Actual Sharknado off of Cape Hatteras

It does indeed. Image from

North Carolina’s weather has never been what you’d call predictable, especially off of Cape Hatteras (all those shipwrecks have to come from somewhere).  That said, what I saw yesterday while tagging sharks off of Hatteras takes the cake.  During what had been an uncharacteristically nice day on the water, I saw what can only be described as an actual, real-life sharknado.  Apparently anything is possible off of Cape Hatteras.

How did this happen?  It involves a weather phenomenon known as a waterspout, which is best described as a tornado filled with water, and sharks that aren’t anywhere near as large as the great whites and hammerheads in the movie.  As we were hauling in a gillnet set, one of these waterspouts suddenly and spontaneously formed right next to the damn boat.  While the effects of waterspouts are extremely localized and didn’t affect us much on the boat, a bunch of spiny and smooth dogfish sharks found themselves sucked up into the funnel and thrown distances up to 50 feet, with a few even landing on the deck.  These sharks had likely either been caught in the net or milling about it picking off bycatch.  All of these small sharks in one specific area and the suddenness of the waterspout formation were all the ingredients needed to make an actual sharknado.  Fortunately, dogfish are tough critters and we were able to release all the sharks that landed on the boat alive.

Don’t believe me?  Fortunately I had my camera running in video mode to film the gillnet haul when all this happened.  Check out this incredible video below the jump.

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EU Considers Ban on Dogfish

Flag of the European Union. Image from

Last week the European Union considered a petition to ban on all products made from spiny dogfish.  The petition, put forward by the representative from Germany, would have banned trade of all spiny dogfish products, and barring that called for changing the names of some European seafood names (including Germany’s own Schillerlocke) to explicitly state that they were made from the meat of spiny dogfish.  The full text of the petition and the EU’s response are available here.  This petition, had it passed, could have had a huge impact on dogfish fisheries worldwide, including our own here in the United States.

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What Drives Dogfish Distribution?

I’ve been meaning to get back into writing about research done by other people (especially if it concerns the mighty spiny dogfish) for some time.  Fortunately, a pretty interesting paper has just come out by researchers at Stony Brook and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) looking at the big picture of spiny dogfish habitat preferences.  So in what conditions can you expect to run into those big, lovable, bait-stealing schools?

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SciREN Press and Sharks in Coastwatch

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A couple quick updates about things that have really slowed down my posting, but have definitely been worth it.

First off, SciREN was a great time.  It was awesome meeting all the teachers interested in bringing marine and coastal science into their classrooms, and also getting a chance to check out what other researchers at other schools are up to.  I’m definitely looking forward to participating again next year, and strongly encourage any of my fellow marine science folk in North Carolina to check it out.  For other opinions on this great event, check out these links:

Carteret County News-Times: Thorough overview of SciREN with quotes from the organizers, teachers, and researchers.

UNdertheC Blog: Epic recap featuring details on several of the researchers and photos form the night at the aquarium.  If you look closely you can see me stuffing my face in one of them.

UNC Campus Update: This post has background on Avery and Heather, who were able to bridge the gap between UNC and Duke to put this event together.  Seriously, it ended less than an hour before the start time for the Duke-UNC basketball game and no blood was shed.  These two deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.

If I’ve missed any other press coverage of SciREN, let me know and I’ll be sure to add it to the list.

Second, an article I wrote about the shark tagging research I’ve been working on has been published in the latest issue of Coastwatch, North Carolina Sea Grant’s publication about coastal and marine research in the Old North State.  You can read the full article online here, and also an overview of shark research in the Rulifson lab at ECU.

Now that I’m done bouncing around the state for a week or so, expect normal posting to resume soon.  Seriously.

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Sharks Migrating into the Classroom

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Earlier this month, I quietly added a new page called Teaching Resources to the blog.  At the time it was just a placeholder, but now it represents my attempt to use this space for things other than recaps of papers, field work and conferences.  As part of the Scientific Research and Education Network (SciREN), I developed a lesson plan for high school classes that uses data from sharks tagged as part of ECU’s acoustic telemetry research to teach students about life histories, habitat importance, and human impacts in the marine environment.  I even managed to fit a little fisheries management and shark biology in there.  Head over to the new page and check it out, and if you use the lesson plan definitely let me know how it went over in the classroom.

SciREN is a great initiative headed up by grad students at the UNC and Duke marine labs that connects local teachers with marine scientists to bring brand new, cutting edge marine science into the classroom.  Tomorrow night I’ll be heading down to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores to meet and talk sharks with area school teachers.  This is shaping up to be a really cool event, with a huge variety of marine science topics for all grade levels coming from researchers at just about every North Carolina school involved in coastal research.  To give you an idea of the range of marine and coastal topics that teachers could bring to their classrooms, check out the SciREN Facebook page, which the team has been updating with info on the scientists attending the workshop.  If you’re a teacher and are interested in checking this out, there is still time to register.

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AFS Southern Division Recap

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Last week (January 22nd-26th) a couple of my labmates and I headed down to Charleston, South Carolina for the spring meeting of the American Fisheries Society’s Southern Division (referred to from here on in as SDAFS).  This meeting gets researchers from the Southeast and Gulf states to talk fisheries science, and usually provides a good cross-section of topics.  Charleston is also an incredibly nice city and a great place to put on a conference.  Here’s what piqued my interest at this meeting…

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Posted in AFS, conference, fisheries management, gill nets, North Carolina, sharks, Winter of the Shark | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dogfish on Tour: Charleston and the Crystal Coast

I’ll be making a couple public appearances this winter, so here’s where you can track me down.

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Next week I’ll be in lovely Charleston, South Carolina for the spring meeting of the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society.  I’ll be presenting the latest results from the acoustic array project, so be sure to check out my talk for the first round of the Winter of the Shark salvo.  There will also be a workshop on acoustic telemetry, for anyone who currently works with or is interested in working with acoustic arrays.  Even if sticking pingers on or in fish is not your thing, there will be a slew of shark talks, a multi-day symposium on sturgeon, and plenty of other fish-related diversions.  Registration is still open for this conference if you’ve been on the fence about attending.

Next month, I’ll be heading down to Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina for the SciREN workshop, which links up scientists with teachers to develop lesson plans based on their research.  I’ll be working up a lesson plan and some classroom materials on shark migration and demographics based on our shark-tagging research.  This is not only a great way to not only help out local teachers, but also an awesome outreach opportunity for those who enjoy communicating science (or need a little extra something for the “broader impacts” section of a grant proposal).

Looking forward to seeing everyone at these two events.

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Winter of the Shark: Brace Yourselves

One of the many projects that have been consuming time that could be spent blogging is the acoustic telemetry project ECU has been involved with off of Cape Hatteras.  Last year saw me take over the day-to-day running of this valuable piece of equipment, from gear maintenance and data downloading to what I think of as “the fun part:” the actual catching and tagging of sharks.  After a year of working with Hatteras fishermen and ECU’s intrepid diving and boating staff, this project is finally reaching a point where the data are good enough to start sharing.  The next couple months will see a mini-blitz of coverage on the Hatteras array, including a piece I’m writing for North Carolina Sea Grant’s Coastwatch magazine and a presentation of the preliminary data at the American Fisheries Society’s Southern Division meeting.  This post is the vanguard of that mini-blitz.

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Posted in conservation, fisheries management, gill nets, grad school, methods, North Carolina, research, sharks, Winter of the Shark | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Swimming Foreward

Wow, that was quite the gap.  I usually have a difficult time keeping up with blogging between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but this year it started a little early.  If you’ll notice, the last post was on October 20th.  The reasons for this include an especially busy field season, paper revisions and other academic madness, and some other writing projects that will hopefully see the light of day shortly (more on that in a future post).  With most of that behind me, it’s time to dive back in.  Because after all, even the smartest sharks can’t swim backwards.

This month finishes my first year writing both here and at Southern Fried Science, and it’s been a learning experience.  I’ve managed to maintain a reasonably prolific posting schedule at both venues (at least up until October), though it’s become clear that in order to keep doing that effectively I need to set a hard line between what ends up here and what goes up on the big blog.  So here’s how it should break down in the coming year:

At Ya Like Dags:  Field work updates and photos, keeping up with fishery management issues that pertain to dogfish fisheries, summaries of scientific papers relevant to my favorite small sharks, and a new series of posts called “Perfect Little Killing Machines” that will focus on the science behind what makes spiny dogfish such successful hunters and survivors.

At Southern Fried Science:  As befits the wider audience at Southern Fried Science, posts there will focus on the big-picture of shark and fishery management, finding the nuance in conservation and fisheries science, field work highlights that are especially funny or interesting, and other more general interest stuff.

That’s the plan.  I hope you’ll continue to follow along both here and at Southern Fried Science, and also on Twitter, which I’ve actually been able to keep up with since October.  Happy New Year!

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Dogfish Fisheries: Too Successful for Their Own Good?

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Things had been going pretty well for U.S. dogfish fisheries.  In June 2010, after half a decade of an essentially closed fishery, the U.S. Atlantic stock was considered rebuilt.  Shortly after, representatives of the fishery petitioned and successfully received sustainability certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).  Meanwhile, the west coast fishery received MSC certification for a very low-quota, hook and line fishery for Pacific spiny dogfish.  On both coasts, spiny dogfish had gone from a species in peril to an apparently “green” seafood choice.

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Posted in conservation, fisheries management, MSC, seafood, spiny dogfish, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments