We were speaking to an American couple on the dock who had come up to have a look at Skylark. “Have you heard about the Shark research place on S Bimini”? A surprised no was the answer. It certainly hadn’t appeared in any of the literature we had seen and it wasn’t publicised on any of the Island hand outs we had picked up. The Americans had heard about it by accident from a local they had been fishing with, had visited the day before and had thoroughly enjoyed it.
“You got to go at low tide” they said. Easily done.
Although we had decided to push off from Bimini, we had plenty of time to fill on our last day and a quick trip to S island, which so far hadn’t recommended itself to us other than being where the airfield was, didn’t seem a bad idea.
We got the water taxi across at $2 a head and then the “bus” up to the shark centre. It was no more than a couple of miles up the rough track before we were delivered to a low building beside some mangrove swamp. We stuck our head through the door to find a few bright young things at lunch and were quickly told that the centre was on its once every ten day Rest Day so was closed. They were all heading out to a site to dive with sharks. Typical.
After a quick debate, Chris, their Media (and fund raising) Manager, a Stanford graduate with a Masters from somewhere on the W Coast, came out to say that he would very kindly take us round and show us the shark pens. So after a quick bite to eat on their patio, Chris took us off to the sea to wade out to the shark pen where the Centre keep their baby sharks.
The Lab has been in existence for more than 30 years and looks primarily at Lemon and Nurse sharks, both using Bimini as a breeding ground. The ones that he showed us were in the 2-3 foot range and were being studied before being chipped and let back out to their natural habitat.
The Lab has a ring of sub surface sensors around Bimini which can track the movement of any shark that comes back into range. As well as that, the Lab staff are regularly out measuring sharks by hand (really!) in areas where they don’t have sensors so widening the amount of data collection. They are trying to raise funds for another 20 sensors (at $2k a time) to greatly increase their electronic data capture. It is contributing some excellent research and a paper recently published showed that sharks did return after many years to breed and spawn at the site of their birth, much as Salmon do. Whilst the research is linked to Nurse sharks, the Lab believes that there could be read across to many other breeds of sharks.
Most of the staff are post grads working up Masters or PhDs and are there for a couple of years but there is a volunteer cadre for younger people (gap year types) wanting to get involved. They pay $800 a month and get trained up on boat usage, maintenance and diving as well as getting to live and learn shark stuff with the appointed staff. All up, the Lab can house about 26 staff. It’s a small place so I’d say living conditions would be described as friendly!
Chris was excellent and charming. Although I dare say some of the deeper biological insights went over the girls head, he held them fascinated for over an hour whilst we stood thigh deep looking at the different sharks he brought over. We finished off back at the lab looking at some of the tracking technology. Overall, fascinating, very well presented, extremely educational (tick off school for the day!) and we were massively grateful for Chris to take time out off his day off to show us around.
NOTE FOR TEACHERS – Chris runs webcam classes for schools wanting to do projects on sharks. His contact details are below. He said feel free to get in touch. A small contribution to their fund raising efforts would be gratefully received!
Chris Lang, Media Manager. Chris@biminisharklab.com
Facebook: Bimini Biological Field Station
We were offered a lift in a typical Bahamas vehicle – a bit battered! – back down towards the water taxi but took the chance to jump out and walk along the beach instead. We came off the beach at the new marina/ come holiday cottage place on the SW side of the island. Will admit, all very shiny but I was a little surprised to see just one guest in the whole complex and just three yachts. The yachts, two from the US and one from Colchester in the UK had all been stuck there since the middle of November when the weather turned bad. Again they were looking for a weather window to get further E but seemed pretty happy if bored sitting it out at a fully equipped holiday village. At $2.50 a foot per day (more than double what I had paid at Browns), I’m not sure I’d be that happy!
However, The Village did give us the opportunity to shut Hannah up. Having whinged since she arrived in the US that she wanted to swim in a swimming pool (NOT just the sea) she took the chance, stripped off to her pants and jumped in one of the pools she spotted. No-one seemed to mind, she had a lovely time and we all left with a smile!
We made our way back to Skylark and pushed off to get on to the anchor to the sheltered S of S Bimini. There seemed to be a good chance that we would finally have some weather that would allow us to push NE and we didn’t want to miss it.
A couple of hours trip from Browns and we were safely on hook looking at a fantastic sunset. Next post – Bimini to the Berry Isles and beyond!