The day starts at 6:00 am driving a van full of students to Key Biscayne. If I had to define Miami with just one word it would be: Traffic. But we made it with time to stop at Starbucks for some breakfast.
The research vessel is a scuba boat (Diver’s Paradise of Key Biscayne) run by the great French/Cuban Captain Eric who moonlights as an Organizational Behavior Professor at FIU. The nuts and bolts of the tagging are simple. Ten “drum lines” are dropped with big chunks of tuna on the hooks, then you go back to check if the sharks have bitten. Sharks need to swim to breathe, so the hooks have an ingenious system to allow them to swim in circles before being tagged. The hook also has a timer so the scientists can know how long it’s been on the hook. Once on board the students have to take various measurements, check the nictitating membrane for stress and reflexes, clip a tiny skin sample from the fin to check the shark’s health and tag it! The grad students also take a blood sample. It is all very professional and humane, I was impressed. Students also study water samples for quality.
Our first specimen was a small blacknose shark, caught near Stiltsville – a series of houses on the water built during prohibition – you guessed it – on stilts, where folks would drink and party. You have to love American hypocrisy! Some are still strong enough to host raves.
The day goes on checking lines, dropping lines, hanging out on the boat, chatting with the U Miami grad students, Eric the Captain, students, and other teachers. It is fantastic to spend a school day where the classroom is the boat!
Then we caught a nurse shark. These are fascinating! Out of the water they breathe on the water they have in their system making a “suckling” noise that gives them their name, their skin feels like sandpaper, and their color is also unique.
After a long day on the boat we hit Miami traffic again to cross Alligator Alley back to Naples. Yuck.
As an educator, this is the kind of experience we always want for our students, where they are participating, helping graduate students work on their research. This is not a sterile classroom experiment, this is field research to study shark stress levels, ecosystem impact, shark immunology, etc. this is real life!
Notes and fun facts: The majority of sharks are under 5 feet long, you can purchase shark research swag here: https://sharkresearch.rsmas.miami.edu/shop