Hooked on catching sharks

10:12 AM, Jun 15, 2010   |    comments
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Florida Everglades -- While most people fish for food or maybe sport, Patrick O'Donnell fishes for knowledge of one of the most feared animals on the planet.

O'Donnell and a handful of other researchers catch, tag and then release sharks near the Florida Everglades.

"We're getting great information on sharks that are fairly misunderstood," O'Donnell recently told 10 Connects.

For the past decade O'Donnell has been tagging sharks in hopes of better learning how manmade canals near the Everglades and resulting changes in water salinity are affecting sharks.

"Nature always wants to find a balance and when we disturb the inputs to that balance it can shift populations (like sharks and other marine life)."

Since he started his research, O'Donnell estimates he's caught and tagged about 950 different sharks. Most species that he catches are bull, bonnethead, blacktip and lemon sharks.

"Best night we had out here was 20 bull sharks (tagged)."

For the past two years, researchers from The Florida Aquarium and the Georgia Aquarium have also been working with O'Donnell.

Although the aquariums are conducting research for a different project, the groups have found working together to be extremely helpful.

Paul Anderson, the Conservation and Research Coordinator for The Florida Aquarium says they are attempting to learn what impact tagging actually has on the sharks. In order to do that, Anderson says they take two different blood samples.

"In their blood, what we're doing is looking at their pH values, their carbon dioxide and their lactic acid," Anderson said.

He says catching and tagging the sharks can be scary at first, but Anderson eventually you get over the fear.

"It's more excitement than nerves. We've been through enough of them now that I'm not quite so scared of them anymore."

Mike Hyatt a veterinarian with the Georgia Aquarium says they have tagged about 200 sharks since they began working with O'Donnell.

The men will use a gill net and two long lines to try and capture the sharks. They say the key is getting to the sharks as soon as possible and if captured, to return them to the water quickly. 

O'Donnell says the recapture rate is about 7% with most of the funding for his research coming from the Shark Foundation in Switzerland. 

"There's a bit of a risk that I do take out here, but I think it's a healthy risk," O'Donnell said of dealing with sharks.

He also believes the information gained from his work makes his job worth it too.

"Yeah, fishing for knowledge," he said.

Preston Rudie, 10 Connects

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