Photos & text by Matthew Potenski
May 26, 2007
Steve conducts a shark handling class
Another year finds me spending a portion of my summer in the Bimini Islands of the Bahamas. I will be spending more time at one of my surrogate homes, the BBFS-Sharklab. This will mark the second straight year I will photo-document the annual juvenile lemon shark census. I am always excited to return to the lab. This year will be interesting, as I will probably work from several angles - be it a boat captain, Mr. fix-it, staff photographer, chauffeur, go-for, or simply dishwasher. I am ready and willing to do whatever I can to help the team and the research effort. We have a challenging and intense couple weeks ahead of us and everyone is excited and determined to jump into the work. We don't waste any time, as on the first day we try to give a crash course in shark handling techniques to the new volunteers in preparation for the busy time ahead. We have a few juvenile lemon sharks in our back beach pen and demonstrate how to hold, tag, measure, weigh, and take samples from the sharks. The newbies are a bit wide-eyed now, but by the end of the next three weeks and several hundred sharks, they will be professional shark handlers.
Time to work up a baby lemon...
Night one was upon us and there was a ton of gear to get ready, personal items to organize, and plans to finalize. Everything came together nicely, and the nets hit the water around 7:00pm. The night started off a little slow, but as the tide progressed the sharks began to find their way into our nets. The rush started around 10:00pm
and continued pretty consistently for the rest of the night. Things got really crazy around midnight, as we would have four or five sharks in the net at the same time. The team really responded during this busy time. I was located on the southernmost net, called Net 3. This net is down on the corner of east Bimini, in an area that basically serves as a highway for sharks from the more open southern areas of the lagoon to the northern, mangrove-fringed areas. This net traditionally gets the largest number of sharks, and things can be quite hectic, as several sharks can hit the net within short time intervals. We had a few small shark bonanzas, but nothing too crazy. This net can be tough to work for another reason. Normal protocol is to catch the sharks and transfer them to the main tagging pen. However, there is a large shallow area between this net and the main pen, and when the tide gets close to low there is not sufficient water to get our skiff over to the tagging pen. To account for this, we build a small holding pen near the end of our net, and can place sharks into it after capture until the tide comes up again. We were getting sharks every net check and before long had 16 sharks in our holding pen. The tide started coming back up and we hit the point where we could get the boat back across the flats to the main pen. We alternated between checking the net for sharks and catching sharks out of our holding pen and delivering them to the tagging boat. The constant activity made the time fly by. Before we knew it the eastern sky was starting to pale with the first hints of the approaching dawn.
The crew loads a gillnet onto the skiffs
The first night of gillnetting was a tremendous success. A total of seventy-seven sharks were caught between the three gillnets. The team did an amazing job to get such a large number of sharks out of the nets and keep the stress of capture to a minimum. The tagging boat performed well - getting shark capture reports and coordinating data and shark deliveries for the three nets. It was an impressive start to what looks to be a very promising 2007 census.
In addition to the juvenile lemons, we also received a rare and special treat. Christian was shocked to find an elusive smalltooth sawfish stuck in his net. This species is an endangered species and it is extremely uncommon. There have been a few recorded sightings by BBFS personnel over the last ten years or so but it is considered lucky if you only have two to three years between sightings. Removing the sawfish from a gillnet, with the monofilament wrapped around its toothy snout, is a logistical nightmare. Restraining the animal and staying away from the "danger zone" where it can swings its saw can be very tricky. With great care the sawfish was finally freed from the net and brought over to the tagging boat. The sawfish was secured to the boat via a tail rope and a rope "girdle". It was measured and a DNA sample was taken. The take rope was let out and the animal allowed to sit on the bottom and recover. When the sawfish showed signs that it was ready and willing to swim away, it was gently pulled in and the tail rope loosened to set it free. Only a few short flicks of its tail were required for the sawfish to disappear back into the inky darkness of the early morning water. The whole encounter is so brief and spectacular you almost feel as if you had seen a ghost, and you have to keep checking your pictures to make sure the thing was real. This is one of those experiences that every biologist lives for...going out into the field every day not knowing what amazing things they will encounter or what they will find at any given time...
Joey releases a rare smalltooth sawfish
May 27, 2007
A night of gillnet checking begins with sunset
The away team went to sleep for most of the day, and woke up ready to tackle night two. Tonight I was going to leave Net 3 behind and take the reins of Net 2. This net is located in the middle of Sharkland and very close to the main pen. I was expecting a somewhat calm evening compared to the previous night. I drove the skiff along an empty net time and time again. Finally, I observed that familiar shape come into view of our boat's light. We drove the shark over to the tagging boat and stayed to watch it worked up. The close proximity of my net to the tagging boat allowed for the luxury of watching the freshly captured shark get its tag and seeing it swim around the main pen. The night was beautiful and I had a good crew. The wind was strong enough to keep the mosquitoes from finding us, and the sky was clear. The world is full of simple pleasures if you know where to look. The night sky is a thing of unsurpassing beauty (right up there with the poetry of motion that is a juvenile lemon shark swimming). I always find it enjoyable to be out in the field under the starry sky. Another key element of the unique experience of PIT is the camaraderie forged from long hours spent together on the boats. There is never a shortage of good conversation, as the team members come from many different places and have had a variety of adventures to share with their new friends. Every year I am privy to fascinating stories, shown interesting pictures, and laugh at many new jokes. The revelry isn't confined to the boats, either. Home crew has their share of fun as well. They work hard, and minor sleep deprivation can sometimes lead to humorous situations. I will spend some time with the home crew soon enough. For tonight, I am concerned with driving the skiff in the somewhat stiff winds. The winds are around 15 knots, which tends to blow the square sided skiffs off course. The waves caused by the winds also make it more difficult to see the net itself. I need to drive very close to the net to ensure that we do not miss any sharks, especially if they are entangled near the lead line on the bottom. I work the tiller of the outboard engine with a master touch and balance throttle against the force of the wind until the boat stays to course. Usually, this ends up with the skiff moving sideways at a forty-five degree angle to the net. It may not be pretty but it gets the job done and at the end of the set we can say that not a single shark was missed.
Checking the PIT tag ID number of a lemon shark
The away team added sixteen more sharks to the catch total. This brings the Sharkland total up to ninety-three. Joey and the tagging boat crew have been doing an amazing job of processing the sharks and then watching carefully over their fishy wards. The home crew has been amazing and we have been spoiled with two fabulous dinners delivered to us in the field. All in all, things are looking really good and we have been problem free. The weather has not been optimal, but is still quite workable. Most importantly, the sharks are rolling in and have been recovering really well. there is still a long road ahead but we have jumped out of the gates to a great start.
May 28, 2007
Kat shows off her impressive baking skills
Night three of Sharkland is upon us, and the team is really getting into a comfortable rhythm. The gillnetting has gone very smoothly and the home team is firing on all cylinders. Kat has run a tight ship and the home crew has responded well to any and all requests. The meals have been spectacular and somehow Kat has found time amongst her hundreds of responsibilities to squeeze in some baking. The lab usually gets food supplies about twice a month. During PIT, when we have a large team to fill the house, we can go through our supplies surprisingly fast. A particularly important item is bread. With toast and french toast breakfasts, and often sandwiches for lunch, the fifty or so loaves of bread we usually buy can disappear faster than you can say
"pass the butter". When bread runs short, Kat swoops to the rescue by flashing her well-honed baking skills. A big smile crosses my face every time I enter the lab and immediately become immersed in the earthy aroma of fresh bread baking. It is a special treat to dig in to the soft, fresh slices of bread when they are still lukewarm from the oven. This is just another example of the prevailing attitude at the lab, we do what's necessary to ensure that we have what we need, even if it means doing it ourselves.
Making tortillas for burrito night
On that note, we encountered a minor setback when planning dinner. We decided to make the ever-crowd-pleasing and soon-to-be-world-famous Sharklab burritos. The wrench in our plans was that we did not have enough tortillas in the freezer to facilitate the requisite number of burritos necessary to feed the entire crew. In true Sharklab style, we shrugged our shoulders, said "No worries, and began to pull the baking materials out again. We made dough and rolled out a slew of tortillas, having a bit of fun along the way. Someone once wise told me there are no problems in the world, simply challenges that must be overcome. The home crew stepped up and met the challenge head on. With the tortillas at the ready we prepared a plethora of ingredients for the burritos, including lettuce, salsa, sour cream, ground beef, cheese, rice, corn, and beans. The means are simple, but hearty, and you will never go hungry at the Sharklab. The main function of the home crew is to support and feed the away team minding the nets and sharks. They cook meals and bring dinners, hot drinks, and snacks out to the net boats to alleviate the toll of long hours working in the lagoon.
Food preparation is a group affair at the lab
We set up a long burrito assembly line and started wrapping and putting name tags on the manufactured bundles of culinary joy. As I mentioned, burritos are a local favorite and received a hearty welcome from the away team when we delivered them in the field. Fueled by burrito-driven energy, the away team was able to tackle the nights work and net an additional eleven sharks. This means that we had broken the century mark and ended the first leg of gillnetting with 107 sharks captured. We would now take one night off from netting before finishing the final three nights in the Sharkland area of the lagoon. We need this day off to catch up on repairing our well-used nets, sorting through equipment, and doing some minor work on the boats. Besides gear restoration, the short break serves as a nice respite for the crew and allows us to catch up on sleep and be fully rested for the home stretch of Sharkland.
May 29, 2007
A Caribbean reef shark on the sharkdive
Today is what we call a "rest" day, though that simply means that we will not be fishing overnight. There is a lot of work to do and we have the entire crew around to pitch in and get everything done. We worked hard in the morning, completing various tasks. We sewed up holes in many of the gillnets, cleaned and worked on the boat engines, organized and checked that all our equipment was in working order, and gave the entire lab a good cleaning. By the afternoon we were able to sit back and give ourselves a small pat on the back for a job well done.
Close-up encounters on the sharkdive
Having gotten a significant amount of work done in the morning and with weather conditions favorable, we decided to partake in a long standing Sharklab tradition, a "sharkdive". Strictly speaking it is not really a dive, as we have no tanks, just snorkels. We drive our boats in a Southwesterly direction from Bimini to a location known as Triangle Rocks (guess why it's called that - yup, you guessed it...). We know a number of Caribbean reef sharks patrol the area, and have conditioned them to associate our boat engines with free food. We bring several lines and anchors and tie up along a sandy bowl-shaped area that we lovingly have dubbed "The Arena". One of the anchor lines has a large float attached to it so that a length of it is strung along the surface.
Everyone enters the water and nestles into place along the line while the show begins. Several large reef sharks are circling in anticipation, and come running when the first piece of bait hits the water.
Doc is able to manipulate where the sharks swim by tossing pieces of bait closer or further from the line of snorkellers. He will alternate between bringing the sharks in close for an eye to eye encounter and backing them off to let you catch your breath. It is a strange and unusual ballet of fins and bubbles, but Doc orchestrates it like a true maestro. Everyone gets a close look at these large and powerful but beautiful and graceful animals.
There is a gulf of difference between these reef sharks and the small juvenile lemons, and the change of pace is quite nice. While our research focuses primarily on juvenile lemon sharks, Bimini has a diverse elasmobranch fauna, and it is interesting to experience some of its other citizens. The shark dive is exhilarating and is a nice way to relax before we jump back into the research effort. Tomorrow we will continue fishing in the Sharkland nursery of the lagoon.
Reef shark near the surface waiting for bait
Reef shark and fish after eating all the bait
May 30, 2007
Holding a juvenile lemon from the skiff
Refreshed from the activities of the previous day, the team headed out for night four in the Sharkland area of the lagoon. We switched the crews up a bit so that those individuals who had originally been on homecrew got to get out into the field. Others who had been out in the field for the first few nights will now stay back at the lab and provide the loving support of home crew. You can feel the excitement of the new away team, especially a few individuals who will be gillnetting for the first time. I still remember the anticipation I felt the first time I went gillnetting. I can still close my eyes and see that first set, the first lemon shark I ever encountered in a net, and the first time I freed a baby lemon from the net and put him in a transport box. The intimacy with the study subject in the research here in Bimini is a facet that continually draws me back to this island and the lab. I can now see that same thing in some of the young volunteer's eyes and feel glad that I can come back and pitch in to help perpetuate the cycle of learning. The Sharklab is one of those special places in the world, a combination of natural wonder, international camaraderie, and good old-fashioned fun.
Placing a shark in a transport box
The away crew double-checked all their gear and headed out for another night in the lagoon. The new teams brought a lot of fresh banter over the radio waves. Everyone put in another night of productive effort and was able to capture an additional eleven sharks. This brings the grand total up to one hundred and eighteen juvenile lemon sharks. The catch numbers are slowly decreasing after the monster first night, but there are probably still quite a few juveniles swimming around in the lagoon. Fishing and do the census a little early still leaves the possibility that not all the mother sharks have dropped their pups yet and we still need to be on our toes for a small bonanza if another mother pups. In the past, we used to fish each section of the lagoon until we were unable to catch any sharks. We do a lot more gillnetting during the course of the year at the lab, nowadays, and we will usually catch almost every pup in the lagoon over the course of a calender year. The majority is still caught during PIT, but we limit the fishing to 6 nights in each of the two main lagoon areas.
Filling gas cans to prepare for another night
The team returns in the morning and I am ready to pick them and their soggy gear up and bring them home. The early morning elicits a flurry of activity at the lab. Everyone has to sort and clean all the equipment and personal gear that has been out all night. Equipment has to be checked to make sure its in working order and ready to be called on in the field. Batteries are charged or replaced, and gas cans are replenished. Basically, the gear boxes need to be outfitted with items that will enable personnel to surmount any and all situations they encounter in the field. Careful planning is needed in order to account for all contingencies. The longevity of this project has allowed for years of exposure to various logistical setbacks and numerous modifications of techniques. The years of experience have served us well and we send the team out well prepared to handle anything that the lagoon can throw at them. Once the gear is ready to go, the away team grabs some fod and goes off to sleep. They will get up in the late afternoon and get ready to go out overnight again.
May 31, 2007
Repairing the gillnet
While the away team gets some sleep, the home crew is hard at work. The main priority of the home crew is to repair the gillnets we use to catch the sharks. When sharks get wrapped up in the net sometimes it requires a few well-placed snips with a pair of scissors to get them out quickly. Additionally, large sharks or rays can damage the net, and there is the occasional crab that decides he can't be outdone and needs to give the net his personal clipping job. We need to ensure that we have three fully repaired nets to fish with every night. We take monofilament line and sew any holes we find in the net. The back yard has a network of poles to hang the nets up on and during PIT you will always find a group of volunteers diligently working away with their sewing shuttles. Repairing nets exposes you to the elements and sunburn or being soaked in rain are common events. We usually hook up a stereo so we can sing and jam while we sew. A day working in the sun in the Bahamas is better than any day stuck in an office. As for the rain, a friend from Alicetown once told me, "It never rains in the Bahamas, it's just liquid sunshine." I'm not sure that everyone agrees with him, but I have to give him style points.
Juvenile lemons within the pen
Our holding pen has more than one hundred ravenous baby sharks in it. Their restriction within the pen will obviously impact their natural ability to hunt. Therefore, we feed the sharks during their temporary captivity. It doesn't take long to train them to snatch up pieces of bait thrown into the pen. It is also a cool opportunity to get in the water and watch them at their most animated moment, when they gulp down small hunks of barracuda. If you happen to have a camera handy (as I pretty much always do...) they its also an opportunity to get some shots of many juvenile lemon sharks at the same time. They circle, duck, and weave through each other as they scramble for nutritious mouthfuls. The hundred plus sharks swirl and dart mere feet from you, ignoring your presence and focusing on the bait. These "mini-sharkdives" are just another little bonus for those of us that have the opportunity to participate in the PIT project.
Wilson provides some food run comedy
The PIT project is an intense time at the lab but we always find a way to have a good time. We always have an interesting roster of characters, and no one can go through a day without a few good laughs. There are a few simple things we can do to bring some levity into the operation and relieve some of the tension. A popular diversion is for a few members of the home crew to play dress up and head out to deliver dinner to the away team. There are several options including a "drag" food run or simply raiding the "charity bin" of clothes people have left behind, and find an amusing ensemble. One our "larger than life" personalities is Wilson (literally - he's 6'9"!!!).
Big Willie decided it was time to bust some comedy out and shake things up for the away team. He found some clothes that in the charity bin that might have fit him fifteen years ago and somehow squeezed himself into them. He looked completely ridiculous and everyone got a good laugh out of it - especially when we pulled the boat up to the main pen and the away team beheld their dinner entertainment. Welcome to another crazy moment brought to you by the Sharklab. Inspired by Wilson's antics the away team added another 10 sharks into the databooks, and head into the last night with one hundred and twenty-eight sharks in the main pen.
June 1, 2007
And then came the rain...
"Into every life a little rain must fall" is the way the old maxim goes. In our field work, it is almost guaranteed to run afoul of the weather at some point. I guess the rain gods finally decided to have some real fun with us. The day was very wet and the away team got set to leave under the portentous
mantle of the stormy sky. The winds had been relatively strong for the duration of fishing so far. Though the wind can make it a bit difficult to drive the skiffs along the nets, it is warmly welcomed because it prevents the mosquitos from coming out in force. Tonight Mother Nature decided it was time to turn it up to 11 and treated us to a little episode I like to call "The Tempest".
Tristan navigates through the storm (photo courtesy T. Guttridge)
The conditions were far from ideal but still workable so the team set their nets and hunkered down for a soggy night. As the night progressed the wind increased and finally became a bit too much to handle. The winds started to howl. There were gusts of around 25 knots (approximately 30 mile per hour). Winds that strong may seriously effect normal operation of the skiffs. The safety of the research team is always paramount, and the boat captains out in the field decided that it was prudent to pull the nets and abort the night. It would be challenging to tend to the nets in those conditions and the possibility of missing a shark would be increased. in this situation it is an easy call. The boat captains conferred and decided to pull the nets and abort the night.
courtesy T. Guttridge)
Graeme finds shelter in a transport box (photo
We managed to catch two more sharks before the real onset of the storm. The away team was pretty happy with the decision to come home. They had been hunkered down in the boats trying to keep some small part of themselves dry. A popular method employed in this situation is to use the transport boxes as a mini-shelter. I have seen some people small enough to fit entirely in them fully hiberate within, only to pop-out turtle-style when it is time for a check. The boxes keep you dry but the slapping of the rain on the exterior can get a little loud. Ah, the small sacrifices we make in the name of science. Anyway - we managed to get everyone and all the equipment safely back to the lab where they could dry out and have some warm dinner. For the moment, fishing will be postponed until the weather becomes more favorable. We always plan a few extra days into the PIT schedule to accomodate for circumstances like these. Things do not always go to plan when you are doing field biology - it's a tempermental and sometimes volitile animal. having a plan with a level of built in flexibility goes a long way to ensuring a project's success. We will be back out ion the lagoon catching sharks very soon.
June 2, 2007
Adam and Ben vigorously cutting bait
The winds continued to be strong throughout the day and we made the decision not to set the nets this evening. As always, there was still tons of work to be done. The night off from fishing meant that the team could catch up on repairing gillnets and take care of several other jobs. First oredr of duty was a trip up to the main pen to feed the babies. Bait has to be cut up into small hunks so they are easy for the juveniles to eat. Bait cutting is a common job at the lab and everyone usually gets a chance to take a "barracuda bath" while they are here. We take frozen barracuda steaks and have a go at them with hatchets and mallets. The sound of clinking metal from the general vicinity of the bait table area is just another small addition to the ambiance of being of the lab. To effectively feed a large number of baby sharks a relatively sizable amount of bait need to be chopped up. We usually take at least half a large sized cooler up and use up every last piece.
We like to take a large amount of bait so that we can ensure that most of the babies get a fair portion of food. The larger ones will snap up a bunch of bait by pushing the smaller ones out of the way. Once they are satiated, the smaller ones take their respective turn feeding. The more bait we have the longer we can keep them feeding and ensure that even the tiny sharks get a bite or two.
A baby lemon enjoying a snack
We head up to the lagoon and pull up to the main pen. The feeding process is fairly routine for the babies at this point and they rush over at the first splash of the bait. There are small sharks zooming everywhere, and plenty of small scuffles develop as two individuals target the same piece of bait. The bait cooler quickly empties and the sharks snatch up every bite thrown to them. We wash the cooler out and watch all the lemons slowly circling, looking for more food from the heavens. Satisfied at the ravenous performance we just observed, we make our way back to the lab.
The majority of the crew sewing the gillnets
Once back at the lab, work continues as usual. The entire crew is out to finish repairing the gillnets. With a large group attacking the holes in the net, we plough through the nets and finish up in the early afternoon. All the gear is set to go out againand we have completed all our backlogged work. The team does a quick sweep over the lab to clean and organize it, and gets part of the afternoon off. A free afternoon and evening allows everyone to unwind, watch some dvds, write emails, or delve into a good book. The weather report looks favorable and we will resume fishing tomorrow night. We were able to put in three hours of gillnetting the previous night so it will be a short set tomorrow, as we only have to complete the remaining nine hours of the set. The sixth and last night of Sharkland will go down in the books as unconventional, but we will be sure to get it done.
June 3, 2007
Data is called in over the radio
We find ourselves at the sixth and final night of Sharkland, take two.
We have nine hours of fishing to complete to be halfway done with the PIT project. The team will go out relatively late so that they can catch a similar tide to the one they set the nets on the other night. The last night in each area of the lagoon is usually pretty quiet, with a total of one or two sharks being caught. However, we are having PIT a little early this year, and there is the possibility that a mother shark may still come into the lagoon and drop her pups during the course of our fishing. This appears to have happened, as in these last nine hours we caught an additional thirteen sharks. Usually the last night is full of radio banter, as the slow catch rates create the need for self-entertainment over the radios. Tonight however, the radios were alive with the reports of shark captures. When a shark is captured, the net boat calls it in over the radio to the tagging boat. They report the time, section of the net (nets are divided into four sectors- A through D), sex of the shark, and existence of a PIT tag (and the ID number if they have one). The tagging boat records the data and when the shark is delivered to the main pen, adds the data from the workup to the capture data. This brings us back to the fact that we caught an abnormally high amount of sharks for the last night. There may be two main causes. A mother sharks could have had her litter during the last day or two and additionally the rough weather may have caused some of the juveniles to leave the mangroves for deeper water and we could be catching them on their return. In any case, it was a surprisingly exciting last night in Sharkland. If we add in the original three hours from the first attempt at night six, and the two sharks caught then, a total of fifteen sharks were captured to finish the lagoon.
The team came home tired but very happy. We have now reached the half-way point in the census. The Sharkland lagoon is in the books with a final tally of one-hundred and forty-three sharks. Not too shabby. The team did a particularly good job this year as we only had one mortality - a very, very low percentage (0.7% when 1% or less is exceptional). The away team gets some rest, and the home crew goes about the usual business, though at a somewhat more relaxed pace than usual. We have two days of rest before we resume fishing again. A lot has to be accomplished in those two days, but we will have the full complement of both teams to get everything done. The most important thing will be releasing the juvenile lemons in the main pen, dismantle the holding pens, move the materials into the North Sound, and rebuild them. For today, we go about cleaning and preparing the gear for further use and try to clean up and organize the lab a bit. We take care of the everyday things we need to do to keep the lab running. Among the chores on the list are adjusting the salt water pump that runs the toilets, pumping rain water from collection tubs into our cisterns so that we can have fresh water for showers, and taking a trip to the small resort on the south island to purchase desalinated drinking water. Our water consumption has been pretty significant and has necessitated making a desal run to fill between 13-15 five gallon bottles every other day. There are more than twenty people in the house, and the water is used for drinking, cooking, and rinsing clothes, cameras, and gear. Here at home we simply turn a faucet and get water, with little or no thought to how the liquid gets there. Living at the lab presents certain challenges to accomodating such a large group in tight quarters, and the desal runs are a good example of one of the "'behind-the-scenes" tasks that must be completed to keep the lab running. The Lab runs on desal.
Getting desalinated drinking water
June 4, 2007
Juvenile lemon preparing for freedom
The main goal for today is to release the sharks and relocate the pens into their correct positions in the North Sound, so that fishing can commence. This is actually a large undertaking, as everyone wants to see the lemons released and it takes every spare set of hands to efficiently disassemble, transport, and reassemble the pens. We will take small flotilla of boats up there to get the entire crew out and to spread the pen materials bewteen. The shark release is a well-coordinated bit of chaos. The door is opened and a section or two of the wall is rolled back so there is a large opening. Everyone carefully infiltrates the pen and forms a long line across the far end. They begin to slowly walk, trying to maintain a "human wall" to essentially corral the sharks into the open hole in the pen.
Herding the sharks out of the pen
This method works pretty well for forcing the sharks out of the pen but is somewhat less than ideal for photography. As everyone tramps through the soft, sandy sediment a large cloud of silt is stirred up, and visibility drops to almost zero underwater. I still manages to get a couple shots of the sharks and the wall of volunteers, though it does not do justice to the rush of almost one hundred and fifty sharks bursting to the freedom of the open lagoonal waters. Once we have the majority of the sharks out of the pen we proceed with the general dismantling of the pen structure. Pens are composed of four materials, the plastic mesh, rebar, plastic zip ties, and cinder-blocks. The mesh is attached to the rebar via the zip-ties and the blocks are layed on the bottom edge of the mesh to keep it down. We systematically work to remove all the blocks and make a large pile. Then all the zip ties are cut and the rebar removed and staked into the ground togther. Finally the entire length of mesh is free and is neatly rolled up. We load all the materials onto the boats (it takes many trips as we do not want to overload the boats) and drive them up to the northern part of the inner lagoon. Once the materials and people are all shuttled up to the North Sound and at the appropriate locations (navigated via a PS unit), the building process begins. Pen diameters are measured out and a skeleton of rebar put into place. The mesh is unfurled and wrapped around the outside. The tesam moves from rebar to rebar, staking it through the ouside of the mesh and attching the mesh via zip-ties. The whole time the mesh must be stretched and the bottom folded over flat onto the lagoon bottom. After the entire ring of the pen is complete, a door is made by closing the bottom half of the mesh with zip-ties and using tuna clips to hold the mesh together towards the top. The clips can be easily removed and replaced, allowing the door to be open and reclosed as necessary. The blocks are then spread out over the bottom mesh to hold it down on the lagoon floor and make the pen structure secure. Sand can be filled in to the blocks and bottom mesh so it lies flat with the substrate and no sharks can wedge themselves underneath the mesh. If attention to detail is taken, the final result will be a very safe and secure place to hold the sharks. The team is successful in getting three new pens built and has leaped over the sigle hurdle to fishing in the North Sound. There is one more day of rest before the fishing resumes, and with the hard work behind them the team will get to relax a lttle before the gauntlet begins anew.
Lemon sharks return to the lagoon
PIT 2007 continues in the North Sound, Click Here.