Friday, April 1, 2011

Grab the Bull by the Horns

Ladies and gentlemen, the bull shark.

As much as I've tried to learn you something about how sharks are not nearly as bad as they are portrayed by people, the bull shark does actually merit extreme caution.  Growing up to over 11 feet long, bull sharks are set apart from other sharks in that they have very volatile personalities.  Whereas most other shark species have, for the most part, predictable behaviors in certain situations, the bull shark can go from a fantastically exciting thing to see to truly frightening in a heartbeat.  Bull sharks rank in the top 3 when it comes to number of fatal attacks, just behind great whites and tigers.  However, there are some reports of shark attacks not attributed to bulls when it is likely that a bull shark was responsible. 

One very special aspect about the bull shark is that it can not only survive, but thrive in fresh water.  Bull sharks are known to swim hundreds of miles up rivers and there is even a small population of permanent residents in the Brisbane River in Brisbane, Australia.  While fascinating, this also contributes to the high numbers of attacks on humans.

Generally, I will tell you that if you see a shark in the water, don't panic, just relax, stay aware and enjoy.  The bull shark is a bit different.  If you come across one of these guys in the water, I STRONGLY recommend getting out.  Fast...

All that being said, on to the cool stuff.  This is us grabbing onto a nice 232 centimeter (about 7 feet 7 inches) male with a student from Eckerd College standing about 5 feet from his face. We caught him just off the docks on the north island using just a hook attached to a rope with a large, glowing orange ball on top so we could see where the shark went after we hooked it.  After we pulled it up to the boat, we did a quick work-up, took some DNA samples and put a Casey-tag in.  A Casey tag is a small tag attached at the base of the dorsal fin with an identification number on it.  If the shark is caught again, the tag can be removed and there are instructions on the back directing people to contact the National Marine Fisheries Service.  This way, if the shark is caught again, and the people who caught it feel like it, we can get a little data on where the sharks go.

I was the one to put the Casey tag on this guy, and if I do say so myself, it was a beautiful tag.  The way to tag a shark is to take a device, actually looks like a rolling pin with a barb on the end with the tag in the barb, and slam the barb into the shark.  It sounds brutal, but the sharks can't feel it.  Shark skin is very thick, so you really have to hit it hard and a lot of times it takes more than one shot.  Unless you're me of course; one shot, straight in, in front of a crowd of 20 onlookers waiting for me to screw it up.  But obviously I'm calm cool and collect under pressure, and as another volunteer commented afterward, I hit it "like a boss."  Thunderous applause followed and a well-deserved bow.

The whole tagging and work-up process only takes about 5 minutes, even with all the explanations for the benefit of the students in the course.  It is very low-stress for the shark and we try to get them off the boat as fast as possible.  As soon as the hooks and ropes were off, this guy took off into the the sunset, no worse for wear.  Today is your lucky day too, because there will be not one but TWO posts!  Stay tuned...

No comments:

Post a Comment