Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Motion of the ocean

The highlight of being evicted by American college freshmen on a springbreak shark course was my bed in our new lodgings that hung from the ceiling in a corner of the sitting room. Octagonally shaped, four industrial-strength chains suspend it as a paper mache bird with tasteful glitter accents looks on.

When not housing seven female biologists, the apartment is rented out to vacationing Americans and my bed is without a doubt a clumsy, oversized sex swing for the boozy, sun-burned holiday makers.

The volunteers' role for the course is one of support for the staff. We help out with the students' kick-ass sea trip as bait cutters and throwers, counter balance in the boats, hand holders, shark handelers, sous chefs, where ever we're needed.

Yesterday I helped out with blacktip baiting and lemon feeding. The latter I did little more than set an anchor and make rude jokes with the staff at the back while the students fed the lemons in a mangrove-lined channel.

I was pulled away from the calm of the channel and Jim, Jon and I started baiting for blacktips. While the steady high winds and equally large seas on the east side of North Bimini made this a difficult and queasy stomach inducing task we were quickly rewarded with 18 blacktips. One was even so kind to jump clear out of the water giving us a quick glimpse of its beautiful body.

I switched boats to help out with the blacktips. The Twin Vee is no Cadillac of the ocean, but she is significantly more comfortable than the 17' skiff I rode in on the way back. How I didn't spew is still a great mystery.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


While the hammerheads may have taken my breath away - likely the result of my snorkel in my mouth more than anything - I have temporarily lost my voice.

I'm certain it's the combination of being cold and wet for 2 nights of fishing during mini-PIT and all the shouting and yelling that took place on Steph's birthday.

It's horrible. I sound like a completely different person.


I was so excited to get into the water with the hammerheads that I forgot to zip up my wetsuit. A nearby staff member leaned over the side of the boat and grabbed my drawsting as a floated on my stomach.

Hammerhead outfit in place, I finned over to the lines and secured a prime spot.

The bait was set.

Over the course of the two hours we were in the water, at least five different individuals come in with four together at one time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bimini Sunrise

We spent the last three nights gill-netting for the local lemons. Mini-PIT lasts three nights and takes place roughly twice a year with the grand PIT occuring in June for 12 nights.

In short, this involves spending the entire night out on a 17-foot skiff in 20-25 mph winds for a 12-hour tidal cycle accompanied by two other people, a hand-held radio and the distant cries of equally bored crews about the bay to keep you moderately sane.

The goal is to catch as many juvenile lemons sharks as possible. Previous captures are recorded and new ones are given a PIT tag - these are the same tags that domestic dogs and cats have implanted in them.

After the gruelling wind and rain, we were given a glorious sunrise.

Friday, March 5, 2010

All in a day's work

"What a bizarre last 24 hours," reads my journal.

In that timespan, I snake hunted, sang karaoke and danced around the top of the bar at a going away party, participated in manually clearing out the septic tank with the male volunteers dressed in outfits bordering on drag and assisted in impromptu pelican wing surgery with the assistance of a German vet we somehow rounded up.

Sending someone with a recently discovered fear of garter snakes out to track down a Bimini Boa was likely and thankfully the reason Team Commonwealth failed at their assigned task. Adding to my fear was the certainity that I was going to drown standing up in the forest. A torrential downpour passed though as we were searching. Having received advanced warning on the radio, we thought the palm trees would provide adequate coverage. They may look like nature's umbrellas, but in actuality, they are giant funnels that gladly pour the rain on the ill-prepared Canadians and Brits hiding underneath them.

Not inclined to public embarrassment, it's a great mystery how I ended up on the bar - the smooth Bahamian lagers might be responsible for most of that...

The majority of the partyers slightly to extremely hungover, we grabbed old shirts from the free clothes pile and went around the back of the lab. The male volunteers elected to dress in women's wear.

A massive hole had been hand dug across the road.

The lab managers proceeded to crack the top of our outdated septic tank. Words will never describe the stench, but it is forever etched in my nostrils.

Bucket by bucket, the contents of the septic were shoveled out and dumped into the prepared hole until only liquid remained. An industrial strength pump slurped up most of what remained and delivered it firehose style to the hole.

A few final bucket loads and filling in the now full hole concluded Shit Pit.

Following a bleach bath on the back beach, locals brought an injured pelican to our front porch. We got word there was a vet at the resort down the road. Interrupting her lunch, the briskly efficient German vet bandaged up the pelican's wing under very unsterile conditions with the lab's first aid supplies.

We made the large, prehistoric looking bird comfortable in a shark transport tub. Intentioned to be a healing tub, it unfortunately ended up being the pelican's grave.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Day off

Slightly hungover, all eleven volunteers piled onto a Bimini legend's 24-foot skiff with the hope of seeing dolphins and hand feeding stingrays.

Bonefish Ebby, named for his knack at catching, you guessed it, bonefish, took us north to the dolphin grounds. Jon and Elena claimed to have seen them, but those gay sharks evaporated by the time we got the boat over to the alledged sightings.

Several quarter hours later, it was clear the dolphins were in the other portal and our lack of a morning drumming circle complete with crystal consult was the reason. Disappointed, but still with a hired boat for several hours, we moored up and went for a snorkel on Bimini Road. Not fantastic by my standards, but ok and nice to finally be in the water.

A quick bait stop and we were off to Honeymoon Harbour to feed stingrays.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The rod scores again

Few others outside of the multi-national crew I live with at the Sharklab would be excited about the assigned task of shark fishing.

While the majority of the other volunteers had already been out barracuda trolling, this was my first time salt-water fishing. Before we were able to shark fish, first we had to secure some fresh bait - and that meant cudda trolling.

Tyler was fortunate to land one seconds after we entered our channel. It took Elena and I a little longer to get ours. Three fresh cuddas in the bait box, we headed to a known black-tip hangout.

It wasn't long until the fresh cudda lured them in. With Jim's help, each of us reeled in one black-tip, worked it up and released them.

I had a particularly tricky time getting mine. On two occasions, the sharks broke the line and made off with the hook and leaders. Several tries later, the hooks weren't setting properly and the sharks were simply getting an easy snack.

After these teases, I finally brought one up to the boat. And he was handomse!

After we each had one black-tip to our name, we resumed cudda trolling. I was thrilled when I landed the biggest one of the day!

The catches

Adrenaline running high, we mellowed out for our journey back by going through East Wells. Stunning.