Photos & text by Matthew Potenski
Day 10 June 9 - Build Pens
Framing the Pen
Today was the second day of rest before beginning the gillnetting of the North Sound. We had to construct the pens in the North Sound, so we grabbed some tools and sunscreen and jumped on the skiffs. It was a bit windy today but still a great day to be out and on the water. I was on the team that had the big task of making the main holding pen. We pulled up to all the materials and got organized. The first step is making a line of rebar to determine the length of the pen (using rebar to measure distances). Once this center line is completed we measure out the actual walls on either side again being spaced by rebar. We now have an oval shape and can remove the center line. We place more rebar between the ones staking out the oval. Next, the pen mesh is fully unwound and wrapped around the oval of rebar. This is all just getting set-up for the real construction.
Building the Main Pen
We then start at one edge of the door and lace a rebar through the mesh, allowing for a foot or so to lay flat on the bottom on the exterior side of the pen. This point anchors the mesh and we now move rebar to rebar, making sure the mesh is stretched taut. The rebar is lifted over the mesh, staked into the mesh and then the mesh is zip-tied to the rebar. This makes for a smooth surface of mesh inside the pen with no folds for the juvenile lemons to potentially get themselves stuck in. We work our way around the perimeter of the pen, rebar by rebar. Steve is serving as the foreman and leading the construction project. This also means he gets the glorious job of diving in the silty water and making sure the mesh is secured to the rebar at the bottom via a zip-tie. After each rebar is done I come behind and place cinder blocks on the mesh "lip" lying on the bottom so that the sharks can't wedge themselves under the mesh. Round the entire pen we go until we get back to the door. This is the point where you find out how good you are - if you measured incorrectly or didn't pull the mesh taut enough you will come up short. We make it with just a little extra. We secure the bottom end with zip-ties, but use only tuna clips for the top side, as this is the door which we will use to get into and out of the pen when needed. We add some support rebar and lines where needed. The final step is to push sand around the bottom between the cinder blocks to bury the mesh lip so that it is filled and smooth from the inside with no possible means of escape. Steve then does a quick snorkel of the pen from the inside to double check our handiwork. A big thumbs up from him and we can all stand back and admire our beautiful and soon to be shark-filled creation. While we finished the main pen all three net pens had been erected. We are now fully prepared and ready to bring PIT 2006 to the North Sound...
Day 11 June 10 - North Sound Night 1
Removing a Shark from the net
It's the first night of the North Sound and I am fully prepared for another barrage of sharks. We all placed bets for how many sharks we thought will be caught tonight. I bet 44 - the same number I always bet, which happens to be my old jersey number from when I played basketball and baseball. We tend to get fewer sharks in the North Sound than in Sharkland, with the glaring exception being last year when we caught more sharks in the North Sound than we had in any part of the lagoon in any PIT census. We will see if this year we have a lower number than usual. Not all the mothers come in every year, and there is usually an oscillating pattern of high numbers of sharks and lower numbers of sharks in successive years. We think that maybe one or more of the mothers (for whatever reason) may have gone off its cycle and thus we had an extraordinarily high number of sharks last year. It is unlikely for those mothers to come in and pup this year so we can expect lower numbers. We set three nets - one on the west side and two in the east.
Dipnetting a Shark
I am heading out on the west side net - traditionally one of the strongest nets in terms of shark catches. We start strong, catching the first shark of the North Sound. This net doesn't disappoint, steadily producing sharks all night long for a total of 24. Along the way Sean, Mark, and I are entertained for the night by Jen's singing, bubble blowing, and general antics. The total catch for all three nets is 44 - I nailed it on the nose! I want to go off on a tangent here and talk a little about the actual gill net. We use a monofilament gill net that is approximately 90 meters long by 1.5 meters high with a mesh size of around 5 centimeters. We tie one end to the mangroves as far up towards the high water line as possible. We then pull the net out in a long line. The net has a weighted lead line and a float line with (surprise surprise!) floats on them. The net should be anchored down with the lead line and pulled to the surface via the float line, functionally covering the water column and preventing a shark from swimming over or under the net. At the end furthest from the mangroves the lead line is attached to an anchor and the float line tied to a rebar. We then attach a strobe to the rebar so that a boat delivering a shark to the main pen can navigate back easily during the course of the night. The net is broken down into four sections, labeled from the mangroves outward as sectors A, B, C, and D. Each sector has approximately 32 of the float line floats and then we affix a large float to demarcate a new sector. When a shark is captured, we record the time and sector of the net it was entangled in and then radio the information to the tagging boat.
Sharks Ready for Transport
Our net radioed the tagging boat quite a few times and the night flew as we were always busy. All the sharks we captured seemed to be very strong and we took most of them straight over to the tagging boat. When the tide got close to low we simply pen them by our net pen until the water rises again. At that point we dip-netted them out of the pen and delivered them to the tagging boat. We actually have a total of 45 sharks in the main pen, as Tristan captured one via dip-net while he was building one of the net pens. All the sharks are doing quite well and things are looking quite good. We have had a very successful start to the North Sound.
Day 12 June 11 - North Sound Night 2
Feeding the Sharks
Tonight I will be heading out on the tagging boat. I think it has been roughly 4 years since I have been on a tagging boat. I always work on the nets so this should be a refreshing change of pace. The tagging boat goes out and attaches itself to the main pen. When the nets catch sharks, they relay information to the tagging boat and then deliver the sharks for workup. The responsibilities of the tagging boat include processing the captured sharks, monitoring the sharks in the pen, and serving as a meeting place for dinner. When a shark is delivered to the tagging boat it undergoes the "workup" process. A shark workup includes placing the shark in a water filled trough, scanning for a PIT tag, tagging it if it lacks one, checking the tag if one is put in, measuring, weighing, taking a DNA sample, and making general observations on the shark's physical condition. To PIT tag a juvenile lemon shark you take a scalpel and make a small incision just below the dorsal fin. Then a PIT tag inserter, a syringe-like tool loaded with a PIT tag, is inserted into the animal and the tag injected. The shark lies in a measuring trough that has a measuring tape epoxyed into the bottom. Three length measurements are taken. The pre-caudal length or PCL is measured from the front of the shark's snout to its precaudal pit, an indentation just before its tail. The fork length or FL, is measured from the shark's snout to the fork in its tail.
Measuring the Shark
Finally, the total length or TL, is taken from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. A DNA punch (similar to a paper-hole punch) is then used to take a cylindrical plug of tissue from one of the shark's fins. The small wound made in this process heals in less than two weeks in most cases. The tissue sample is then placed in a vial of DMSO preservative, along with a data label. The shark is given a visual inspection both dorsally and ventrally and we record its sex and comments on fin condition (ie. amount of fin rot if any), scars, markings, cuts or wounds, parasites, or anything else that is noteworthy about the animal. In newborns, the umbilical scar is looked at to see if it is still partially open. The lemons are then placed in a sling fastened to a hanging scale to be weighed. The workup is now complete and the shark is lowered into the main pen. We observe its release to make sure it swims away and does not need any more attention. Some individuals get highly stressed from the workup and may swim erratically or even lay on the bottom. In this case, they are closely monitored until the point where they begin swimming normally again. One of the tagging boat crew enters the pen for a snorkel at intervals to double check that all the sharks are swimming and doing well. All told we get and workup 11 sharks during the course of the night. I even got my hands dirty and conducted a workup - always a good time. This brings the two day total of the North Sound to 56 sharks.
Day 13 June 12 - North Sound Night 3
Setting the Gillnet
Night three finds me back on the nets. This time I decided to give the east side a try. I am on Net 2 in the northeast of the lagoon. The weather is very overcast and threatening. Tonight will be the full moon, but it will probably be obscured fro most of the night by cloud cover. We will also have spring tides - extreme high and low tides caused by the earth, moon, and sun (and their gravitational forces) being in a line. We will actually be resting for the next couple days, as the most extreme tides in the North Sound will occur. We get the net set and begin our checks. There are two main ways to check the nets. When the water depth allows, we simply drive the skiffs along the length of the nets, illuminating the net with the powerful Q-beam light. In shallower tides, you actually walk the length of the net, using your headlamp or an underwater flashlight to look for sharks. Once the net is set, it is checked every fifteen minutes for sharks or if a splash is heard. This ensures that the sharks do not spend lots of time in the nets and minimizes the amount of stress they must endure. Usually, when a shark becomes entangled, it pulls the float line down where it gets wrapped up in the net.
Checking the Net
The next step is to extract the shark from the net. One person approaches the shark while others can radio information, put water in a transport box, and have the PIT tag reader ready to scan. On finding a tangled shark, you first try to assess which side it entered and how it is caught in the mesh. I make it a point to be on the same side of the net the shark entered from. This positioning allows approaching the shark from behind, and in the process keeps the mouth away from you. Additionally, you are not leaning over the net while trying to work, allowing for more stable and sure movements. As per its name, the gill net tends to snare the sharks behind the snout and before the pectoral fins, around the area of the gills. The sharks sometimes tend to roll and twist, wrapping their tails or whole bodies in more of the net. A shark must be assessed and the net teased, flipped, or otherwise manipulated so that the shark is only caught by the head. At this point, the shark can be grabbed and held just in front of the dorsal. With this hold the shark can be controlled for extraction and can be prevented from wrapping itself further. The net must be worked back and forth until it wiggles off the front of the shark. It usually gets snagged right around the jowls.
Walking the Net
I usually use the scissors we carry to wedge the monofilament around the jowls and off. If the shark is really tangled or if the netting is wrapped tight around delicate parts like the eyes or gills, we use the scissors to cut some of the strands of monofilament. This reduces the stress on the animal and expedites its removal from the net. Once the shark is separated from the net it is placed in a transport box on the boat. It is quickly scanned and the tag number is radioed in if it is a recapture. Tonight proves to be a relatively slow night, totaling just 9 sharks from all the nets. This brings the three day tally to 65 individuals for the North Sound. We will now rest for three days to let the extreme tides pass and then complete the last three nights of fishing...
Day 14 June 13 - Rest
Cleaning the Gear
Today is a rest day. The away crew will be able to get some sleep and the home crew can get a head start on the preparations for resuming the fishing in a couple days. I would like to take a little time to extol the virtues of home crew. While the away crew tends to steal the spotlight, the home crew is an important and essential part of the project. They clean and prepare clothes, gear, and equipment. They cook and serve food to the away crew. They do a million "behind-the-scene" things that keep the PIT project chugging forward. When the away crew arrives back at the lab, the home crew swarms out of the lab and jumps into action. The truck is unloaded and several activities begin to commence. Gear boxes are opened and their contents removed. Equipment has to be cleaned of any salt via desalinated water and metal parts wiped with CRC (which you have probably heard of by another commercial name - WD-40). All equipment is tested to ensure that it works, and minor maintenance, such as battery replacement, is performed.
Refilling the Gas Cans
Finally the boxes are repacked and checklists crossed off so that the boat captains can assess what additional equipment they my need. The radios and boat batteries, essential pieces of equipment, are set to charge for the day. Thermoses, water bottles, and snack boxes all have to be cleaned. Personal items, including clothes, wetsuits, and towels need to be rinsed and hung to dry. Gas cans for the boats need to be refilled for the next night's work. The away team can shower and enjoy a nice breakfast before going to sleep, confident in the knowledge that the home crew is hard at work to get them back out in the field. We conduct the usual post-fishing night tasks this morning, and start on the gillnets. There are 4 gillnets that need to be repaired so that we have a full stock for the last three nights of fishing. All the nets must be repaired over the next 3 days as well as the final long-line being checked, and miscellaneous cleaning and organizing of the lab. With the luxury of a three day break from fishing we have plenty of time to get the work done and have some time to relax. It will be nice to get the nets out of the way and enjoy a little free time.
Day 15 June 14 - Rest
Feeding the Sharks
Today is the second day of rest. We have a few more nets to repair and some other various tasks around the lab. Grant, Joey, and I have the task of heading up to the main pen in the North Sound and feeding the lemons. We have some bait cut, but decide to hunt along the yacht club channel for some pilchards that Grant observed the other day. Two well aimed cast net throws by Grant land a bonanza of pilchards. We now have half a full cooler of fresh bait for the lemons. We pulled the boat up to the pen and looked out across our charges. The first piece of bait hit the water and sharks rushed in from every corner of the pen. It is amazing how quickly they learn and how we can condition them to feed so easily. The juveniles were ravenous, devouring every last piece of bait we threw in, indiscriminate of diced barracuda or fresh pilchard. We watched the lemons, swoop, roll, and swallow for about 20 minutes. The pen simply boiled with young lemons at times, as they completed their purposeful underwater ballet and every last piece of food had disappeared.
North Sound Mangrove Creek
We then took a ride to the extreme north point of the North Sound. There is a channel that goes up deep into the mangroves there. The mangroves in this area are particularly thick and robust. We had to perform some simple acrobatics to maneuver our way up the channel. The area is simply breath-taking and is one of Grant's favorite spots on the island. As a result it's picked up the nickname "Grant's Forest". Very few people have probably traversed its veritable jungle gym of prop roots. The chance for others to do so is seriously under threat, as the continued development of the Bimini Bay Resort encroaches further into the North Sound. The area we lovingly call "Grant's Forest" is slated to be leveled for a golf course. This area now contains some of the most well developed and probably oldest mangrove trees in Bimini. The area serves as primary nursery habitat to many species of fish, as well as homes for invertebrates, birds, and reptiles, including the endemic Bimini boa. It is an area of primal and sublime beauty, and well worth the price of a wet hike, a few scrapes, and the odd mosquito bite or two required to view it.
Grant in the Mangroves
A campaign is currently being mounted to potentially save many of the ecologically important mangrove areas of North Bimini, including Grant's Forest. With enough pressure, the Bahamian Government may be persuaded to step in and curb the scale of the Bimini Bay development. Bimini's mangroves are considered essential habitat by many biologists and their conservation is paramount to the health of Bimini lagoon and all its inhabitants, our beloved study subject, the lemon shark, included. Please help us in our fight to protect the lemon sharks and all the marine creatures of Bimini - Click Here to learn more on how you can aid in preserving the natural beauty and productivity of Bimini and its unique mangrove habitats.
Day 16 June 15 - Supply Run
Flying through the water
Today Grant and I got up very early and loaded gear and equipment onto the 23' Aquasport skiff. We will be making a trip to pick up fresh supplies for the lab. Grant ramps the boat up to speed and we head out of our channel to the flats. WHRRRRRRRRR!!! Only one hundred yards out of the channel and we start spinning the prop. We remove the prop and find a faulty hub - the hard thermoplastic is literally melted. Grant radios the lab and get a spare brought out. A few turns of the wrench and we are back in business. We start the journey anew and in only a few miles soon find ourselves in the azure waters of the Gulf Stream. It is a magnificent day to be out on the water, there is very little wind and the waters are flatter and calmer than I have seen in a long time. We fly at about 25 knots and make up most of the time we lost replacing the prop hub.
The Aquasport glides into the marina and waits for Doc's arrival. Soon Doc's silver SUV comes into view - loaded to the brim with supplies for the lab. We offload some odds and ends from the boat to leave with Doc and then start the job on unloading the truck and organizing the supplies in the boat. We have a lot of food, some household items, and miscellaneous equipment, all meticulously boxed and covered with black plastic trash bags. It's important to try to ensure that the cargo won't be soaking wet by the time it arrives in Bimini. Grant and I work some lines back and forth in a spider-web to hold everything down and securely in place for the crossing. We finish loading the boat while Doc gets some gas. We fill the Aquasport to the gills (if you can forgive me that joke), and we are off again for the return trip to Bimini. The seas just seemed to get calmer and calmer. It was a really pleasurable trip. We even spotted a sailfish breaking the surface as we coasted along. Again, cruising at 25 knots the trip flew by, and after clearing in we pulled up to our lab dock.
The usual flurry of activity ensued. Boxes were being unloaded, opened, and food, supplies, and equipment found their way to their respective spots in the lab. All the nets had been repaired and the lab was freshly restocked. We had the afternoon off to relax. Since it was so flat and beautiful out, Grant suggested some snorkeling. A couple of us jumped in one of the Prolines and we drove up off of the north island. We did some snorkeling in a deeper reef of about 50 ft. Moving on, we then went up to North Rocks to do some shallow snorkeling. It was a beautiful evening and the suns rays glistened down into the water. We encountered walls of goatfish and fields of grunts, both fish displaying their bright yellows to dazzling effect. All in all it was a very relaxing afternoon - just the thing we needed before we resume our fishing schedule tomorrow.
Day 17 June 16 - North Sound Night 4
Today, we will start the last days of fishing for this year's PIT project. This morning we also had some visitors arrive this morning. Marc a medical doctor from New Jersey, and his son, Zane are going to be around for a few days to observe our operation. Doc plans on showing them around and has a schedule of shark-filled activities for them to experience. We will start right away with a mid-day shark dive. I get my camera rig all set up and hop on the Aquasport. The water is really clear today and the sun is high in the sky, giving great light. The sharks are also cooperative, making dramatic rushes for the bait that is proffered. We are all privileged with a fantastic underwater acrobatics show, courtesy of the Caribbean reef sharks off Triangle Rocks. The "men in grey coats" even hang out for a little while after we run out of bait, slowly patrolling the shallows.
I will be spending tonight on the only net I have not been on yet, the one run by Johanna in the Southeastern side of the North Sound. Marc and Zane will be coming out with us to try and see how we conduct our research. We get the net set and complete some checks as Mother Nature treats us to another colorful composition spread across the evening sky. Jo and I take Marc and Zane from the tagging boat so they can do some net checks with us. Call it beginner's luck, as we get two sharks on their first check. I show them how to extract a shark from the net and we place them in the pen. A second net check proved uneventful, so we dip-netted the sharks out of the pen and Jo drove us over to the tagging boat to deliver the lemons. Marc and Zane got to see the lemon shark workup and everything went smoothly. As an added treat, Tristan cuts up some bait and we all watch as the lemons gulp down his offerings. The sharks continue to mill around so Tristan goes a step further and puts a small fish carcass in the pen. He then proceeds to play "tug of war" with some of the juveniles bold enough to swim up and take a bite. In the end, every last bit of the carcass is consumed. We are having so much fun watching the action that we barely hear Grant's approach on the dinner run. We say goodnight to Marc and Zane after dinner, as they head back in with Grant. I go back to Jo's net. We have a relatively quiet night, getting two more sharks. Collectively, we capture 10 more sharks, a total just a hair higher than night 3. This pushes the aggregate amount of lemon sharks in our main pen to 75. A mere two nights away from being finished, but I am sure there are a few more lemons swimming around the lagoon just begging to be caught...
Day 18 June 17 - North Sound Night 5
Doc Hand Feeding the Lemons
We get home in the morning and have our daily meeting with Doc over breakfast. Doc plans on taking Marc and Zane up to Aya's Spot. I try to grab about 3 hours of shut-eye and then get up and prep my gear for the excursion. Aya's Spot is a small mangrove channel located North of Bonefish Hole in the Eastern part of the North Island. It is a very pristine and beautiful area with well developed mangroves and is very similar to Grant's Forest. Aya's Spot tends to be a good place to see and feed wild juvenile lemon sharks. The actual site involves a small, shallow flat that has a very narrow cut through mangrove roots, finally opening up into the actual mangrove channel. The channel is usually full of juvenile lemons when the tides are high. It is an accepted theory that the lemons may use this area as a refuge from larger predators, which would come up from the deep Bonefish Hole channel on the high tides. The larger predators would have difficulty passing through the narrow cut and therefore the juvenile lemons are relatively safe inside.
Zane Feeding the Sharks
Recently, this area has become particularly important to research at the lab. One of the principal investigators, Tristan, is interested in social interactions between the juveniles, and their effects on behavior. He has set up two large observation platforms in this area, on east of the mouth of the channel by the cut, and one inside near the end of the channel. He has deployed brightly color-coded tags on sharks caught up in Aya's Spot so that he can identify individual sharks from his observation platforms. Using the color coded tags, he can correlate which individuals associate with each other while in the channel and which individuals tend to enter/exit the channel together. For today, we are simply going up to see and feed the lemons. We will try to show Marc and Zane the lemons in their natural habitat, as opposed to the ones they have already seen in the pen. Doc starts throwing bait, and a swarm of gray snappers seem to appear out of thin air (or thin water I guess). After some very tentative passes, the lemons start boning up enough courage to come in and feed. We lure them closer and closer with the bait until, finally, Doc starts hand feeding them.
Doc Holding a Lemon Shark
Shark after shark comes right up and plucks the small piece of fish right from Doc's outstretched fingertips. Mark and Zane also try their hand at it. At length, the lemons lose some interest and shy away. Doc wants to capture one so he lures one towards the dip net Grant is holding. It takes a little while, but we finally get a lemon over the net and Grant pounces. Doc removes the shark from the dip net and shows it off to our friends. After reading the PIT tag from this previously captured shark, he passes it off to Zane for some "hands-on" experience. A gentle push and the lemon cruises away to the sanctuary of the mangroves. We pack up to go, but see a nurse shark on the flats. Doc is keen on its capture so Grant and I go over the side of the boat dip-nets in hand. We chase the shark in circles across the flats. Grant closes in and expertly scoops up the 4 foot nurse. We drop it into a water filled cooler and after a 20 minute trip back the the Sharklab we stop in the back pens to deposit our cargo. It was an awesome day but sleep deprivation is catching up with me. I am on home crew and am able to catch upon some sleep. The away team endures a long, slow night. They get only 4 more sharks, so we have 79 heading into the final night. It would be nice to not catch anything the last night and allow us to assume we have therefore caught all the sharks in the North Sound. However, I think we will break 80 and predict to pick up a few stragglers on night 6.
Day 19 June 18 - North Sound Night 6
The skies opened and the rains came down. It rained off and on for the better part of the morning, coming down torrentially at times. Marc and Zane milled around as we tried to work, clean, and generally keep ourselves busy. We watched a few short DVDs of past BBFS work. After lunch, the weather looked like it might give us enough of a respite to head out and show our guests some other sights. Our first stop was the Sapona, a large shipwreck to the south of Bimini. I don't remember it being so deteriorated from last time I had visited. I later found out that it had been tossed around in the hurricanes of last year and they had expedited the process of the wreck literally falling apart. It was pretty rough out there so we didn't snorkel into the wreck itself. Grant and I took spears but there wasn't much worth shooting at. I snagged a small bar jack. We then moved to Triangle Rocks where we fed the reef sharks. When the bait had run out, we slid back into the water, again with spears in hand. Grant took down a large yellow jack, taking three spears to finish the monster off. The current was strong and Grant and I were separated from Marc & Zane. Apparently, the struggling jack attracted some attention, as Marc & Zane had the extreme luck of getting a glimpse of a large great hammerhead.
Grant feeding a remora
We then headed up off the North Island. We tied off to a mooring buoy at a popular local dive site called "The Strip". It is appropriately named, as it is simply a long string of coral surrounded by a huge sandy area. We were interested in baiting a hammerhead or other large shark in, so we dumped a bag with chum off the back of the boat and butterflied the yellow jack and hung it off the side. Instead of waiting on the boat, we decided to get back in the water. The reef sits in about 50 feet of water and is a common hangout for nurse sharks. Snorkeling around we found a good sized one curled up in a crevice right in the middle of the reef. Loitering below our boat was a large barracuda, one of the best types of shark bait. Grant called for his spear and took one of the best shots I have ever seen underwater. The spear passed through the barracuda's head and it took off like a rocket. I knew it was deeply wounded and it would only be a matter of time before it was overcome by carrying the spear. I gave chase and swam to keep the fish in my sight while Grant got another spear. The barracuda swam erratically, first swimming straight at the surface and then floundering on the bottom. Finally, it came to rest on the bottom and was almost still. I looked over my shoulder to see Grant in hot pursuit. He dove down and humanely finished the valiant barracuda off. A short swim back to the boat and before long I saw the freshly knifed barracuda lowered right next to the yellow jack. We snorkeled around some more and upon our return to the boat we found a big surprise.
Preparing for the Food Run
A large remora, a fish with a big sucker disc on its head, was swimming around grabbing bits and pieces issuing forth from the chum bag. Normally, these fish attach themselves to bigger fish like sharks and then "hitchhike", only swimming out to feed on scraps from the larger fish's meals. Fearless as always, Grant went to the boat for a small fish carcass and came back intent on trying to hand-feed the beast. Undaunted by the large chance he could be "sucked onto" by the remora, Grant coerced the fish 1/10 his size in to feed. Chalk another exciting exploit up to the current lab manager and part time daredevil. The day had been fun but we were out so long I literally missed the boat(s). No worries - there is always something to do on home crew. Tonight we were having burritos for dinner. We had taken orders from the away team and set up an assembly line across the entire kitchen table. We had tortillas, pots, pans, and bowls full of ingredients, and wax paper to wrap them up at the end. Everyone grabbed a station and presently we were churning out burritos. We filled all the orders and built ourselves a fine little mountain of neatly wrapped and labeled packages. We sent it off - the last dinner delivery of PIT 2006. The away team surpassed expectations, and the previous night of fishing, netting 5 sharks on this final night of fishing. The final tally for the North Sound is 84 sharks with zero mortality - a perfect record! Another successful PIT, arguably the best one ever, is now in the books.
Day 20 June 19 - The Release
Fishing is officially over, but today is the last legitimate day of PIT work. We have to release all the sharks in the main pen, take all four pens down, and bring the all of the pen building materials and the boats back to the lab. I am also on Duty today. Every day at the lab one person is "on Duty". This means that they help with all the meals and clean and organize the kitchen, bathrooms, hall, and lab. There is a long checklist of things that must be done everyday, things that ensure the lab never gets into disarray. A final duty is to man the radios when teams are out in the field, thereby assuring that we have someone back at the lab in case of an unfortunate event like an injury or boat trouble. My responsibility to photo-document PIT allows me to go out in the field.
In the morning the entire home team assembles and takes a couple of boats up to the North Sound. I take the skiff Bazoobie out and run it up to the main pen. We feed the juveniles and take some pictures. We then split up with the intent of breaking down all three of the small pens. Emily and I take down the pen in the Northeast side of the lagoon. We have fairly shallow water and it makes for quick work. We load all the cinder blocks on a piece of plywood on the bottom of the boat. We then snip all the zip-ties holding the mesh to the rebar (the submerged ones down near the bottom can be difficult). We then remove all the rebar and load then onto the skiff. Lastly, we roll up the mesh and clip it up. The fully loaded skiff sits low in the water. We will be putt-putting all the way back to the Yacht Club to unload all the materials. It's a slow and ponderous ride, but we see a few stingrays and nurse sharks on our way through the lagoon. It is a mostly sunny day and being out on the boats in the lagoon is always a good time.
We get all the materials put away and have some lunch. The away team gets up and eats and then we all head back up to the North Sound for the release of the juvenile lemons and removal of the main pen. The water is a bit murky and there is a lot of silt in the water column. We open the door and a few sections of mesh wide and walk in formation to gently force all the sharks out of the pen.
Then the pen break down begins - just with more to do and more people to accomplish it. Grant and Sean take boat loads of cinder blocks away while we continue the demolition. We finally have the pen down, boats loaded with materials and two neat stacks of materials for the returning boats. There are the usual activities to kill time, some wrestling and chicken fights. It's a good feeling to see the team playful and in good spirits, knowing they have successfully completed their task. Now is a time to bask in the job well done and camaraderie of a team that has come together over the past three weeks to make PIT 2006 a scientific triumph. I try to rush back to the lab, as it is late in the day and I haven't even begun the Duty list.
We have a little time before dinner and I am lucky enough to have many people lend a hand. The duty list slowly turns red, as tasks are crossed off. I finish cleaning bathroom two and take a deep breath. A big thanks to everyone who helped with the duties! The combination of feeling a bit slack about my duties and a large pile of bananas rapidly turning to mush can mean only one thing - Matt is baking banana breads for the next day's breakfast. A little direction from Betty Crocker, a few extra ingredients to "kick it up a notch", a mountain of messy bowls, some timers beeping incessantly, and a few minor burns and "BAM!" - we have our baked good masterpieces. Now I go off to bed to get a well earned rest full of contented dreams of small, freshly tagged sharks happily swimming amongst the mangroves.