A few weeks ago we posted about the surprising saga of the shark satellite tag scavenger hunt. Due to the unexpected nature of that occurrence, we actually got ahead of ourselves here on 60N on the story of the Sleeper Shark Research Project. Before the tag could be lost and then found–we first had to catch a shark. That part of the story began on a dark and squally day in April…..
To contradict Captain Kirk—the oceans are in many ways the ‘final frontier’ of exploration: we know less about the bottom of the ocean than we do about the moon! This means that part of the fun of studying a poorly-understood species, like the Pacific sleeper shark, is that in many ways you are exploring the frontier of knowledge! However, that also means that you are trying to accomplish a plan without maps or guides or even a copy of “How to catch a sleeper shark for Dummies”.
Our Shark Research Team has a wide and extensive breadth of experience working with sharks, marine fish, and in the waters of Resurrection Bay—but none of us had actually caught a sleeper shark before. So we turned to someone who had.
Local Captain, Andy Mezirow first convinced Markus (the lead researcher or PI on the project) that we could likely catch small specimen of the Pacific sleeper shark right here in Resurrection Bay, at least in certain parts of the Bay and at certain times of the year. Therefore, it was to Andy that we turned to support with our initial ‘fishing expeditions’. Andy took us out on the Bay, and we used his gear at first until he set us up with proper gear to continue the effort on our own.
Our first day of fishing with Andy, we adopted the “sit and wait” approach. Using rod-and-reel, two lines were baited and sent down to the depths while the boat stayed anchored in place. All day we sat: waiting, watching the lines for the slightest hint of a bite, ducking into whatever protection we could as the weather squalled, chatting and drinking coffee. Finally, 8hrs later, we decided to head home after releasing our sole catch of the day–one small cod.
But we knew fishing takes patience, and we were not deterred. The next day we tried setting the lines again but this time slowly letting the boat drift with the current and tides. Again—no luck. We tried again the next day and the next. The rain had finally let up, but the sharks were still not biting.
We knew this work would be hard but regardless the crew was beginning to get a little bit restless. So, the team discussed and exchanged best fishing tips, bait, tackle, time of day etc, when someone remembered a long-standing family tradition of fish calling. A tactic that has been passed on for generations…
Wanting to explore all potential solutions, Dr. Horning gave his best effort using this traditional fish calling tactic:
Alas, still no luck.
We knew our time with Andy was running out as he started preparing for the charter fishing season, so we had to find a way to continue fishing without his equipment throughout the summer. Andy suggested it might be helpful to increase the number of hooks in the water by fabricating ‘short-long-lines’. These consisted of deploying 600-900ft of line, depending on the depth, with an anchor at the bottom and a buoy at the top. Each line would have two baited hooks at the bottom, held away from the line a short distance by a gangion.
Our first day fishing on our own, we headed out to an area not even as far from Seward as Fox Island. Jared and Richard prepared the hooks with the bait and carefully lowered the gear over the side of the ASLC vessel, the Jubatus. After the last of the four buoys were released, we headed back to the office for a few hours while we left them to soak. Mid-afternoon our team reassembled and began to haul in buoys to see what we’d caught.
First buoy in: nothing.
Next two in: still nothing.
Dr. Horning started pulling in the last buoy and commented: “It feels a bit heavier”.
We all watched as foot after foot of line was hauled in by hand and with the help of a hauler loaned by Andy. In fact, we were popping fuses on the hauler left and right, an indication that something heavy was coming up.
As more and more line coiled in the bin, Jared leaned over the side of the boat to watch the last few feet being brought up…
“It’s a shark!”
To Be Continued!
Written By: Amy Bishop