shark night

One of the reasons I enjoy living down here on the edge of the Everglades is getting to do some interesting volunteer work, including participating in a study of sharks. For the shark study, a couple of scientists and a few of us volunteers head out into the Ten Thousand Islands by boat in the late afternoon and return around midnight. In between, we set out a net and – normally – wait until a shark gets caught in it. Some nights we catch a few, some nights none. Last night it was nonstop shark capture, study, and release.
When a shark gets caught, you have to remove it quickly since sharks require movement to keep their blood oxygenated. So we pull the shark out of the net and put it in a pool in the back of the boat where it can swim. (Most of the sharks in this study are small, under five feet.) Then the shark is identified, sexed, weighed, and measured, and samples of its blood are taken for scientific analysis for various research projects. Finally it is taken a distance away (so it isn’t recaptured) and released to do whatever it was doing before our rude but benevolent interruption.
Last night’s work began with some excitement – a manatee swam into our net as we set it out. After a few seconds of splashing and thrashing, it decided to depart by another route. Then we straightened out our net and immediately the sharks started showing up, sometimes four at a time. The night ended with seventeen bonnethead sharks (think of a hammerhead but smaller and less eccentric) being captured and released.
I enjoy the company of people who devote their lives to the study and protection of the amazing creatures with whom we share this beautiful world. On the boat last night, in addition to two shark experts, was an expert in jellyfishes. Who knew how strange and interesting jellyfish life cycles were? In other volunteer capacities, I’ve met dedicated wildlife biologists who work with terns and finches, owls and gopher tortoises, bog turtles and sea turtles, orchids and panthers.
I know some people wouldn’t see it this way, but to me, the science of understanding and protecting wildlife is holy work. It’s an expression of love for our neighbors who don’t happen to be human beings … each of which is known and loved by the Creator. Even sharks!