Susan Brown: So You Want To Study Sharks? September 6, 2017


 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017


Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 6, 2017


Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29 51.066 N
Longitude: 088 38.983W
Sea wave height: .3 m
Wind Speed: 11.6
Wind Direction: 5.3 degrees starboard
Visibility: (ask bridge)
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure: 1014.88 mb
Sky: cloudy


Science and Technology Log

Lisa Jones is a fisheries biologist and the field party chief responsible for planning and logistics, manning the survey and the day to day operations. She is in charge of the science team. The Captain, Captain Dave Nelson, is charge of the ship. These two work together on the Oregon II making decisions on where we go.

Lisa has been doing this for 20 years and has been to locations including the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba, California, the western north Atlantic, and Mexico. The research has varied from a focus on shark/snapper like the one we are on to marine mammals, plankton, aeriel surveys, and harbor seals. Here are some of the questions I asked. 

Q: What is the most interesting thing you have brought up from the ocean?

L: As far as sharks are concerned, one year off the Florida panhandle, we caught a sixgill shark so big we couldn’t even tag it.

Q: How big do you estimate the size of that shark?

L: Approximately fifteen feet

Q: What got you interested in sharks?

L: When I was working for the Cal Fish and Game, radio tagging and doing aerial surveys for harbor seals, we would see shark bitten seals as well as sharks during the aerial surveys. One of the coolest things we ever saw off the Channel Islands was a blue whale. 

Q: Those are big, right? How big do you think it was?

L: I don’t know but it looked liked a small building in the water.

Q: What is your training?

L: My undergraduate degree is in geology. I took a lot of oceanography classes during that time. Later, in my 30s, I went back to graduate school for a degree in biology in Tennessee. It’s a long story but I knew I wanted to study sharks. Land locked in Tennessee, I attended a national conference that included many shark specialists. I introduced myself to get connected – basically anyone who would talk to me.

Lisa Jones explains a career in shark research, part 1:

Lisa Jones explains a career in shark research, part 2:

What questions do you have for Lisa? Post them in the comment section. She is happy to answer them!

Personal Log

I am adjusting to life on the ship and the 12-hour shifts. It’s been fun learning all the different jobs we have as we rotate through different stations. I have now baited hooks, recorded data on the computer as we deploy baited hooks and retrieve the longline to record what we catch, a slinger where I get the baited line ready to be attached to the longline, the high flyer pushing the buoy out that marks the start and end of the longline, and even tagged a large sandbar shark.

Check out this video of me slinging the bait:

There have been several questions regarding our route. The survey area has changed due to both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. The next post will be all about weather so you can see how this has impacted our trip. I am wondering how much these hurricanes have impacted what and how much we catch.


Did You Know?

Salinity and dissolved oxygen in the water impacts what we catch.


Question of the day:

What advice did Lisa give for anyone interested in doing the kind of work she does? (hint: watch the video embedded in this post)

6 Replies to “Susan Brown: So You Want To Study Sharks? September 6, 2017”

  1. To Lisa: After the 20 years of doing this job, what is the most exiting thing about it? What kind of sharks have you caught since you first joined? What other kinds of animals have you accidentally caught? What kind of injuries have you experienced? What is the most boring part of your job? Is there anything you haven’t seen yet, and are hoping to spot this time? Are there any fun and interesting facts on your self and about the ship? (Sorry to bomb you).

    1. The most exciting thing about this job is that there is always something new. I have caught everything from huge tiger sharks to lanterns sharks that are smaller than my hand. Occasionally we have caught a deep water fish that we have never seen before. I have got my finger split open when the main line broke, I’ve bashed my shins going through the hatches (room dividers), and I have gotten slapped by sharks…a lot. There is so much we haven’t seen yet and we are always looking for the new things. The most boring part of my job is the paperwork. We rarely catch dusky sharks and I love to catch one and put a sattelite tag on it. The ship will be 50 years old this year. That’s very old for a boat. My undergraduate degree is in geology.

    1. I manage two of our laboratories. I am the chemical hygiene officer for the lab. That means that I order all the chemicals, that everyone is trained properly, I make sure everything is stored properly and I recycle as much as I can. I also work with other scientists to dissect sharks for life history studies. I also do outreach for schools and community groups.

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