Thursday, March 31, 2011

Science is a harsh mistress

I returned from our Ten Thousand Islands adventure on Tuesday night...and I'm still recovering!  We had an awesome trip (although we had to overcome a few difficulties!).  We left at 6 am Monday morning in the pouring rain to drive down to Goodland.  After launching the boat, we drove around in an attempt to find an appropriate spot to sample.  It was a bit tricky, since none of us are terribly familiar with the area, and well...the Ten Thousand Islands are aptly named.  We also had to make sure we did not enter Everglades National Park, since we don't have a permit to sample IN the park!  We had gotten angler reports from a particular spot - the "Pineapple Bridge" as the locals call it.  So, we set our longline and left it to soak.

One of the goals of this trip was to catch larger sawfish.  We have caught many juveniles (under 7 ft), but we are trying to get some satellite tags on some larger fish.  After the soak, we started to pick it up when we realized we had something large on!  We let out some very excited shouts when we saw the rostrum come out of the water!!  "THAT'S A SAWFISH!  THAT'S A SAWFISH!!!" 

We secured her quickly, and proceeded with our work up.  She got an assortment of tags - including a satellite tag.  We will get a lot of great information from that beautiful fish!  She was nearly 9 feet long - of course, they get up to 18 feet in length!  After taking measurements, tagging, and getting general health information, we sent her on her way!

So that was day 1!!!  The following day, we sampled with the "sawfish brigade"!  After a "continental breakfast" that consisted of a loaf of bread and a toaster (thank you, Captain's Table Hotel!  Ugh!), we met with people from many different agencies - NOAA/NMFS, George Burgess and crew from UF, and various observers from places like the National Park Service.  Our boat set 2 longlines and 1 net over the course of the day.  I got rope burn, bumps, bruises, oyster cuts, bug bites, and shark rash, but it was all for science!  Sadly, no sawfish, but we did catch some big sharks (blacktips and hammers) that we measured and sent on their merry way.

We made our way back to the ramp after a full day of sampling...and dropped the truck keys in 2.5 meters of water - with a very muddy bottom.  Yup, they were gone.  Spectacular FAIL.  Luckily, we were able to move the trailer to another truck and pull the boat out of the water.  After some logistical maneuvering, we were able to figure out how to get a spare key the next day.  I got the lucky job of trailering the boat back to the lab that night with one of my co-workers, and we happily went home after working a 16 hour day!

So, I'm beat up, exhausted, and we certainly had our share of trials and tribulations, but I wouldn't trade seeing that sawfish up close and personal for anything!

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