Fishing For Sharks in the Name of Research

By Communications Specialist, Grades 9-12, Maegan Azpiazu

Seventeen Gulliver Prep students set sail on a unique excursion this winter, boarding a vessel at Crandon Marina in Key Biscayne and sailing to Soldier Key in Biscayne National Park to fish for ... sharks?

That's right. Sharks.

This recent Saturday morning on a shark research trip included students in Marine Science, AP Environmental Science and Field Studies, accompanied by Prep biology faculty member Mark Tohulka and Prep Director of Activities Danielle Bowen.

As part of the University of Miami's Shark Research and Conservation Program, the Gulliver students worked alongside graduate student researchers to catch, measure, tag and collect tissue samples from sharks in the waters.

The day started off slowly, but a change in location quickly yielded three sharks: a great hammerhead measuring more than 10 feet and two bull sharks measuring between 7 and 9 feet. Gulliver students put out and retrieved fishing lines and helped measure, tag and collect small tissue samples from the sharks.

"It was a fascinating adventure," said Elizabeth Vair '20. "It was impressive and a little intimidating to be that close to a big bull shark."

The researchers also briefed students on their current projects, which include data analysis of local shark population size, genetics, stress of capture and blood chemistry.

This was familiar territory for Tohulka, who helped establish UM's shark research program in 2005, alongside its current director, Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, and a handful of other science teachers. The goal was to develop a project that would take students out onto the water to participate in shark research.

In recent years, Gulliver has become involved with UM's Shark Research and Conservation Program, with many students participating as part of Gulliver's summer programs or core curriculum.

"Sharks are rapidly disappearing from the world's oceans, with approximately 100 million sharks killed annually by commercial and recreational fishing – often as unintended bycatch in the pursuit of other fish," Tohulka said. "Dr. Hammerschlag's group seeks to answer questions to help shark conservation and improve our understanding of these fascinating predators of the world's oceans. By supporting this work, Gulliver students are helping amass information to aid in shark conservation, and will act as a pipeline of information about the importance and threatened status of sharks."

Photos courtesy of University of Miami's Shark Research & Conservation Program,