Shark Tagging with a Marine Biologist


This one of a kind experience is not for the faint of heart. If you want to experience the real Florida, and I mean the REAL Florida, strap on your head lamp, put on your mosquito netting, and take a trip with shark biologist Pat O'Donnell to go capture and tag sharks in the heart of Florida's famous 10,000 Islands. You'll be helping Pat monitor shark populations in the local area while experiencing what Florida was like before the modern era of pesticides, bug spray, and gated communities.

You will do more than just ride along--you will take an active roll in preparing bait, placing the nets, catching the sharks, tagging them, measuring them, and safely releasing them back into the wild. There are very few opportunities to do this type of thing anywhere in the world, much less in Florida's 10,000 Islands, and you'll be contributing to the ecological health of Southwest Florida in a way that very few will ever get to do.

The trip starts by meeting Captain Pat at Port of the Islands Marina where you will see an unusual sight: the Rookery Bay houseboat lashed to a rarely seen mid-engine boat. Both boats are designed from the pragmatist perspective with the goals of catching the sharks in this unforgiving wilderness. The houseboat provides a home base and shelter from the bugs for a crew up to 8 people, while the mid-engine skiff is the shallow running work boat necessary to navigate the mangrove and oyster maze of Faka Union, Fakahatchee, or Pumpkin Bays. 

After a relaxing ride south out of Port of the Islands, work starts almost right away. You'll help bait large circle hooks, set out long lines, and stretch a gillnet halfway across the bay. These lines and nets will be checked consistently until a shark happens by to investigate the delightful chunks of cut mullet hanging from the longlines. When the buoys drop, it's go time. Work needs to be done quickly so as not to harm the shark. Pat's wealth of experience and deft hand will have the crew working like a well oiled machine to unhook, measure, tag, weigh, and revive the shark for release. After the job is done and the shark is safely released a few hundred yards from where the nets and lines are set up, it's right back to them to check for another.

Once night falls, the bugs will descend like nothing you have ever seen. With that said, proper mosquito gear (Pat has extras) and strong bug spray will keep them at bay. In fact, despite being surrounded by bugs for miles in any direction last time we were out, I received fewer bites than I did the last time I watched the sunset on the beach.

When Captain Pat makes the call, the lines are retrieved, the gear is stored, and a dark and typically quiet boat ride back to the marina begins. While some may be sleeping, this turns out to me a great time for a little quiet reflection on just how freaking awesome the night was. 

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