POLKcast: Shark tagging with Joey Maier

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

POLKcast Episode 4


MF: Madison Fantozzi

LB: Leah Bartholomay

JM: Joey Maier


JM:      One, two, three, four, five. ’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe—

JM & LB: All mimsy were the borogoves—

MF:      [Laughs]

JM & LB:           And the mome raths outgrabe. “Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Shun the Jubjub bird and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!” He took his vorpal sword in hand; Long time the manxome foe he sought— So, rested he by the Tumtum tree and stood awhile in thought. And, as in uffish thought he stood, The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, came whiffling through the tulgey wood, and burbled as it came! One, two! One, two! And through and through the vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back. “And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” He chortled in his joy. ’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.

[Theme Music]

MF:      Well, welcome back to POLKcast! I’m your host Madison Fantozzi—

LB:       And I’m your Co-host Leah Bartholomay!

MF:      And we have Polk State biology professor Joey Maier here today.

JM:      Hi!

MF:      He is a man of many hobbies, and he joined us today to talk about shark tagging, and how students can get their feet wet and Guadalupe this spring break on a study abroad trip focus on environmental and ocean sciences. Professor Meyer got his bachelor’s degree in biology from Andrews University and study dolphin wrist bones at Oklahoma State when he earned a master’s degree and physiological Sciences. Joey brought his passion for biology and everything underwater to Polk State in 2004, and since then he’s earned a reputation for being a professor who takes Hands-on Innovative approach to teaching. So, welcome to the show thanks for joining us today.

JM:      I’m happy to be here!

MF:      So, before we get into start tagging, tell us where your fascination with science in the ocean come from?

JM:      That is actually a much harder question then you think is far as I know I’ve always been interested in the outdoors and animals. It probably started with my parents reading to me nature stories like—all the Sam Campbell books—as a little kid I had a subscription to Ranger Rick Magazine from National Wildlife Federation so that’s a long-standing thing and I don’t even know when—when the oceans thing started. I know that—when I was in high school I had 20 aquariums and I raised fish and sold them to Pet stores. So, it’s a long thing. I know we didn’t used to live in Florida, we lived out of state, but my grandparents lived here.

MF:      Mm-hmm.

JM:      And we use to come all the time, and I remember when Epcot opened, and I came, and I was 11 when I saw the living Seas for the first time in ‘82 and that was certainly impactful on me. You know all the talk about undersea bases and people piloting Submarines and I like, that’s the future I want! [Laughs]

MF:      Right!

JM:      So, I ended up going back there and working as a Marine Mammal research intern studying—assisting people who were studying dolphin language.

MF:      Really?

JM:      Yeah!

MF:      And so, what about studying the dolphin wrist bones? Why that specifically?

JM:      Because at the time I was like—I really want to study dolphins!

MF:      Yeah!

JM:      And so, I was like I’m not a physiology guy, I’m more of a behavior—but yeah whatever! If you get a full scholarship you take it!

MF:      Yeah!

JM:      You don’t argue.

LB:       You take it!

JM:      Yeah!

MF:      That’s a good message for the students, Yeah.

JM:      Yeah.

MF:      So, tell us how you got into shark tagging?

JM:      Oh, that only happen recently.

MF:      Really?

JM:      I was bumming around on Twitter—and I follow a lot of scientists on Twitter—

MF:      Mm-hmm.

JM:      And a lot of shark scientists—and it became very clear that—they have public Outreach programs with—the public can come and participate. So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m doing something that any member of the public can do.

MF:      Mm-hmm.

JM:      I’m not a researcher. I’m not leading a research program. I’m just riding along in the boats watching and doing things with them.

LB:       That’s fun.

JM:      Yeah, it’s very fun.

MF:      Tell us about the process of tagging a shark?

JM:      Well—it depends on what group you’re with, and what they’re studying. You’re certainly going to be riding along and watching. You will probably take measurements off of the shark. You do that—you’ll probably take a skin sample that they use for looking at the Sharks DNA, or stable isotope analysis, that you can also use blood components to do stable isotope analysis. Which is fascinating, basically the short hand is—you can by looking at tissue or blood plasma or whole blood—there different time periods involve, but you can tell where it’s been living and what been eating in that amount of time. It’s much easier than the old method. I know a researcher name Chuck Bangley who catch—he—he caught a bunch of dogfish when he was working on his PhD and had to flush their stomachs—to see what they have been eating.

LB:       Can I interject with Joey’s outfit right now—

MF:      [Laughs]

LB:       is just on point! He’s got a shark encounter shirt which is camouflage, blue-camouflage. He’s got a St. Maarten hat and he’s got a water bottle that is part of a SCUBA tank—

JM:      Yeah.

LB:       It looks like it’s a SCUBA tank. it is—

MF:      He is decked out!

LB:       Decked out!

JM:      I was at Mote Marine Lab Shark Encounter, where we were feeding—well we were supposed to be just feeding—Blacknose sharks, but we felt sorry for the Nurse sharks and they got some too.

LB:       [Laughs] Aww that’s nice!

JM:      [Laughs] So—yeah! It was a blast! When you’re doing the—the actual process of tagging.

MF:      Mm-hmm.

JM:      You can ride along obviously—you can do measurements. They will have someone who punches a hole in the fin usually—depending on the type of tagging that’s being done.

MF:      Mm-hmm.

JM:      Yeah, a lot of times it—it involves putting a tag on the fin, and so you have somebody who punches holes. You’ll have somebody that puts the tag in place—again what tag you use depends on the type of research you’re using. If you are doing something—we often on TV like on Shark Week. You see people putting these satellite tags on. Those things are really expensive. Those are only used in cases where you have a lot of money in the research program, where you expect to get a lot of interesting data, and it has to be something that comes to the surface often enough to have the antenna on top break the water.

MF:      Mm-hmm.

JM:      Other things that could be done that are not as—obvious. You could put for mark-recapture you can put a Roto-tag, it’s basically a glorified version of the cattle ear tag. You attach Roto-tags and that’s—I’ve done that—I’ve done that myself personally. I’ve been on the boat when they put PIT-tags in. That’s basically the same microchip as you have in a pet. When I was with the Bimini Shark Lab, every shark that they caught—the first thing they did is—at the base of dorsal fin they put a reader, just an ordinary—they kept it in a plastic bag to keep it waterproof, but they put a Pet-chip reader up there to see if this was the shark they had chip before or not. Some people use—what are called Casey-tags or M-tags, it’s a little metal probe that goes under the skin and anchors it, and then a long plastic streamer coming out from the skin. Sharks are really resistance to infection. That really doesn’t cause them a problem.

MF:      Okay.

JM:      And the most interesting one and I got to hold the tail when we did that. Actually, I did the measurements, and I did the skin sample, and I held the tail. But there was a—when I was in Bimini we took a female Lemon shark, she was a hundred and ninety-five centimeters long. She was—just about to be old enough to have the youngins. And—we held her upside down—you know that makes him go into tonics, so there are a little more stable. A lot of people say it’s like they’re hypnotized, that’s not true. Their—but their chill. They’re a lot more calm, they don’t move as much and—I held her tail, while they cut a little incision in her belly and inserted an acoustic-tag in her belly. They have a whole bunch of hydrophones, underwater microphones around the island.

MF:      Mm-hmm.

JM:      They can tell where they swim when they come back into the area. It’s just like Peter Pan where—you had the crocodile swallow the clock and tick-tock, tick-tock. You knew when he was around. Knew when he was in the area. They can do that.

MF:      Okay.

JM:      And the batteries to drive this Acoustic Pinger last about 10 years.

LB:       Wow!

JM:      So, different tags for different research programs—but everybody takes the same standard measurements, but what you do beyond that totally depends on the organization.

MF:      Well can you expand a little bit on what researchers are trying to find?

JM:      Everybody’s overall goal, would be usually life history, trying to find something about like history. You could do that with a simple Roto-tag. And we tagged it here, does it come back? Does a Fisherman catch it in the area? Same with a Casey-Tag. With an Acoustic-tag, you know if it swims in the area and it goes away and comes back, because it’ll register on the hydrophones or not. Doing that they figured out that Lemon sharks come back to give birth in the same place that they—were they grow—they grow up in a Mangrove, and it was just like a flooded forest and they come back to the same place to give birth, because then there baby can grow up in the same spot, but unlike salmon when they do that and they die. Lemon sharks can do that every couple of years. So—

LB:       Oh—

JM:      And we know that they don’t hang out there cause they’re not registering on the—the microphone, the hydrophones.

MF:      Okay.

JM:      We know that they are coming back every two years or so—and because of other research you know that they’re pregnant when they’re doing it.

MF:      Mm-hmm.

JM:      The University of Miami, one of the things they do is blood work. And look at that and they were doing pretty good work on figuring out pregnancy, and now that—that was a few years back when I was doing that. Now if it gets to the point when you see them on Shark week, they actually have an ultrasound wand and their ultra-sounding the baby sharks that’s—that’s the University of Miami, but they’re wanting to know about pregnancy. They also looking at blood hormones figured out—that some species of sharks are more highly stressed just by looking at the levels of stress hormones. Some of them get a lot more stress by handling than others, and because of that it changes how they recommend the people should fish.

MF:      Okay.

JM:      If you pull up a nurse shark on the boat everybody like “Oh, great let’s all do our work and then let’s all pose for photos. Yay!” If you pull up a Hammerhead like “Everybody back, only the Grad-students! We got to get this boat on—this shark on and off the boat as fast as possible!” Cause these things stress and die super easy. They say that if a fisherman fights a Hammerhead on the line for 20 minutes they probably killed it even if they catch and release it.

MF:      Wow!

JM:      It will go away kind of looking groggy and it’ll never recover.

LB:       Yeah, I can’t remember the last time I caught a Hammerhead in my line.

JM:      [Laughs] Okay.

MF:      [Laughs]

JM:      Well I’ve only—I’ve only seen two and they were both with University of Miami. And they were both long enough, they did not fit on the plastic platform that they pull them out on so—

LB:       Wow!

JM:      Yeah!

LB:       Pretty big!

JM:      Yeah!

MF:      Well, tell us what other sharks you have seen out in the wild?

JM:      I have swam or waded in the wild with a nurse sharks, lemon sharks, Caribbean reef sharks. If you count ones in captivity and Aquariums: whale sharks, sand tigers, black-tips, black-nose, Sandbar—zebra sharks and two types of Wobegon which are carpet sharks. The ornate and the tassels and if you count ones on the boat that I wasn’t in the water with: bulls and those two big great hammerheads.

MF:      And, so what’s your favorite?

JM:      I tend to like weird things. I’ve never seen and would love to see a wing head. They’re like a small Hammerhead with enormously long hammers that point backwards, or a Swell sharks—so you go look for swell sharks you want to look at them at night with a blacklight, because they biofluoresce.

LB:       Cool!

JM:      Yes, they glow green.

LB:       That’s neat!

JM:      Yeah.

LB:       Like Phosphorescent style?

JM:      Yeah—yeah, well you have the right idea, but phosphorescent is when you put a light on something and you take it away, you’ve excited the electrons energy level and their—

LB:       Okay.

JM:      Reflected and their giving off light, and that will go away. Same idea with biofluorescence except it is instantaneous and won’t maintain the glow when you take the light away.

LB:       Oh.

JM:      it’s more like—when you’re hunting for scorpions at night—

LB:       Mm-hmm.

JM:      Like we do in Oklahoma. You don’t go out with a flashlight—well you can—to make sure you don’t trip over things, cause you’re getting there, carry a flashlight, but carry a blacklight.

LB:       Mm-hmm.

JM:      Because it’ll make the brown boring scorpions look—

LB:       Green!

JM:      Yeah—well actually it will make them purple. The black scorpion, you’re thinking of the big black Emperor they glow green.

LB:       Yeah.

JM:      But yeah—

MF:      That’s great.

JM:      The sharks—swell sharks they glow under blacklight.

LB:       Isn’t that swell!

JM:      Very punny!

[Everyone laughs]

JM:      Very, very punny.

LB:       When is shark week?

JM:      Oh, that’s a dreadful question. I don’t know.

MF:      [Laughs]

LB:       Oh, I thought you be like, this date, this date.

JM:      No—most people who are really interested in sharks have a—jaded—slightly jaded view of shark week.

LB:       Right.

JM:      In the past—in the past two years, they been doing a little better—at trying to go back to their roots and have scientific factual shark information, but there was a very dark period, not too long ago—

LB:       Mm-hmm.

JM:      When they ran ridiculous things like do Megalodon’s exist. I’ll go on record and say no! [Laughs]

LB:       Yeah!

JM:      They’re all dead!

LB:       Yeah.

JM:      Or the—the giant hammerhead seen offshore named Hitler for the past 30 years. Guess what—if there was a shark that big, they don’t live that long!

LB:       Right. [Laughs]

JM:      Hammerheads have a shorter life.

LB:       Yeah. They were obsessed with Megalodons for a while.

JM:      They were!

LB:       It was like one season—two seasons were like pure megalodon.

JM:      Right, and that was an unfortunate period, and they haven’t gotten back in everyone’s good graces since then.

LB:       Yeah. Megalodon was the death of them.

JM:      [Laughs] As it should be since it’s dead!

LB:       [Laughs]

MF:      Well I haven’t watched Shark week in a while, but my—what I remember about Shark week was, it kind of made sharks seem scary and it’s bloody—and you know—that’s how I think of Shark week. So, tell us have you ever been bitten by a Shark?

JM:      Never had any serious injury from a shark. People who are around sharks a lot more than me, like researchers, a lot of times they get what’s called shark-burn, It’s like rug-burn. If your trying to hold a shark, restrain a shark, because of the dermal denticles in the skin, you’ll get rubbed and abraded.

MF:      Okay.

JM:      It’s just like having sandpaper rubbed on you, not comfortable. That’s why you see a lot of people wearing long-sleeved shirts, when they go out even in the middle of summer—It’s yeah.

LB:       Awe man, my shark-burn is killing me!

JM:      Oh, I know someone who got really bad shark burn. [Laughs]

MF:      Wow!

JM:      But yeah, I’ve been nipped by a little tiny dogfish, but I totally deserved it. You can’t—you can’t expect any animal to not try to defend itself when it’s being picked up and taken out of the water.

MF:      Mm-hmm.

JM:      And you probably shouldn’t respond to questions like “where’s his mouth?” by pointing at the mouth with your finger and putting it within reach of the animal!

[Everyone laughs]

JM:      So, I—I deserved it—you know—but nothing—nothing bad or horrible.

MF:      Okay.

LB:       Well, you’re probably one of few people that you can say I’ve been bit by a shark. Even if it’s a tiny little nip.

JM:      Yeah!

LB:       That’s pretty exciting! I’d use that to my advantage!

JM:      I have use it to impress small children—

LB:       [Laughs]

JM:      In the line at Universal’s JAWS ride, before the JAWS ride disappeared.

MF:      Awe—

LB:       That’s exciting!

JM:      [Laughs]

MF:      I miss that ride!

JM:      Yes!

MF:      I grew up going on JAWS!

JM:      Yeah!

MF:      Very sad—So tell us a little about this spring break trip that you are planning and what students will experience there? Will they have any interactions with sharks?

JM:      Probably not.

MF:      Okay.

JM:      Probably not, but it’s going to be an amazing trip! At least I should say if it’s going to be anything like the one last year it will be an amazing trip! We are—the science department here is taking a group of students to Guadalupe. Last year we had a number of classes involved, so I don’t know how many classes will be doing this with, but what we did is we took the classes and we made them hybrid-classes.

MF:      Mm-hmm.

JM:      So most of the coursework was online, but for your lab component, you would then travel to the French Caribbean, and we did over Thanksgiving break. This year we decided it would be good to not do during hurricane season.

MF:      That’s good!

JM:      Yeah, yeah—so we’re going to do Spring break. You can do Spring break in the French Caribbean as part of your class, and if it’s similar to last time, there will be hiking up a volcano and up the slopes of the rain forests, snorkeling in the Jacques Cousteau Memorial reef. I think it’s pronounced Mal-O-lor, but anyway. Snorkeling Jacques Cousteau Memorial reef, and—we made little lassos out of palm fronds and use them to lasso lizards. That was actually not just “Oh gee I caught a lizard!” it was actually useful for research. The University in Antilles, the professor taught us how to do it. He was doing a study on pre-and post-hurricane lizard populations. He had already been studying the lizards there. But we help him catch the lizards for his research. It was fabulous!

LB:       Excellent!

JM:      we did a little bit of limnology freshwater stuff. We took our ROVs that we had brought with us: remotely operated vehicles, underwater robots. Totally fabulous!

LB:       Cool!

JM:      And—and we drove around the lake there look at stuff. And this year going back hopefully with a bigger stronger better robot. So, it will be even—even more exciting! And let’s see, what else we do. There was shopping, it is overseas, we did have shopping. And actually, I’m going to use that, because I’m teaching a Marine biology class. So, if you wanted to take marine biology, and spend spring break in the French Caribbean, there is an option.

LB:       Nice!

JM:      Okay, but one of things I may do is—talk about ocean plastics and in order to do that— something that’s interesting is in Florida we actually have a ban on local municipalities making bans on plastic bags.

MF:      Hmm.

JM:      Okay, well in France, Guadeloupe is part of France. They recently banned the use of single use plastic bags. Businesses can’t do that anymore. So, I’m thinking may have my students talk to their vendors and see what—when their out shopping anyway. Interview some people and see what type of change this has made. Has this been a huge impact here for you, because the argument we have here in Florida is “Oh, well we can’t do that, because it would greatly impact all the vendors.” Let’s talk to some people where it happed and find out.

MF:      I like that!

JM:      Yeah!

LB:       Absolutely.

MF:      Neat, well how do students sign up for this opportunity?

JM:      You would contact Kim Simpson. She’s the coordinator of our Global Initiatives Program. Her extension is 6439 her email is (ksimpson@polk.edu) K-Simpson, that’s K-S-I-M-P-S-O-N @polk.edu.

MF:      Awesome, and is there anything else—anything that you think we missed? That you wanted to include in this episode?

JM:      Well, I do want to point out that I’ve only gone out with three tagging programs. That’s Nova Southeastern, University of Miami, and the Bimini Shark Lab. I try to do Nova as often as possible because of those three, that’s the closest, but there are lots of organizations that have shark related outreach programs in the public can do this. Anywhere in the state, I’m sure if you’re near a coast, the closest school to you is probably going to have something, or the closest organization probably have something that you can do. I would not just think “Oh it’s those three schools or oh it’s south Florida” talk to whatever’s going—find out what’s going on around you, and there will probably be a shark program that you can get involved with.

MF:      Awesome! That’s good for listeners to know! Leah and I might have to—have to get started on some shark tagging!

JM:      Oh, well that’ll be a blast!

MF:      Yeah!

LB:       Absolutely!

MF:      Well, thank you so much for coming on today! And it was great having you!

JM:      Okay, thank you! I had a lot of fun!

LB:       Yeah, it was awesome! Thank you for all the information too! That—you are the shark guy! Any questions about sharks, I’m sure Joey could answer them!

JM:      I wouldn’t go that far, but I’ll answer any that I can.

LB:       There you go!

JM:      I do want to point out that Anthony Cornett studied sharks!

LB:       Nice!

MF:      He got his Master’s degree studying sharks. Well I’m not the only Marine biologist in town.

LB:       Wow! We got a Polk State—

MF:      Shark capital of—

LB:       Shark capital of Polk County!

JM:      [Chuckles] There you go—there you go. Central Florida!

LB:       Yeah!

[MF & LB Laugh]

MF:      Awesome!

LB:       Thank you so much!

MF:      That was fun!

[Theme Music]