Discovering marine sciences through research with the SFSSP

Posted on February 9, 2009
Written by: Shark Savers

February 3, 2009
Ashley Krajca

The SFSSP is now the University of Miami RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program

logoSFSSP125After obtaining a psychology degree in Texas, Ashley Krajca, 25 years old, recently moved to Miami pursue a Batchelors degree in Marine Science at UM. Ashley began an internship with the South Florida Student Shark Program at RSMAS in July and has since participated on over 30 research field trips.

Growing up in Texas, I spent a large part of my life around horses, cows and quite a variety of stereotypical farm and ranch animals. I always had a fascination with sharks and other marine life, but I never felt ready to leave home and pursue my dream of becoming a marine biologist. When my husband graduated medical school, I thought it was a perfect time in our lives to move to Miami and begin the journey in one of (if not the best) marine schools in the country. Everything seemed to fall in to place after I was not only accepted to the university, but accepted into the South Florida Student Shark Program as an intern.

I have worked as an intern before while I was working on my psychology degree in Texas and I was pretty sure I would be doing a lot of data entry and paper work. After my first drumline trip on July, 24th 2008, I realized I was not entirely correct. We boarded the boat at the Crandon Marina and were given a rundown on what we would be doing. All I kept thinking was, “there is no way I could possibly be lucky enough to see an actual shark!” I was so wrong. I had been told that it is very common that if we catch a shark at all, it is most likely going to be a nurse shark.
  • Click to open image! South Florida Student Shark Program expedition

Click to open

After cutting up the bait and dropping the drumlines in various locations in Biscayne Bay, we circled back around to see if we had a shark on the first one. As we pulled up the anchor I noticed the line was pretty tight. After a few seconds of reeling in the line, there it was. An eight foot great hammerhead was on the hook! My first instinct was to scream with excitement and immediately start taking pictures. I knew it was a big deal as I noticed Neil and the other veteran interns doing the same thing! I felt as though I was dreaming the whole thing. The shark was brought onto the boat where we tagged it, measured it and released it back into the water. I even got a chance to be a part of the action! I can remember the texture of the shark. It was rough and the head was enormous. After the shark was released, we picked up the rest of the drumlines and caught two more bull sharks that evening.

I drove home that night with the strong feeling that my life had been changed forever. I was finally here in Miami doing what I was always meant to do. I feel very blessed to be a part of this program and I have learned more in the past few months than I could ever even imagine to learn in a classroom. Being that close to such an elusive creature changes you in a way. I have more respect for the sharks and marine life in general. The South Florida Student Shark Program has been the greatest outlet for students just like me to get a real hands-on education about these animals. They are in danger and it is so important that this research continues in order to preserve these magnificent creatures. It is truly amazing how one great hammerhead has changed my life as well as my perspective on how important it is that research continues to save not only these animals, but the oceans at large.

South Florida Student Shark Program (SFSSP)
The South Florida Student Shark Program (SFSSP), is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary research and education program supporting the career development for graduate, undergraduate as well as high school students. Directed by University of Miami Associate Professor Dr. David Die and Neil Hammerschlag, the SFSSP is a partnership among the University of Miami Rosenstiel School, The Explorers Club, the NOAA LMRCSC & the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation. Focusing on the study and conservation of Floridian shark species, mangrove fish habitat and the Florida watershed, the program encourages students to take an active role in modern scientific education & research. The SFSSP’s full-immersion approach allows students to actively grow as future scientists, while supporting the important ongoing research crucial to shark conservation.
SFSSP Goals:

  • Provide practical, hands-on marine science education and self initiated research project opportunities for high school, undergraduate and graduate college students in the marine science field.
  • Help students gain and develop useful skills in marine science and play an active role in creating, conducting and disseminating the program through service learning interactions.
  • Conduct numerous studies that will aid in the monitoring and conservation of South Florida’s Shark populations

Research is conducted in Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay; specific research objectives include determining (1) the relative abundances, growth rates, and sex ratios of coastal shark species; (2) the presence and concentration of mercury and other toxins in coastal sharks; (3) evaluating the ecosystem roles of sharks by examining how they influence the foraging behaviors of their prey; (4) delineating areas important for shark congregation, foraging, migration, and parturition.

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