Sharkbait! (Hoohaha)

At the start of this week we were lucky enough to experience three non-stop days with each focusing on lionfish, rays, and the mighty sharks we’d all been waiting for. I was reunited with team coral again and couldn’t wait to get tucked into the days we had planned. The weather was on our side with glorious sunshine meaning there was nothing to stop our activities this time and of course it allowed us our tan topping up time (and emphasising everyone’s farmer arms).

Team coral had been put on lionfish for the first day, and as few of us had seen any despite them being highly invasive we couldn’t wait to see these elegant creatures for the first time. We docked from the boathouse in the early morning and headed to our first site where we would be attempting to catch them live and cull a few. Lionfish are highly invasive throughout the Bahamas region which is not their natural home, and since they have no natural predators among other features this means they have made their mark here but are damaging the ecosystem. We had been told they were quite easy to catch but it would take a few tries, however team  coral were out in force and two of the team caught a lionfish on their first dive down. We were all astounded and fist pumping the air with joy! Some also needed to be culled which we left to our very overexcited lecturer and of course she succeeded in this challenge.

The afternoon provided a very different scene where we were shown how to dissect a lionfish and fillet one, ready for our upcoming beach barbeque! We all got stuck right in but were of course very careful of avoiding their venomous spines. The evening consisted of everyone swapping their stories for the day, and an early night ready for the next day.

Lionfish dissection – Photo by Lucy Twitcher.

The following day we ventured off once again into the ocean to catch some rays (both the animal and the UV rays). We had been told to prepare for some serious water aerobics; apparently catching stingrays was a lot harder than it seemed. It involved a lot of frantic splashing in the water as everyone circled any ray that was seen, trying to run 20 miles an hour in strong currents felt like a days workout – our leg day was sorted. Whilst catching these rays to measure and tag we were subjected to some stunning views. One of the sites rays frequented in was a small set of sandbars with aqua blue waters surrounding them. According to our ray expert, mac laptop screensavers have sandbars on them and these were the exact ones we were lucky enough to visit, we felt extremely privileged. Not many people can say they have been to the paradise islands people see every day and dream of going to.

We caught five rays to our excitement and I was ready for tagging a ray right from the start and luckily I had this opportunity. The rays were quite calm and it was oh so bewildering to see them swim off from release as if no tags had been inserted at all!

Collecting data on southern stingrays – Photo by Freydis Vigfusdottir.

Now our last day was what we had all secretly been anticipating, we are budding scientists and animal geeks after all. But before our shark day was to start, myself and the other scuba divers were up bright and early to venture to a famous dive site – an aquaculture cage once used to lure sharks. We descended into the water and almost immediately we were greeted by a big shoal of Atlantic spadefish. The cage was brimming with such different varieties of life than we had previously seen; there were yellowtail snappers, bearded fire worms and more barracuda. It was certainly one of the most interesting dives I had experienced.

Following a quick breakfast, we whisked out to catch some sharks. To do this the team had to bait longlines using fish heads and such, (much to the disgust of some). In between the time of waiting for the line to soak we headed to some amazing dive sites. One was possibly the most incredible coral reef I have seen in my life. I saw five queen angelfish, various species of parrotfish, squirrelfish – the list was endless! The weather then decided to rain and so our trip back to the longline wasn’t the most enjoyable. However it was very much worth the rain and purple fingers. We caught two nurse sharks and one Caribbean reef shark; we were so overwhelmed to see a shark and it was the first for me on the trip! I volunteered to hold the nurse shark as it was measured and tagged – I genuinely can’t believe I was literally holding over an eight-foot shark in the water!

These past few days have created memories I know I wont forget.

eew204    January 16th, 2016    Bahamas archive