minutes and we are met with the sound of the net splashing in all different sectors. Transport tubs and scissors in hand, 3 of us ran as fast as our sediment-buried legs could carry us to the source of the splashes – there are 8 sharks in our net.

4 hours later, we’d counted 20 sharks and it was eventually time to carry out a “normal” check of the net.

Rarely seen in Bimini, a juvenile blacktip caught in the gillnet. Photo by Sophie Hart | © Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation - SharkLab

By the end of night 1, Net 3 had caught 30 sharks, bringing the first night’s total to 51 across 3 nets. We’re exhausted, tired, hungry and maybe a bit delirious, yet so hyped up on adrenaline from the chaos which has just happened. The other 12 nights yielded many more crazy moments, from catching a tiny juvenile blacktip (C. limbatus) shark in our net to hunkering down and later abandoning our last night early after the largest lightning storm I’ve ever witnessed passed over us in the North Sound of Bimini.

188 sharks and countless incredibly creative food-run costumes later, we’d finished. Wet, tired and definitely delirious by now, we finished PIT 2019 in style (possible lightening flashbacks aside), knowing that the memories you’ve made in those 12 nights will be with you for the rest of your life.

That’s the beauty of PIT – you spend all the nights with the friends you’ve made in your time here at the Shark Lab, laughing, swapping stories and most importantly contributing to something that’s greater than yourselves. The beauty of PIT is knowing that these people, in this place, telling those stories, laughing at those jokes whilst catching hundreds of lemon sharks will never happen again – and you treasure it forever.

Project See project and more news