keep your eyes open out there

It was a long 6 nights in the North Sound doing PIT and it feels good to see a little sun and have a little break from being continually waterlogged (my palms are peeling).

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some of our 50cm+ sharks caught in the North Sound

The last night of PIT was really starting to bring the crazy out of everyone since there are less and less sharks to catch each evening (we pen them as we catch them so not to catch them again), and because we got caught in some band of some tropical storm when they told us the weather was going to be good. At least the almost hurricane force winds kept the bugs at bay for the most part, even though I am disgustingly surprised they are still able to find somewhere left to bite on my body.

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I let Todd know the wind was picking up a little, he followed up with a this picture

My roommate Sophie is here to work on a project for her masters degree in wildlife documentary, so we went out this morning to place called Iyas Spot to get some lemon shark footage. It is a small cove in the mangroves where the baby lemon sharks take refuge during high tide to avoid the larger fish of the sea (chomp chomp). There is a thin waterway tunnel through the mangroves where they arch above your head and the water gets about chest deep which opens up to a small lagoon area. I believe the record number of babe lemon sharks that they have seen exit the lagoon when the tide drops is 39, but we watched closer to 10 different individuals today.

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lil lemon eating a squid chunk

We brought chum and squid into the lagoon to bring the sharks over, and of course any little girls dream, to hand feed some cute baybeeee sharks.

Afterward we exited back through the mangrove tunnel to wait outside so Sophie could get some shots of the sharks leaving the lagoon. I took this opportunity to hunt for sea cucumbers, sea hares, and of course the elusive sea horse.

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i love sea hares

I started out by finding some sea cucumbers, but although they are pretty awesome they don’t tend to be a crowd intriguer. I continued with picking up some sea hares (very gently to keep them from inking themselves!!!!) and they happened to be much more popular. I love to share my excitement for squishy things with other people that can appreciate them. The sharks we still taking their good ol’ time exiting the lagoon so Antonia, Harkiran, and I went on a drift snorkel down the mangroves while we waited. It was so amazingly beautiful to be able to swim through the mangrove roots and to be fully immersed in the mangrove environment. To see the lobster antennas sticking out from under the ledge, the puffer fish flitting about with confused movement, and how exciting was it to see a sea hare rummaging around on the edge of the mangrove floor. … but wait, what is that weird shape of orange next to my cute little sea hare?

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OMG! Is it true! They are real! My very own find of the very cutest little seahorse! Bright orange!..I was certainly the more excited of the two of us….!

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PIT, North Sound, [cont]

Made it through night 4 of PIT in the North Sound, slowly we are catching less sharks, but still caught 11 sharks this past night bringing us to a total of 115 sharks, which is really high, probably bringing us to an all time record catch by the end of PIT there (2 more nights), if not already.

Been wishing for a little rain because out water is getting pretty salty at the lab, but was wishing against it last night since it was predicted to rain all evening, and I was thinking it wouldn’t be completely enjoyable to be rained on in a skiff all night without rain gear on. Technically I could have worn rain gear but we have to get into the water to check the net every 15 minutes, so rain pants become pretty pointless.

The wind picked up pretty good and kept the bugs at bay, and no rain harder than a drizzle ever found us.

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Caught 2 small green turtles in our net which was pretty exciting, they were so cute and I was so excited I ended up jumping in with all my clothes on not realizing how deep it was, rookie mistake to do so early in the evening, but I was worried about them all tangled up in the net! We also caught a remora bigger than my forearm, who must have been ditched by a pretty large shark!

Good night, always good to be out, especially without bugs.

84 sharks!

Last night was our first evening of PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) where we insert a small chip under the skin of the shark, each reading its own unique number.

We go up into Biminis North Sound and set gill lines over night to catch baby lemon sharks, putting the lines out for twelve hours, and checking them every fifteen minutes. We went out and had our lines set by 6pm, and pulled the lines in 12 hours later at 6am this morning.

We will set our lines in the North Sound for 6 nights before moving to a different nursery location, typically catching between 60 and 80 sharks in the North Sound each year during PIT.

Last night was our first night in the North Bimini Sound and we were able to pull in 84 sharks! A record number for sure, with very limited by-catch (about 4 or 5 fish I think), and only one shark fatality.

For me, it is still difficult to see sharks die, especially with how targeted they have been, but as far as science goes it is important to realize that one death is a very good number for collecting 84 other sharks, and who have been tagged and whose DNA is going to be used to further the study on the species, which in turn helps an innumerable amount of other sharks.

PIT has been an active annual project here in Bimini for almost 20 years, which is at least how far back you need information on specific animals within a species to start being able to draw conclusions about them and their habits, which in turn helps with their conservation. Through the PIT program and DNA testing that has been going on we have been able to learn that females return every other year to give birth here, and we have been able to see that specific females have returned up to 6 times to give birth here, so 12 years of reproduction devoted to the same little part of bay here. Which are really quite astounding figures to hear about for these “mindless killing machines”.

It is pretty astounding to be able to connect all  of their DNA to see which sharks have been the most productive, to know their relationship to one another and to watch the Bimini family tree of lemon sharks continue to grow.

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baby lemons in the backyard

Dissection Obsession

Yesterday we set a long line in a deeper area not too far from shore hoping to catch some big tigers, but the crazy strong current pulled the line from the “sweet spot” of closer to 800 feet, to somewhere closer to 1000 feet we estimated. We only caught one shark, a cuban night shark, who did not survive the process. 

As a slightly hippie environmentalist it was sort of upsetting for the one shark I have seen us catch to be dead. I understand that we are not fully contributing to the over fishing of sharks, and that we actually will use all of it resources, but again, slightly environmental hippie.

Dr. Dean Grubbs is here giving lectures to a class we are currently hosting from Carolina Coastal University, and he led the dissection. I find it pleasing that he is here since the dissection on the night shark actually provides a lot of information that is pertinent for his on going knowledge and research on sharks. So that was one alleviating fact for our dead shark. 

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Being around all these college students and watching the dissection actually reminded me of how much I dislike dissections. I guess I never understood the whole purpose of cutting open animals that have been cut open by a million different people around the world, to show people the same thing we have known for years. The same thing you can see in a text book. But i guess for the class to come to the shark lab and get to partake in a shark dissection was very very exciting for them (they were overly excited geeking out about it).

I am embarrassed and slightly confused by the fact that halfway through the dissection I got the same lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous feeling that I remember experiencing in dental school one afternoon when we were going over tools used to remove teeth, and that i experienced when going through the BODIES the exhibition. (remember when that was the big thing to see). Overall they are all things that I do not have a problem with, but apparently they make my subconscious want to faint and vomit, pretty embarrassing. 

huge luxuries in the most simple of lives

Its pretty interesting to think of the constraints that island life puts on things, and the restraints on life that I seem to acquire with all of the places I live. But all of that aside today left me with a feeling of freedom. I am living somewhere with a window in my bedroom, unlimited free internet, and continuous cell phone service. I was able to sit and enjoy the sunset, without having to worry about serving dinner. The hours are still long, and the work can still be tiring, but can’t complain about getting to work outside and go swimming whenever I get too warm.

I do not believe anyone living on the boat would consider our life there luxurious, but there are a few things that could be up for discussion on changes in luxury. On the boat I share a head with a fresh water shower with 2 other people, whereas I am currently sharing a saltwater head with 7 other people. The boat offers an all you can eat buffet 3 meals a day and access to snacks and fresh produce all day long, food facts that many crew member are wary of for all the obvious reasons, here there is a limit of one piece of fruit per person per day, with a selection of a few apples, oranges, and some polka dotta bananas. There is not that constant looming of too much food, and even more food waste. Even with the constraints on food and especially fresh food here, they seem to understand the easiness of making a simple vegetarian meal. Maybe because they aren’t caught up on the luxury of it all, they understand that a pot pie can be made without chicken in it. A simplicity that continually seemed to be missed on the boat.

There is no same day laundry service, and no prefolded fresh linens brought in twice a week. If you use a towel, get it sandy and covered in saltwater, it is hung on the laundry line until dry, and then used again, and again. Your bath towel can be changed out once every 2 weeks.

All in all I still live on an island, this one is just a little longer than 152 feet, and with a population closer to 300 rather than 90. Luxury and convenience aside there is something freeing about being here, where all belongings are expected to get covered either in sand or fish blood, where you shower in salt water, and are always hungry at the end of the day for whatever meal has been graciously prepared.

A long day today as I fight to

A long day today as I fight to keep the ritual of sun screen application going and fish guts out of my hair. The morning consisted of hanging laundry to dry, drying dishes, practicing knots, and playing with the GPS.

By the afternoon it was so hot and without any breeze that I was interested in partaking in any activity that would get me in or on the water. After axing bonitos, jacks, lady fish, and barracudas into small chunks, and being sufficiently covered in fish blood and guts, we were ready to set some long lines to catch some sharks on!

Heading off of the island the temperature became much more bearable on water. We set 5 different long lines and recorded the data for what was on each hook and its coordinates. Although there wasn’t anything on the lines yet when we double backed to check they were set properly, I am certain there will be something fun to find when we go pull them up in the morning.