Field Notes


Shark Research in Naples | Rookery Bay Research Reserve

On Wednesday evening, I set out with Pat, our fisheries biologist, and a boat full of volunteers for Pumpkin Bay to enjoy a night of shark monitoring. It is always an adventure since you never know what you will catch each time he goes out! We set up the gill net as well as the long lines, and almost right away we had something on one of the long line hooks! After pulling up the line, we discovered we had hooked a juvenile bull shark! We got the shark into the boat so we could tag and measure it before releasing it on the other side of the bay to ensure we would not catch it again later in the evening

Upon our return to the area where we had set the nets, we noticed that some of the floats on the gill net were just below the water’s surface. We approached it slowly and held our breaths, hoping for a shark, only to discover it was a smalltooth sawfish!!! The whole crew exploded with excitement. We carefully maneuvered this prehistoric creature into the kiddie pool on the boat where we could remove it from the net safely while allowing it to breathe. Then we helped Pat insert the tag, take measurements and again, released it on the opposite side of the bay.

We headed back to the net to see what was next! We started checking the net and came across another bull shark, which we put into the kiddie pool as we continued to check the net. As we neared the end of the net we could see that some of the floats were under water, signaling that something else must be caught. We couldn’t believe it…ANOTHER SMALLTOOTH SAWFISH!! Again, the crew gasped/cheered and clapped their hands over their mouths! At that time, Pat decided to leave the sawfish in the net and work up the bull shark we had just pulled in, because, unlike their shark cousins, sawfish are able to pump water over their gills without having to swim. We knew it would be okay briefly while we quickly tagged and measured the shark.

At this point, it was getting close to the end time for the net set. We decided that we would check/pull in the net after releasing the second bull shark, knowing that we still had the sawfish at the very end that needed to be recorded. As we were checking the net the final time, we encountered a lemon shark, a southern stingray, a blue crab, and a few catfish. We worked them up and let them go. At this point we knew we were getting closer to the sawfish we had seen previously.

As we got closer we got ready to carefully pull it in the boat, and as the crew was doing so, Charlie and Katie yelled WE HAVE TWO SAWFISH!! A smaller sawfish had gotten caught right behind the one we had seen earlier! That made a total of three – I couldn’t believe it! Our total catch for the night became three sharks and three smalltooth sawfish! Before the night began I was hoping for at least one shark, but secretly hoping for a sawfish since I had never seen one. Never in my dreams did I think we would catch three!

Sarah Norris, Environmental Specialist

Please remember, maintaining a safe distance is imperative for a successful nesting season for all of Florida’s wild life.

Rookery Bay Research Reserve

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve stretches across 110,000 acres of pristine mangrove forest, uplands and protected waters. We are committed to preservation through research, education, and land protection.

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