Middle school students and teachers from The Benjamin School participated in shark research in the Lake Worth Lagoon with scientists from Florida International University.
March 11, 2023
Palm Beach County, FL
All sharks were fished for, caught, studied and released for research purposes under Florida permits held by Florida International University scientists.
Scientists from the Florida International University College of Arts, Sciences and Education were joined by middle school students and teachers from The Benjamin School onboard R/V ANGARI as part of our hands-on Coastal Ocean Explorers: Sharks program. Throughout the day, the participants worked side-by-side with the FIU scientists to learn about and put into practice a variety of specialized methods for studying sharks. These included hand and drum line fishing, and baited remote underwater video system (BRUVS) surveys within the Lake Worth Lagoon. BRUVS are a non-invasive method of studying marine life that consist of a camera and bait box mounted to a metal frame that is placed on the seafloor. The students participated in all steps in the assembly, baiting, deployment and recovery of the BRUVS. After recovering the BRUVS, the participants practiced their species identification skills while reviewing the underwater video footage in R/V ANGARI’s indoor lab.
Fishing was primarily done via drumline which is specialized research fishing gear specifically designed to minimize animal stress using circle hooks and a configuration that allows sharks to continue to swim freely after being hooked. The drumlines yielded a goliath grouper which was swiftly and happily released, as well as a nurse shark from which the students were able to aid in the collection of data and samples from. The students helped to identify the sex of the shark, collect a series of length measurements, sample tissue from the dorsal fin and attach a uniquely numbered identification tag, which can provide valuable insights if the shark is ever caught again. Prior to its release, the participants were even able to feel the sandpaper-like texture produced by dermal denticles on the skin of the nurse shark.
Erin Spencer is a science writer, marine ecologist and Ph.D. candidate in Biology at FIU. Her research uses biologgers, or animal-mounted data collecting devices, to record acceleration, speed, depth, etc. that helps us understand great hammerhead shark energy needs and movement patterns. Prior to working in Florida, she received a M.S. in Ecology from the UNC – Chapel Hill where she studied red snapper fishery management and seafood mislabeling, and a B.S. in Ecology from the College of William and Mary where she studied invasive lionfish management. She is a three-time National Geographic Explorer grantee and has given talks to groups of all ages through National Geographic, the World Bank, TEDx, and schools. Erin is an avid writer and published a children’s book called The World of Coral Reefs.