Julie Karre: I Am Smarter Than a Circle Hook, August 1, 2013


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013 

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Range of Cruise: Atlantic
Date: Thursday August 1, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
SW WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS
SEAS 3 TO 5 FEET
INLAND WATERS A LIGHT CHOP
SCATTERED SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS 

Science and Technology Log

Today we did two sets and haul backs. For the first haul back, I was on the computer recording hooks retrieved. The computer system records the hooks as they are set out, keeping track of the number and the latitude and longitude as it is put on the longline. During the haul back, the hook number is recorded when it is retrieved as well as its latitude and longitude again. Then on another pop-up screen, it asks if there was a fish on the hook or if the bait was missing, whole, or damaged. This data complements the data recorded on the fish brought up by giving a complete look at each station. I like doing data collection, whether on the computer or on paper recording the sharks’ measurements.

During the second haul, which we began as the sun began to dip into the horizon, I decided to really try handling the sharks. And what a wonderful experience it was.

When handling the sharks there are so many factors to remember. First, I have to get the measurements of that shark to the data recorder. But while I’m doing that, I have to remember that I am holding a living thing that is entirely out of its element – a true fish out of water. And while sharks might be intimidating (They are. Trust me.), they’re also fragile. Hooks are sharp and unsympathetic, so those of us handling have to take extra care not do exacerbate the damage done by the hook.

There came a moment when I realized I can do this. And what a wonderful feeling it was. Not very many people get to say they've handled sharks. I'm proud to be in that group who can.

There came a moment when I realized I can do this. And what a wonderful feeling it was. Not very many people get to say they’ve handled sharks. I’m proud to be in that group who can. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

The circle hooks, pictured below, are designed to catch a shark or fish without the hook being swallowed, which would be much more harmful and reduce survival rates. But they are still really difficult to remove. First, they are difficult to remove because of the barb, which is there to keep the shark or fish from being able to flail itself off the hook. But they’re also difficult to remove because sharks’ skin is incredibly tough. The sharks I have touched range from feeling like really tough, thick leather to various grit sandpaper. The one exception so far for me was the Scalloped Hammerhead, which was really smooth. Upon further conversation with Kristin, I’ve learned that circle hooks have also been shown to reduce sea turtle mortality. It is thought that they might also reduce the mortality of by-catch (unintended catch) in tuna fisheries, though this theory needs further study to be validated.

Circle hooks are used during the longline survey to ensure catch with minimal risk of swallowing.

Circle hooks are used during the longline survey to ensure catch with minimal risk of swallowing.

Working out the hooks really intimidated me because while trying to get a sharp pointy object out of a shark, the shark is often flailing and flapping trying to get away from me. I found myself talking to each shark, assuring it that I was on its side and was trying to be as gentle as possible.

Ultimately, it’s a really great experience to handle sharks and I felt so proud of myself each time I removed a hook. But the best feeling in the world is releasing that shark and watching it swim away. I would always yell goodbye and release a “yay!” that the shark swam away.

Taking data on one of our awesome Scalloped Hammerheads. My favorite.

Taking data on one of our awesome Scalloped Hammerheads. My favorite. I’ve learned though that Scalloped Hammerheads have been labeled as over-fished and legislation is in place to help this species rebuild.

Personal Log

What a personally satisfying day. I could not be happier that I successfully handled sharks today. I feel like I’ve contributed to the team. I’ve done something that has to be done for each set and haul – recoding data, racking hooks, etc. – but now that I’ve handled sharks successfully, I definitely feel more useful.

I also feel like I’m finally adapting to the heat. It’s still overwhelming when I go from the air conditioned interior to the full force of the sun at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, but I’m not as drained by it. That added with the excitement of handling the sharks and the possibility of seeing different species with each haul back has really kept me quite upbeat!

How can you not be happy when you're staring into the jaws of a Tiger Shark (132 lbs).

How can you not be upbeat when you’re staring into the jaws of a Tiger Shark (132 lbs).

On top of the excitement, it’s just generally a really good time with these people. I feel like I’ve made life-long friends and hope to see and keep in touch with them.

Meet the volunteers:

Day Shift

–       Kevin Travis:

Volunteer Kevin Travis handles sharks like it's no big deal.

Volunteer Kevin Travis handles sharks like it’s no big deal.

  • Kevin just graduated from high school and will be going to the University of Tampa in the fall. He plans to study Marine Biology. This is his first survey

–       Holly Perryman

Volunteer Holly Perryman works on removing the jaw from a dead shark.

Volunteer Holly Perryman assists with removing certain organs from a dead shark.

  • Holly is a graduate student at the University of Miami. This is her second survey. She was a volunteer on the Fall Groundfish survey last year.

–       Arjen Krijgsman

Volunteer Arjen celebrates his birthday aboard the Oregon II!

Volunteer Arjen celebrates his birthday aboard the Oregon II!

  • Arjen is a native of the Netherlands, but has been in the United States teaching for the last three years. Prior to teaching in the United States, he worked in schools doing various jobs in Russia, Japan, and Egypt. He is looking forward to becoming a US citizen. Volunteering on the Oregon II has become a hobby and feels a lot like coming home. He says “You come out a few times and people get to know you. It’s really quite lovely.” He loves the time spent on the water.

Night shift

–       Claudia Friess

Volunteer Claudia Friess has been on 2 previous surveys. She handles sharks like a pro.

Volunteer Claudia Friess has been on 2 previous surveys. She loves handling the sharks.

  • Claudia is a native of Germany, but she’s been in the United States since she was 17. She graduated from high school outside of Houston, Texas and currently resides in Austin, Texas. She is a fisheries analyst with Ocean Conservancy.

–       Page Vick

Volunteer Page Vick takes another Sharpnose Shark from a fisherman in an intense haul.

Volunteer Page Vick takes another Sharpnose Shark from a fisherman in an intense haul.

–       Ian Davenport

Ian (left) helping to measure a Tiger Shark.

Ian (left) helping to measure a Tiger Shark. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

  • Ian is from Manchester, England. He is currently working in the Biology Department at Xavier University after completing his PhD at Clemson University. He studies shark evolution and development. This is his fourth survey with NOAA.

This group of people have become fast friends and I am incredibly proud to work with them each day. I look forward to seeing what adventures they’re off to after this.

Did You Know?

There is a new unit of measurement aboard the Oregon II. It’s 5 feet and a quarter inch and it’s called a Julie.

As in “that shark was about one Julie long.”

2 responses to “Julie Karre: I Am Smarter Than a Circle Hook, August 1, 2013

  1. Julie,
    It’s not everyone that can say that they are a measurement for a shark!!! Something you will remember for a long time to come!
    Glad you are having a great time.
    Cindy

  2. Julie,
    It’s not everyone that can say that they are a unit of measurement for a shark. Sounds like you are having a great time. What an experience.
    Take care
    Cindy

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