Well the weather outside is frightful… all the more so for its unpredictability! We had to pick our moment to dash to the canteen and minimise how much we got rained on. The boat ride to today’s creek was wetter than usual, but happily by the time we dropped anchor and waded to shore, the clouds had parted. We prepped a series of longlines – essentially fish hooks attached to a length of wire strung between two blocks. These were baited with chunks of squid, then we settled down to wait.
Second to watching the drone do its thing, this was our most chilled activity yet. I wandered off to explore the shoreline, finding a few lizards and some tiny crabs which popped out of their burrows if I stayed still enough. Disappointingly, I also discovered bits of plastic littering the place – a few of us gathered what bits we could, to clean up a little.
When we asked how to tell when a shark had taken the bait we’d set out, the answer was “Oh, you’ll know.” Sure enough, one of the floats started bobbing up and down wildly, accompanied by some frantic splashing. The little shark on the end of the line was scooped up in a net and carried into the shallows so it could be freed from the hook.
This was a juvenile lemon shark – just what the researchers leading us were after. They were commencing a project to tag the young creatures, so their growth and movements can be better understood. With the shark held firmly, we noted its measurements – at around half a metre long, this one, a female, was likely to be less than a year old. She was fitted with a ‘spaghetti’ tag, a long, thin strip which held contact details for the Cape Eleuthera Institute, so anyone who later caught this shark could report it back to them. All that done, we released the remarkably calm creature and away she went.
Away we went, as well – we were going for lunch and then to try our luck in a different creek. The sun was well and truly out by this point, so once we’d set up the longline once again, we didn’t so much wait as bask. By and by, the line started to move, and we even saw the shark jump clean out of the water in a bid to escape!
A male this time, and not nearly as cooperative as our last shark! It calmed when held upside down though – I’d heard of this phenomenon before, but seeing it work in real life was unexpected. Again, we measured and tagged. This shark got a bonus feature – a small length of yellow tape attached to its dorsal fin, which would enable the drone to identify it when seen from above. The idea is to mark individuals with different colours so that they can be told apart – that way, the behaviour of each creature can be studied.
We made it back to shore just before an electrical storm hit! Rain pelted down and lightning lit the sky up blue. We watched the storm move over the sea from our balcony, until a huge crash of thunder sent us hurrying back indoors!
Tonight, turtle expert and trip leader Lucy Hawkes gave a talk about the turtles found in these waters. The warm, shallow seas are important feeding grounds for juvenile green turtles, who frequent the seagrass meadows and reefs. Adults are rarely seen though, and hardly any breed around here – instead they go to Florida or further south-east. Many stay in the Caribbean throughout their life, making it an important site for conservation. Reduced hunting seems to be having an effect on turtle populations, as their growth rate has slowed overall – this could mean that more turtles are reaching greater ages, rather than being killed when they are still young and growing quickly.