Researcher Dean Grubbs moves his fingers out of the way of a thrashing
nurse shark caught by the longliners hooks. After pulling the shark onboard, Dean
works on removing the hook from the large fish's mouth, never breaking eye
contact with the animal. Off camera, another shark handler helps stablize
the stressed shark.
Jean de Marignac works under a deep blue, pre-dawn sky, de-baiting the longline hooks and hauling them back onboard. For the protection of animals swimming through the area, the hooks cannot be left in place unattended.
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DISPATCH 10: Night Longlining
@Sea correspondent/photographer, Mark Carroll
Night longliner Dustin Thompson, a student from the University of San Francisco, casts the first hook into the water as the sun sets over
Atol das Rocas, Brazil.
6:55pm, March 20, interior lagoon of Atol das Rocas -- Color erupted from the horizon as a
blazing, tropical yellow sun disappeared behind Atol das Rocas. I sat with
four other expedition members on a small skiff in the middle of the lagoon,
fishing for adult lemon sharks.
Two floating lines stretched into the distance beyond our bow. Hooks dangled
intermittently along the lines, baited with juicy (read: stinky)
barracuda steaks bleeding odor into the strong current.
Tonight promised to be a long haul -- a longlining long haul. Every two hours
we would check the hooks for sharks. When the sun rose
behind us again, we would be done.
10:55pm -- We checked and re-checked the gangions (like a fisherman's bob, a gangion floats next to each hook, indicating if a fish is on the line). Hooks nibbled clean by
small fishes were re-baited, then returned to the sea with hopes that they would nab our desired catch.
1:00am, March 21, Atol das Rocas lagoon -- Our first catch of the evening was yet another of the ubiquitous nurse sharks. Researchers Dean Grubbs and Jean de Marignac jumped into action, pulling the thrashing shark into the boat, adding instability to an already
shaky craft, and began to excise the hook from its mouth. Smaller than lemon sharks, nurse sharks are nonetheless incredibly powerful animals --pound-for-pound they are considered to be one of the strongest sharks.
"You don't want to get your arm caught in the line," said de Marignac,
turning to me with the shark held firmly in his hands. "Nurses love to
roll. If you get wrapped up, you're in trouble."
Of course, we weren't here to study nurse sharks, so the animal was soon
back in the water and free, leaving our boat considerably more stable.
1:20am -- Low tide calmed the seas. The crew
got creative looking for places to lay down -- the boat's sole seat, gear
boxes, the bow -- in hopes of catching a quick nap before returning to check the lines
2:30am -- During a short and restless sleep, my dreams turned to visions of a drier bed. Almost immediately, it seemed, it was time again to lift our wet faces from our wet, life-jacket pillows and move back into the night.
The receding tide exposed many rocks and left others dangerously hidden
just below the surface. The the line check would be slow and treacherous.
There was, at this point, no way out of the lagoon. Our team couldn't
get back to the Research Vessel SEWARD JOHNSON, even if we needed to -- not until the tide
rose again and connected us with the sea.
3:15am -- All the reading I had done in preparation for this expedition suggested that sharks like the night. Apparently, adult lemon sharks don't read the same books I do! Our hooks were left hanging with untouched bait, again!
Night skies at sea look mostly unfamiliar to the eyes of a northern-hemisphere skygazer. The stars are spectacular, especially on nights like tonight, moonless miles from the closest light. Barely above the horizon, the Big Dipper pointed to Polaris. Orion rose high in the sky, laying on his side. The rarely-seen Milky Way overpowered the Southern Cross on its
way to the horizon.
5:45am, Atol das Rocas lagoon -- Deep blue is flowing up from the horizon, burying the stars in its wake. The night has been mostly unsuccessful. As the last of the hooks are
hauled back onboard, the final count stands at two nurse sharks and zero
lemons. But, this will not be the last of the longlining attempts. In
the coming nights, the expedition will contine the hunt for our elusive quarry, both at Atol das
Rocas and our second location, Fernando de Noronha.