Ransom Everglades’ Marine Field Research students participated in one of the course's signature field trips: a shark-tagging excursion. Two classes of juniors and seniors each spent a day aboard a 55-foot research vessel in mid-February, looking for sharks on Biscayne Bay near Stiltsville and then, when a catch was made, stabilizing the shark and executing a number of research tasks.
“We do it really fast,” said faculty member Dr. Kristine Stump, a shark expert who has appeared on the Discovery Channel series Shark Week. “It’s like a NASCAR pit crew: boom, boom, boom. Then release.”
When a shark is captured, students help measure the shark; take multiple blood samples; collect a genetic sample; perform a muscle biopsy; and push a needle with a tag into the shark’s cartilage. Meanwhile, a pipe is placed in the shark’s mouth that allows water to be pumped over its gills so it can breathe throughout the data collection process.
“The entire work up,” Stump said, “takes less than five minutes.”
The shark-tagging field trips took place under the guidance of Dr. Stump and scientists at the Field School, a local business whose mission is to train and mentor the next generation of field scientists in a safe, inclusive and supportive environment. Faculty members Dr. Kelly Jackson and Dr. Brooke Gintert co-teach the Marine Field Research course.
Samples collected on the shark-tagging outings are directed to a research project on sharks’ use of Biscayne Bay. They also have benefited a separate RE study under the direction of faculty member Claudia Ochatt; students have been studying the presence of heavy metals in shark blood using a laser at the upper school.
During previous bay trips, students in Marine Field Research assisted in setting up tracking equipment for a hammerhead project. The students didn’t encounter hammerheads on this trip, so they will work on that project on their next bay foray.
The trips, Dr. Stump pointed out, are not just about tagging sharks.
“One of our goals for the course is to expose students to the natural world that is literally in their own backyard,” she said. “Biscayne Bay is in trouble, from decreasing water quality to seagrass loss to trash accumulation and more. We hope that by showing students that there are very cool and very important species and habitats trying to survive here, they will be stewards and advocates for protecting and restoring one of the jewels of their hometown.”
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The mission of Ransom Everglades School is to provide an educational environment in which the pursuit of honor, academic excellence and intellectual growth is complemented by concern for the physical, cultural and character development of each student. The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.