“We got one!”
I shouted excitedly to my colleagues on the beach 100 meters away, keeping a flashlight and careful eye on the juvenile lemon shark thrashing in the net just inches away.
It was exactly what we were after – every week resident lecturer Dr. Aaron Henderson takes groups of students into the water to tag sharks. The data we collect is entered into a growing database that helps researchers understand their movements, habitat use, and population dynamics.
Our journey begun a couple hours earlier at 7 p.m. when we left the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies. We brought with us a 110 meter net as well as tools for taking various water quality observations and for measuring and tagging any sharks we caught.
Four students led by Aaron and intern AJ Jourdan took the bumpy ride along unpaved roads to the research site, where we teamed up to set up the net as the sun set. After driving stakes into the sandy bottom of the shallow waters where young sharks feed at night, the waiting game began.
It wasn’t long before we saw splashing – we had something. It was a juvenile lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris), about 40 centimeters long. Aaron brought the shark in and we took a variety of measurements and tagged it. Then we took a few photos before releasing it and continuing to wait.
From time to time, Aaron asked students to walk the length of the net to check for catches. Armed with only a flashlight in the pitch darkness, I took the first walk. Twenty meters down I saw a fish. And finally, nearing the end of the net, another shark.
Keeping a careful eye on the shark, less scared and more curious now, I waited for Aaron to reach me before he showed me where to place my hands to guide the shark through the water to shore.
Shark skin is composed of lots of tiny, hard placoid scales. Petting a shark is like rubbing velvet – smooth and slippery if you run you hand from head to tail, but sand-papery the other way. Okay, so not really like velvet at all.
We realized upon reaching shore that the shark was the same one we had caught earlier, but that didn’t dampen my excitement. I’d still caught a shark! Around 10:30, we wrapped up the sharking expedition and headed back to the Center. In addition to the shark, we had caught bonefish, upside-down jellyfish, and even a hawksbill turtle.
From the pristine waters to the best jerk chicken I’ve ever tasted to listening to Soca music at bars with the friendly locals, my time here has been great. But there are things from home I miss: my friends and family; sleeping in a bed in which I don’t have to wait for the fan to blow cool air my way every five seconds to fall asleep. So I welcome my last week with both joy and sadness. It’s been the adventure of a lifetime. South Caicos, beautiful by nature, you will always be in my heart.