Chief Scientist Samuel Gruber and fellow investigator
Damian Chapman watch as a lemon shark approaches their bait(upper left), then leaves. Several sharks circled for awhile before the decision was made to enter the water and try to capture them with a net.
Scientist Dean Grubbs tries to orchestrate the movement of the seine net. A slippery rock bottom and occasional pockets of deep water made for a difficult operation.
Researchers rush to deploy a large seine net before three large lemon sharks have an opportunity to escape.
Team member Liana Mendez works her end of the net toward shore. The orange floats ensure that no animals can escape over the top of the net. Lead weights keep animals from swimming under the net.
Overlooking the seining researchers, a group gathered on the green hillside to watch the shark capturing attempt.
Brazilian team member Ricardo Garla chops bait preparing for a night of longlining.
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DISPATCH 18: The Last Roundup
@Sea correspondent/photographer, Mark Carroll
A stunning place for field work, one of Fernando de Noronha's
beautiful coves is ringed with lava rock and vibrant green vegetation. At high tide, the expedition sealed this cove with a seine net, attempting to capture lemon sharks.
6:45am, March 28, onboard a local fishing boat -- A few minutes ago, one of the crew
members shook me awake from a short, but much-needed slumber. I grabbed my
camera bag and hastily stumbled onto the deck of the Research Vessel SEWARD JOHNSON (RVSJ). I was disoriented and clueless to the situation...I was being sheperded toward a small, local fishing vessel with four other researchers.
Gradually, as we motored away from the RVSJ, my post-nap haze began to lift. We were making our way around the island, bobbing
erratically on the small boat...one of the scientists told me that we were the morning's appointed shark scouts. Rather than spending our last precious day of research getting to know the local sea, the team had hired a fisherman to help us find adult lemon sharks. On the far side of the island we dropped anchor, I came more or less fully to consciousness, and we fished.
As the hours passed and the baited lines dangled untouched, the quick-rising
sun began to burn our skin. In the rush to get out here, no one had remembered
sunscreen. To keep our minds off of our reddening faces, we babbled about birds and home and the meaning of Portuguese shark names.
12:00pm --It was now obvious that our morning was going to be entirely fishless. Our unmolested, baited hooks were achieving nothing apart from confirming that there were NO sharks around (scientifically speaking, of course, this result could be construed as an information-gathering success). We pulled up anchor and bobbed toward the mainland to meet up with the rest of the expedition.
1:35pm, Fernando de Noronha -- We found a research team at the east end of the
island where a picturesque cove sits at the base of lava rock cliffs,
covered in the island's uniquely vivid shades of green (I am told that now it is
the rainy season, and in a few months this will all be brown).
Most of the team sat on the cliffsides overlooking the sheltered cove.
Word was that adult lemon sharks had been sighted down there! After a few minutes, the first shark
swam into view. Chief Scientist Dr. Samuel Gruber and one of his fellow researchers, Damian Chapman, made their way into the water, baited hook and line in hand.
The minutes passed and one large shark became three, but they seemed
uninterested in food. Lack of hunger is not a good thing when you are trying to hook a shark. But for the researchers who were about to enter the water to net the animals, the fact that they weren't too hungry was welcome news indeed! I heard one of the scientists
say, "Someone could really get hurt. These are big animals!"
The netting team went into action, moving into the chest-high water,
planning to entrap the sharks by blocking the cove's exit with a seine net.
Then, the trouble began.
We started discovering pockets of deep water along the erratic contours of the cove's bottom. These deep spots caused our net to be lifted well off the bottom in several places. Without a good "seal" at the water's surface and along the bottom, seine netting has little chance of success. In the cove's turbid waters, at least one of the net holders had an unwitting close encounter with a shark as the trapped animal slipped beneath the net and moved out to sea.
What started as a final attempt to capture lemon sharks ended as an
exercise in net deployment. Moving along a muddy road with their empty
nets, the team returned to the boat.
5:00pm, the dock at Fernando de Noronha -- As I send this dispatch, a small
group of longliners prepares for a final night of fishing in the waters
of Fernando de Noronha. They will spend the better part of the night probing
the depths with baited hooks. Tomorrow, we will see how they faired and
then we'll begin preparations for our return to Natal, Brazil -- our final port and the
end of this amazing expedition.