When you see the faces of the students in the University of Miami's R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, you see a passion for the ocean.
On Friday, the students demonstrated that passion for one species that sometimes doesn't get much love - sharks.
"The more you know, the more you can do," student Austin Gallighar said. "Without the research, we are going to have a lot of gaps."
Gallighar and his fellow classmates tagged sharks for conservation research in Florida Bay.
"This work is particularly important at this time because shark populations globally are declining," Dr. Neil Hammerschlag said.
Hammerschlag took the students to the bay to search for answers and hope for results. The group was looking to figure out which sharks are the most vulnerable to fishing and how to best carry out a conservation strategy.
"They play an important role in the ecosystem, Hammerschlag said. "By removing and causing population declines, there can actually be cascading implications."
To catch the sharks, the class puts out lines with circle hooks and bait.
They throw them into the ocean and hope the sharks will bite the hook, but not before partaking in the pre-tagging ritual: "Kiss the bait, and then you wait."
Throughout the day, the students caught a blacktip, a black nose, a bull shark and two hammerheads. For each one, the students took a biopsy, did blood work, took tissue samples and tagged them to help further research after release.
"To be able to see a great hammerhead is an incredibly lucky experience," Gallighar said. "And to tag it and to see it swim away healthfully is really amazing."
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