January 30th, 2019 - This month I had the incredible opportunity to join Dr. Neil Hammerschlag and his collaborator -- the University of England's James Sulikowski -- on an expedition to Tiger Beach in the Bahamas. Through research done by the University of Miami's Shark Research and Conservation team, which I've had the pleasure of working with over the past several months, they have discovered that this particular section in the Bahamas has proven to be a sort of "sanctuary" for pregnant tiger sharks. A combination of warm temperatures and shallow water seem to provide these females a perfect safe space as they prepare to give birth. What these scientists wanted to know is where these ladies go after their time in Tiger Beach...where do they go to give birth?
To answer this question, we set out to this location in search of pregnant tiger sharks. Using ultrasound technology and intrauterine birth tags, the team was able to successfully insert 6 birth tags into the uterus of several tiger sharks. If successful, these birth tags will reveal the location where these sharks are giving birth, answering the question of whether these pups are being born in protected areas, or areas threatened by fishing and other human activity.
This trip was a challenge in that I was pretty sick for most of it. Personally, I hardly ever get sick, and for some reason my body decided to go into full fever and cough mode the entire time I was there. Being sick was pretty shitty (not to mention the sea-sickness that I'm prone to getting as well, and the fact that it was that time of the month for me), but all the added challenges made me persist even more, and deliver even better results.
One crucial thing I learned on this trip -- besides the technical, working-on-a-boat stuff and more about the anatomy of a shark than I probably need to know -- is the importance of doing what needs to be done before you are asked. Anticipation. Because when there are 5 people trying to land a 14 foot tiger shark, and you need to be asked to secure her tail with the tail rope, or get de-hooking supplies ready, it's already too late. Anticipation. Knowing what needs to be done and doing it before anyone asks. Even if it means tossing the camera to the side and taking morphological measurements or helping secure a satellite tag on a shark's dorsal fin from inside the water.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to cover this expedition with Dr. Neil and the rest of the team. This has made me fall in love with telling stories through visuals all over again.