Friday, January 10, 2014

Blacktips and the BBFSF Team

Fishing for blacktips
It will be tough to top my last blog about freediving with great hammerheads. I can however hope to grab your attention whilst I write about some exciting blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) fishing and how you can help do your bit for sharks, even from the comfort of your reclining armchair or the early morning train you ride to work!

Blacktip Action 
A team and I headed out at noon with our pack lunches full to the rim, sun cream at the ready and fishing equipment cleaned and waiting for action! So with our lines set it was, as usual, a waiting game. A few curious fish were drawn in to circle the bait and the odd stingray cruised past to have a closer look what was on offer but no sharks.  Not a single shark had picked up the scent of the fabulous lunch that we’d placed on offer.

Then, as were chatting away discussing various topics from food preferences to shark stories a blacktip skimmed the boat and we watched her take the bait! You couldn’t have planned it! TJ (The Manager of the Sharklab) started to reel the shark in whilst Jean and I prepared the equipment ready for the sharks ‘work up‘.

Within a minute we managed to grasp a good grip of her dorsal fin and quickly but safely secured her to the boat. As usual the ‘work up’ consisted of taking a DNA sample (finger nail size) from the bottom, trailing edge of her dorsal fin, a small sample from the middle edge of her dorsal fin for stable isotope analysis, which allows scientists to investigate her diet.

We also recorded her measurements which included pre-caudal, fork ,and her total length and lastly she was Casey tagged (the name for National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) dart tags). Casey tags are used to externally mark individual sharks in the USA and The Bahamas. Once the data is recorded all scientists send the information to the NMFS allowing the data to be centralised for analysis.

Within 15 minutes our blacktip shark was caught, ‘worked up’ and released. She swam away strong and the team swung a high five!

That's nice!
In Bimini each year the Sharklab captures around 50 male and female blacktip sharks ranging from 100 to 180 cm total length. Genetic samples are then analysed by the Sharklab’s collaborators at Stony Brook University (Dr. Demian Chapman and Ph.D. Candidate Mark Bond) and preliminary findings suggest that blacktips in Bimini are more closely related to those from Cuba and the rest of The Bahamas than Florida. The deep, fast moving gulf stream between the US and The Bahamas likely acts as a barrier to gene flow preventing blacktips from Bimini crossing and vice versa. Pretty neat!

The Team
Now I would like to talk a little bit about some of the BBFSF ‘Sharklab’ staff. There are SO many incredible people at the lab but I’d like to mention a few in particular.

Tristan is so dreamy he can turn a bull shark's frown upside down
Firstly let me introduce Dr. Tristan Guttridge. Tristan is the Sharklab director, a leading shark scientist and a passionate behavioural ecologist. Tristan has released many peer reviewed papers published in top journals and he has worked alongside a variety of top shark experts. He’s regularly filmed for the likes of the BBC and well, I’m not quite sure if Tristan is scared of anything but he’s certainly not scared of sharks! Any of them!  Not even the scary ones!

All of us shark enthusiasts love being in the water with them, but it’s as if Tristan is one of them sometimes, you see him amongst them and for some reason it just looks so natural. Lemons, tigers, Caribbean reefs, hammerheads, or bulls...the whole lot! I can never decide if he is a total shark lover who understands body language and gestures or if he just lacks the fear gene! Either way he is incredibly talented guy and someone I had to mention!

Jean's shark trials in the pen
Next I would like to write about the French legend that is Jean-Sebastien Finger. Jean is a Ph.D. candidate at the Sharklab and I can honestly say he inspires me every time I’m in his presence. Imagine a guy who has a powerful beard, sorry, I mean passion for shark conservation mixed with an advanced, complex mind for science and finished off with being an approachable, honest, genuine, all round nice guy, then you can imagine Jean.

Some facts about Jean's beard.  H/T

Jean’s project at the Lab is focused on shark personality. He is investigating and analysing shark behaviour to show sharks do indeed have a full range of personalities. Some bold and curious as well as shy or cautious. Just like us humans, sharks are diverse and unique individuals. It’s an exciting project and I have been fortunate to assist Jean with a variety of his experiments. I could totally see Jean having his own TV series as he is a cross between a ‘mad scientist’ and ‘shark whisperer’ I just know people would be intrigued, impressed and inspired by him!

So, why help?
The Sharklab has been conducting research for over 20 years and has one of the most respected and admired histories within the shark world. Last year alone the Sharklab contributed towards a number of ground-breaking and important projects such as the discovery that lemon sharks in The Bahamas return home to pup in the very place they were born, just like salmon and sea turtles. This scientific information is crucial for protecting their birthing habitat in the wild mangroves, especially when those particular mangroves face the pressures of a building development. The Sharklab also initiated a project in Florida that went on to protect Jupiter’s lemon shark aggregation this year. An incredible result that has restricted the fishing season, allowing the mature lemons to receive the protection they so rightly deserve during key mating months. The Sharklab has conducted such crucial research with the help and support of volunteers and the generous contributions of donations and grants. The Sharklab is a non-profit charity meaning all donations really do make a real difference and go directly in the Sharklab's important scientific research.

How you can help
There really is a way for all of you to help, it just depends on you, how much time you have and how passionate you are!  The Sharklab accept donations by cheque or via Paypal.  Full details can be found on their website at 

Another way to help would be to raise funds on their behalf. Last year I used social media including Twitter and Facebook to raise over $500 in a week, so you can do your bit from the comfort of your armchair! If you want to get out of your armchair how about doing a sponsored run? Walk? Head shave?! Anything! Still wanting inspiration? How about donating something to the Sharklab? They use everyday things such as nails, hammers, cable ties, towels, food, pencils, pens, golf carts(!), and even boats(!).  You name it and I’m sure they need it! What about you? Where do you work? Could you offer them help with your skill set? Contact the lab director and see what YOU have that they may need.

The take home message is whatever you do, do something. The Sharklab is a non-profit organisation so all donations, financial or otherwise are welcomed and you would be contributing towards fantastic, cutting edge research.

Well that’s it for another blog, I hope you enjoyed! Next time I will be blogging about my trip to Jupiter (the city in Florida, not the planet), where I helped assist the Sharklab with their annual shark tagging project! Trust me you don’t want to miss that one!

The Bimini Biological Field Station Sharklab depends on the efforts of dedicated volunteers to accomplish our research. Since its 1990 inception, the BBFS Sharklab has been host to thousands of volunteers from all over the globe. Annie Anderson blogs at Sharks Need Love.


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