Other than a hairy paddle-boarding excursion across the open ocean with the first man to have crossed the Bering Sea kitesurfing (see this p.s. it was my first time paddle-boarding), I made it back in one piece from the South Berry Islands where I joined The Nature Conservancy and Summit Series in surveying our newly minted MPA. It was a thrill to witness a sanctuary that our game players are helping to support!! There is so much to tell, but some key takeaways are:
1. Shark research is hard: trying to capture key data, take a biopsy, blood and a dorsal fin sample, as well as fix a satellite tag to a tiger shark in under 7 minutes while keeping it calm is, well, pretty challenging. As one friend on the trip put it, it’s like a Formula 1 pit stop and many things can go wrong.
2. Patience is a virtue: despite the University of Miami team having extensively chummed the waters the night before and throughout the day, sharks do not show up just like that. We spent several 8-9 hour days in a 25 foot tender surrounded by shark bait and were fortunate to have caught and released 3 sharks on one lucky day - and only 1 had a dorsal fin capable of supporting a satellite tag. Frankly, I think they were on to us.
3. Once you do capture and secure a shark, don’t get off until Neil tells you to: Capturing a shark is like few things I’ve experienced before and you grow deeply concerned about the welfare of the animal. Trying to fasten a satellite tag on the dorsal fin of a tiger shark while straddling its back is tricky - don’t lose your concentration! There’s a lot going on of course and a large team hopping madly around the stern of a not very big boat as the UM scientists shout out commands to us all. But with all the commotion sometimes a few instructions get lost in the shuffle, e.g. “Don’t get off the shark!” I commend Dr. Neil Hammerschlag and his team including Austin, Virginia and Curt for how they are pushing the boundaries of shark research and involving people from all walks of life in the experience in an effort to protect these awesome creatures.
Hats off again to Thayer Walker at Summit Series for bringing together such an interesting group of people on such short notice for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Amazing.