PIT, EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT by Carolina de la Hoz Schilling
Do you ever experience those peculiar moments when you realize you are at a certain place doing a certain thing that you never thought you would actually get to do?
That’s exactly how last night felt to me.
It seems so unreal. 3 years ago, when I first googled “shark internships” and came across the Bimini Biological Field Stations website I thought to myself: “That’s it. That’s love at first sight.” I am a firm believer in intuition and like to believe that the choices I make should first go through my gut before they are being rationalized. Therefore, it didn’t take me long to send in an application as well as closely follow the Sharklab's every move on their facebook group. That was when I first came across a post on PIT. Obviously, that word meant absolutely nothing to me, but I still took a silent guess on how many sharks the teams might catch, just for fun. Shortly after, my first application got rejected, but I kept taking PIT guesses on the two successive years, just because it appeared to be such a big deal. I reapplied as a volunteer two years later and, despite of almost choking on my own tongue during the interview, I got accepted.
And now, here I am. Ready for being part of a very real/surreal PIT experience and thinking to myself: “I just can’t believe I’m actually here doing this.”
As part of the tagging boat team, we set out to anchor between the three holding pens that we had built for the purpose of PIT, set up our baby shark work up station on the boat and established each team members’ role for the night while playing “Eye of the tiger” over the radio as net boats were setting gillnets by the mangroves. Motivation is key! For us, who held little more than a scalpel and a measuring tape, it was a waiting game... for a “long” 5 minutes before the first capture of the day. Soon, radio calls were just pouring in from all ends, making for a very promising night. Obviously, we had placed a few personal bets ourselves on how many baby lemon sharks we would catch on the first night, so there was a lot at stake, (beer), and all we could do, was cheer for our net teams. As the night advanced and the sky provided us with a magnificent sunset, baby sharks kept arriving at our boat and kept us on our toes. You don’t really understand the meaning of “cute” until you have seen a tiny, newborn lemon shark whose umbilical scar isn’t even closed yet and that, far from looking like a scary, intimidating creature, reminds you of the innocence and fragility of life itself.
After a few tries, we had a system down among our team members that worked really well. Two people on data, three on shark handling. Altogether, the whole procedure would never exceed 90 seconds and everybody was in sync, which made the night relatively stress free (of course, there is and should always be a minimal amount of stress when handling the delicate life of a baby shark). We’d periodically get radio calls in informing us of more captures and someone would drive the sharks over to our site. At around 11pm a bright, almost fluorescent red light breached the sea surface on the horizon, soon revealing itself to be the most massive moon I had ever witnessed. The scenery was truly extraordinary with an almost full, gigantic moon rising, a clear, star – riddled night sky and a far away lightning spectacle illuminating the horizon every few seconds. I spaced out for only a few minutes before another radio call brought me back to reality.
|Dropping off a shark to the tagging boat, North Bimini lights in the background.|
Another highlight of the night was the arrival of dinner. Clearly, the overall success of PIT is not only determined by our field crews and their skills, but could not take place at all without the incredible efforts of the home crew to take care of us and our needs. That being said, it’s not everyday that you get a delicious dinner delivered by two beautiful drag queens in the middle of the sea with about 50 baby sharks surrounding your boat (it’s a Sharklab tradition having the people delivering the food dress up). What a once in a lifetime experience!
With our energy replenished and 7 more hours to go, the night still seemed young and while conversations started becoming very giggly over the course of the next few hours, shark after shark was measured, weighed, tagged and released healthy into one corresponding pens. You know you’re having a great time when you look at your watch and realize 6 hours have gone by without you noticing or even feeling the fatigue of a 13 hour shift.
One of the perks of working on the tagging boat is that you are also responsible for playing a net hauling song in the morning, that will hopefully accomplish to shake out all the sleepiness out of our team mates minds and bodies and will get everybody motivated for the final push. And who better than Justin Bieber to get the job done? It was indeed way “too late to say sorry” when we blasted the song into our radio. One incredible sunrise later, we headed home, feeling drained in the best way possible, more excited than ever for a warm, cozy bed.
Now I’m back at the lab looking at that the drawing of a majestic great hammerhead on the wall, thinking to myself: “I can’t believe I’m actually here”.