BBFS PIT Journal 2003

PIT Program 2003 Journal, Week 2

Friday - 06.06.2003

Today is Katie's 20th birthday! Happy Birthday, Katie! She tried to hide it from us, but some of her friends left comments on this site, so we gathered in the kitchen to congratulate her.

In the morning, Doc, Grant and I drove out to the North Sound to feed Alan's sharks and to mark pen locations for the next round of tagging. In the afternoon, I decided to go out for the entire evening with the away team for the last night at Sharkland. Most of the evening was relatively uneventful because the majority of sharks there have already been caught. Just before dinner, Doc got on the radio with an all-Bimini bulletin: "Attention, Bimini: Marta is looking for a husband. All eligible bachelors should call on this frequency, or show up at the Sharklab." At around 10:30pm, Grant, Lesley, and Katie arrived with dinner and yet another surprise for Marta: a full-size, anatomically-correct husband, or "uhs-bande," as she says it. Marie and the home team had made him out of cardboard, clothing, two onions, and a blown-up condom! Much merriment followed as we discovered Marta's husband's anatomy, and then the dinner crew went home.

I transferred from the tagging boat onto Tiger Shark (Laura, Melissa, and Captain Steve) after dinner, where I was treated to a real-life glimpse of something we call "CDT," which will have to remain undescribed for fear of permanently traumatizing those of you perusing this site. We drove up and down the net every 15 minutes, looking for any sharks that might have been caught. When the boat is away or the tide is too low, checks are done by mask and snorkel, which at times can be quite scary. Jo claims that she saw a man walking in the mangroves at night during one of her snorkel checks. None of us really believe her (heh), but it's still scary to imagine. It's also bull shark territory here, and while the probably is virtually nil that one will randomly emerge from the darkness and tear you to pieces, the thought is likely to cross one's mind when he or she is in the water at night with nothing but a tiny dive light. Half-eaten fish are sometimes found in the nets, but the culprits are usually roaming nurse sharks, which are mostly harmless.

At 4am, Kristene's voice crackled over the radio, "Something is terribly wrong," as previously-tagged sharks started popping up in the nets. Two people were immediately sent around the tagging pen to look for holes, and net teams worked at full steam to get the re-caught sharks back into the pens. At this point, Steve dropped me off at White Shark (Alan's boat), which was manning the net catching most of the escapees. White Shark caught two more sharks while I was on board, and we spent the rest of the time before 6:30am (when the nets were scheduled to be pulled in) taking funny photographs. Of particular note are a photos of Alan, posing with his extra-cool PIT tag reader.

We arrived at the dock at 7:45am, drove back to the lab, cleaned up, ate breakfast, and retired for the day (except for Kristene, Alan, and a few others, who stayed up to fix gill nets in anticipation of the coming rest days. if the nets are finished today, we will have absolutely nothing to do tomorrow or the next day except move pens). Grant took a couple of people out to Sharkland to dismantle the smaller pens and move the dismantled materials to the North Sound for tomorrow's pen building session.

[see photos from today]

Saturday - 06.07.2003

Being a "rest day," all we did today was release the Sharkland sharks, dismantle the large pen, and build four pens in the North Sound. It was quite a sight to see large groups of juvenile lemon sharks leave the tagging pen!

Dismantling the pens involves cutting the plethora of zip ties that hold the structure together, removing the rebar supports, moving the cinder blocks that weigh the bottom of the fence down, rolling up the actual fence, and moving everything to the new location. It took a total of about three hours to release the sharks, dismantle the large pen, move it, and rebuilt it.

In the afternoon and evening, we fixed gill nets and relaxed. Tomorrow is completely free!

[see photos from today]

Sunday - 06.08.2003

A real rest day! Everyone was free to wander out and about, or, "oot and uh-boot," as our Canadian volunteers here say.

I went out on a boat fishing with Grant, Steve, Jo, and Jackie, who was very happy to have a chance to get out because she has been so house-bound lately. Jackie keeps lab operations running smoothly, and because the lab is so full of people during PIT, she is so busy that she rarely has a moment to relax. We love you, Jackie! It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and Steve and Grant were on fire, catching a bunch of large fish almost immediately. We spent the rest of the day on the beach (and tree house) near the rusted ruins of the Gallant Lady, an old boat that sits on shore relatively close to the lab.

In the evening, all 22 of us headed over to the Yacht Club for dinner and drinks. It was a bit strange (but nice!) to see everyone mildly dolled-up for the evening out. The food was tasty, except that the "steamfish" [sic] we ordered was actually battered and fried -- and not steamed. We couldn't figure out why it was called "steamfish," but it was still good. :) After dinner, we had a few drinks and played bar games for awhile before heading home.

And finally, I apologize for the sporatic posting schedule. Our phone line has been intermittently dead, and when it does work, we sometimes cannot connect.

[see photos from today]

Monday - 06.09.2003

Reconfigured tagging teams will go out tonight for the first night of tagging at the North Sound. We are all well rested (more or less) from a day and a half of break. It rained for most of the day and a large cell full of lightning was not far from the team when they first arrived on site. If there is threat of lightning, the away teams pull their nets in and move away from the threat area until it subsides, but it looks like the weather is cooperating now. From the radio traffic it seems like they are catching lots of sharks.

I tagged along with Grant, Alan, Steve, and Marta to set long-lines this morning. We will long-line for a few days in the middle of fishing the North Sound because the full moon falls in the middle of the six days of tagging; extreme tides and visible nets prevent us from gill netting during the days before and after a full moon. Long-lines are set by attaching floats and baited gangions (with circle hooks) to a long metal line. The lines are periodically checked for sharks, and if a shark is found, it is worked up (data collected) and then released.

During a torrential downpour this afternoon, a few of the boys decided to take a "shower," which in PIT terms means that they disrobe and jump off the dock. There were, of course, a group of girls watching who decided to steal their shorts. And I was there to photograph it all. :)

By popular demand, I have put up a preliminary page where rudimentary data will be posted as the team gives me information.

[see photos from today]

Tuesday - 06.10.2003

I woke up this morning to radio traffic at around 3am, but I was too groggy to get up to see what was going on. In the morning, we discovered that Drew had been bitten by a newborn shark while he was removing it from the gill net. The shark that bit Drew was described as being extremely feisty, and luckily, the wound was not a great one. Alan told me that it is easy to become blasé about handling juvenile sharks after being around them for so long, but a bite like this is a good reminder that we should all treat them with a healthy respect. Apparently, last night's sharks were all incredibly unpredictable, feigning death for periods of time before thrashing about without warning. 42 sharks were caught last night (24 newborns), far exceeding the 31 sharks that were caught the first night of netting the North Sound last year. The water was flat calm (meaning that there was no wind), and the insects were horrible. Eight hours of mosquitos were followed by a swarm of sand flies so thick that it was sometimes difficult to see out of the mesh face of the bug hoods. Those people without bug hoods (like Marta) came back in foul spirits, feeling like their faces were swollen from so many bites.

I fixed gill nets until noon with the home team, and then went to sleep to prepare for a night out in the field (I will replace Drew on Alan's boat). When we woke up, Jackie informed us that all of the laundry that had been sent to the dryer was, in fact, still locked up because they had inexplicably closed early. That meant that there were no dry towels available to take out into the field, and that any clothing that had been sent out to dry would be unavailable for the night.

Messages: [a message from Ruth to Rachel]

[see photos from today]

Wednesday - 06.11.2003

The conditions last night were miserable. "If I had a gun, I might have killed myself," Bryan said this morning, after we had returned.

There was no wind again last night, and much of the evening was spent sitting completely covered (wearing vinyl gloves, even), trying not to let the winged symphony of mosquitos drive us crazy. Even though they couldn't really get to us behind our bug jackets, the sounds alone were horrible. There was a three-hour lull at around 1am. The lagoon was glassy calm (and remember, calm = an abundance of biting bugs), and everyone sat around, completely silent. Alan and I tried to start a conversation with Bryan and Steve over the radio (the tagging boat had fallen completely silent by now), but no one was interested in talking. A shark or two hit the nets to disrupt the monotony, but for the most part there was no activity. I did get to remove my first shark from the gill net, which was exciting (I was on White Shark as a full participant this evening, even though I did take a few pictures).

At around 4am, Lesley decided to drink a Diet Coke. The gas bubbling up from inside her led to a radio broadcast of its expulsion from her body, which led to a "tennis match" (PIT-speak) of audible gas emissions from the boys. With our wind came wind from Mother Nature, which was what we had all been waiting for. The roving thunderstorms nearly missed us, but brought with them cold gusts of wind that drove away some of the mosquitos, and held at bay the sand fly invasion that had made the previous morning so difficult. Singing performances over the radio kept us entertained for the rest of the morning, and we pulled in our gill nets at 7:44am and returned to the lab.

The away team is out again tonight in smaller numbers, so the home team is quite large. Most of the sharks at North Sound have already been caught, and each net boat now only needs two people. After tonight's netting, we will long-line for four days while we wait for the full moon to pass before returning for three more days of gill netting.

Messages: [for Laura's father #1] [for Laura's father #2] [for Laura's father #3]

10:54PM: There are thunderstorms in the vicinity. The thunder is so loud that it is shaking the entire lab! Hailing from California, I am really not used to storms like this. The net teams are currently debating whether they should haul in their nets for awhile (which they are supposed to do if a thunderclap is heard within five seconds of seeing lightning).

[see photos from today]

Thursday - 06.12.2003

Doc came back today after being in Miami for a couple of days to restock the lab. He brought back with him an Italian film crew, who will be here with us until the end of PIT. We spent most of the day doing a major clean-up of the lab to prepare for Doc's arrival.

At around 3pm, Grant, Kristene, Laura and I went out out to attach gangions and barracuda-baited circle hooks to all four of the long-lines.

Long-lines are anchored at both ends, and floats and baited gangions alternate along the length of the line. Each float is wrapped in reflective silver tape, and each gangion is wrapped in reflective red or green tape. Long-line checks involve driving along each line, looking for alternating silver and red/green floats. If a gangion is missing, it is likely that a shark has taken the bait and is resting on the bottom, pulling it below the surface. To get to the shark, one of the adjacent floats is pulled up with a boat hook and the boat is pulled along the line until the gangion is reached.

Ultra-realistic drawing by Grant Johnson

Once the shark is found, it is gently pulled to the boat, and the gangion is attached to the cleat on the stern. This is done because large sharks can fairly easily pull the boat in the water if they decide to run, and there can be risk of sinking if the boat is pulled in any direction other than forward. Once the gangion is cleated off, the shark's tail is secured by a tailer (a pole with an adjustable metal loop at the end), which is replaced by a hangman's noose cleated off near the back of the boat. At this point, the shark is considered to be secured to the boat, and the anchor is dropped to prevent drifting too far while the shark is being worked up. All sharks are measured and tagged with a Casey tag. In addition, lemon sharks are PIT-tagged and DNA-sampled.

I went out with the first line-checking team at 8pm (with Grant, Alan, Johanna, and Ruth), just hours after we had put fresh bait out. More than four hours later, we returned to the lab after fixing a broken line and working up five nurse sharks (all large males around 7' long) and one lemon shark (5 1/2' long). Nurse sharks are usually left for working up after all of the lines have been checked because they can stay hooked on the line for a long, long time without adverse effects. However, the lemon shark had to be worked up and released immediately. All of the sharks we worked up fought pretty hard, slapping us with their tails and twisting themselves up in the lines, but the tagging and data collection went smoothly. Because we had so many sharks, everyone on the boat rotated around between logging data, capturing tails, measuring, and tagging. Head handling and freeing the hook were left to Grant and Alan, who have both had a lot of shark handling experience.

I almost forgot! Being nurse shark mating season, all of the big males had huge claspers, which were engorged and slightly pinkish. Ruth spent much of the evening holding them because... well, how often do you get to hold engorged nurse shark claspers?? I measured one of them. It wasn't the biggest one we saw, but it was still 15cm in circumference and over 30cm long.

[see photos from today]

PIT Program 2003 Journal, Week 3+

Friday - 06.13.2003

Teams have been going out every five or six hours around the clock to check the long-lines, but so far nothing really interesting has been caught. Most of the sharks have been large, male nurses, with a few sub-adult lemons and a single, small tiger. If a large lemon or tiger is caught and it is not too stressed, the Sharklab is called via radio and everyone is driven out to see it.

Daily schedules have been somewhat erratic because we are long-lining and because a film crew is here. The lab still needs to be cleaned, but for the most part those people who are not currently out checking long-lines or sleeping go out in small groups to help the film crew. At about 3pm, Doc, Marta, Bryan and I took them out to feed the penned sharks in the North Sound. They have a pole-cam so they can get footage of the juvenile sharks without getting in and stirring up the sand. The film team kept exclaiming, "Lorenzini!" whenever the sharks would bump the camera (a little Italian pride, perhaps! The Ampullae of Lorenzini are the pits that sharks use to detect electric fields). The conditions weren't perfect, so we will try to return again tomorrow.

In the late afternoon, most of us joined the film crew for a shark dive, where I had fun taking snapshots of people underwater.

None of the teams after us thus far have pulled up anything interesting on the line-lines, but a crew went out to re-bait them this afternoon, so the late evening teams will probably find something interesting. :)

[see photos from today]

Saturday - 06.14.2003

I started my day early this morning with a 5am check of the long-lines with Kristene, Ruth, Katie, and Jackie (yes, Jackie did leave the house again!). The previous team had caught some nurse sharks and a small tiger shark, but we ended up catching only a single 230cm nurse shark. It was, again, a large male with engorged claspers. :) The sun rose beautifully behind a bank of big thunderclouds; it peaked out briefly through a small opening, lighting its innards like the center of a furnace.

A couple of hours after we returned from the field, we took four boats out to help the Italian film crew shoot a lemon shark swimming in the lagoon. In no time at all we found four good-sized lemon sharks, one of which we followed around by boat as the film crew shot footage with a pole-cam dipped into the water. I saw some of the footage they got, and it was stunning! Doc and the more experienced volunteers were amazed at how cooperative the shark was, and in no time the film crew had all they needed.

After chasing around lemon sharks, Doc, Marta and I went back to the North Sound to feed the penned sharks again with the film crew. Marta and I were required for consistency because we had been in the previous day's shots, and we even had to wear the same clothing that we had worn previously. Again, the team used their pole-cam (and a rather large housed video camera) to get some great footage.

The rest of the day and evening went by smoothly until Alan's voice came in over the radio: "Sharklab, sharklab, sharklab, we have a situation. A nurse shark has Grant's hand in its mouth and will not let go." The nurse shark was quite small -- only 120 cm long -- but it was still able to clamp down on Grant's hand quite hard. Nurse sharks have no real teeth, but their jaws are incredibly strong, and almost nothing can get them open (Grant said that at one point he almost passed out from the pain). Doc and Kristene immediately left on a boat to rendezvous with them out on the long-lines, and 45 minutes later, Grant's hand was free. Bimini's medical center was unable to provide an x-ray, but luckily, one of the film crew's videographers is a medical doctor. He has some major bruising (and pain) on two fingers, but so far it looks like there was no serious damage. By evening, Grant was joking and laughing again.

[see photos from today]

Sunday - 06.15.2003

Grant, Lesley, Joy, Tarra and I went out at 8:30am for a long-lining check. The film crew decided to follow us for footage, but unfortunately, we only found a single 230cm nurse shark on the lines. With them filming, it literally took an hour and a half to work the shark up instead of the normal 15 minutes, because we had to position the two boats properly and do each step of the process several times. The film crew also wanted underwater footage of the shark on the line, so they spent some time in the water.

As we were checking the lines one final time (after working up the nurse shark), we buzzed by a large, 8-9' shape in the water. "Tiger shark!" Grant yelled, giddy, as he turned the boat around. "Tiger sharks have such a distinctive shape that you can spot them from a mile away. This is so incredible. Do you know what the chances are that we would just come across a free-swimming tiger shark??" I'm not convinced that I could identify one from a long way off, but Grant has had a lot of experience identifying sharks from the boat; he has spotted and identified seven free-swimming tiger sharks so far in his two years here. The tiger swung its square-shaped head around and slowly swam towards the long-lines, which were probably only a few hundred meters away. Doc was on the other boat with the film crew at the time, and when we radioed to ask him what we should do, we were told not to disturb the shark because they wanted the shark on the line, and not free-swimming. (We lost the shark. It never took the bait.) The other option would have been to run the shark down until it was tired and put a tail rope on it. Normally, large tiger sharks turn into festive events for the lab, and all of the volunteers are driven out for the experience, but with a few broken boats and the film crew here, things have been different.

In the afternoon, Alan had plans to replace his six sharks with six more from the tagging pen. The film crew decided to go with him to get footage of his research. Each of the sharks had to be anesthetized, and gape size (open jaw) and angle measured. Instead of trying to measure angles out in the field, Alan held the sharks both perpendicular and parallel to me and had me take photographs of the open jaws. He will do the angle calculations later, using the pictures.

While we were out in the field, Jim Abernethy came by the Sharklab to visit Doc and me. Kristene hopped onto the zodiac with him, and they drove out to the North Sound to meet us by Alan's pen. His live-aboard boat, the Shearwater, was anchored more than seven miles away, in the open ocean. We all thought he was insane for taking a little rubber boat with a 15HP engine on it seven miles in the open ocean, especially because he almost ran out of gas. :) Surprisingly, it only took him 40 minutes to reach the Sharklab (and an additional 20 minutes to get to the North Sound!). Jim came bearing gifts: he brought Doc some chocolate, and issue #2 of Shark Diver Magazine (which many people here have said that they will subscribe to after seeing it), and he brought me the special shark issue of Dive Magazine, which features a DVD with me in it! Most of the great hammerhead shark, reef shark, and bull shark footage shown on the DVD was shot by John McIntyre and Jim Abernethy during the last Bahamas trip I went on; you can see me swimming around with those sharks in the footage. I'll have to get a copy for my mom.

In the evening, there was more cross-dressing mayhem. Brian, Steve, and Alan once again donned women's clothing in preparation for an upcoming long-lining check. The girls had a surprise for the guys, however, which they unveiled when they reached the lines. Unfortunately, those photos are not suitable for internet publication. :) Doc says that the men here have been wearing women's clothing since the lab opened more than ten years ago.

We will resume gill netting tomorrow night, but we do not anticipate catching many sharks because most of the sharks in the North Sound have already been caught and penned. Crews are small, with only two volunteers per netting boat, but both the Italian film team and the Bahamian Ministry of Tourism will be out for the first half of the evening to entertain them.

[see photos from today]

Monday - 06.16.2003

"Time to be a gangsta' and eat dinner." - Doc - 6/16/03

Most of the day was spent cleaning and getting equipment ready for the away team, who is going out again tonight for the last three nights of PIT tagging. Joy went online and found plans for bat houses, which she and a few others spent some time making out of extra wood. I spent a lot of time catching up on web work and trying futilely to get the local dial-up service to resolve wetpixel.com and my own personal webpage (so I can check e-mail and upload this page!). We haven't been able to get to this web site from Bimin for over two days now, but I have been told that it up and running without any problems from elsewhere in the world, so I have sent these updates to a friend to upload. Hopefully you will be seeing these entries soon. (Update: it looks like our connection may be working again!)

In the afternoon, a tourist family came by for a tour of the Sharklab. After the tour, the father in the family said something like, "all sharks should be killed because they are dangerous," and Lesley had to give him a little micro-lecture about why he was absolutely wrong. That sort of thinking is very unfortunate, but I guess the general public has no way to learn about sharks except for what the mass media shows them. Hopefully, the media tide will turn as the number of sharks dwindles from overfishing.

Just before the away team left for the evening, Alan, Kristene, Marta, and Lilian went to the pens out back to do a stomach eversion for the Italian film crew. Kristene inserted long forceps into the shark's mouth and pulled out the partially-digested contents, and then the stomach, which sort of looks like a red tongue. Stomach eversions are done manually when researchers want to see what a shark has eaten, but sharks in the wild will evert their own stomaches when they want to regurgitate something.

Some writers from a French photo press agency arrived today to interview Doc just before dinner was brought out to the away team. The Italian film crew is out with them tonight, filming them set gill nets and PIT tagging caught sharks.

Ruth made a delicious lemon meringue pie tonight for dessert! We all enjoyed it very much.

[see photos from today]

Tuesday - 06.17.2003

The majority of the photos in today's entry were taken by Jackie and other members of the away team. Last night was the second to last night of PIT, and nine sharks total were caught in the three gill nets. Four of them were new captures, and five were sharks that had escaped from Alan's pen (the ones that we moved yesterday). Not much else happened today for the home team. The gill nets were fixed, boats were fixed, and Grant and I drove out in a skiff to swap boats with Doc and the film team (which was a lot of fun! we shot across the lagoon where we went out with the film team the other day to chase down lemon sharks).

Jim Abernethy came by the Sharklab for another visit today. He was impressed with Grant, Joy, and Laura, who serviced his zodiac's engine and fuel shortly after he arrived because it was having some problems on the way here (probably from the fuel we gave him yesterday, which turned out to be pretty dirty). I gave him a short tour of the facilities, and he found a good place to land his ultralight, which he said he would be landing here at some point in the future. :)

I'm awake in the kitchen with Jackie, waiting for the last bottle of desalinated water to finish filling. Everyone else in the home crew has retired to bed.

One exciting development: I have almost become immune to mosquito bites! They still swell up a bit, but new bites stop itching after only a few minutes. The old bites still itch, but they'll go away eventually. :) Sand fly bites are still bad, however. I've heard horror stories about them turning ceilings black from sheer numbers, in the past. I can't even imagine that. *shudder*

[see photos from today]

Wednesday - 06.18.2003

Tonight was the last night of gill netting, which effectively marks the end of PIT. There hasn't been much activity in the nets, and a lot of the away team's overnight activities have involved sleeping and as much socializing as energy levels allow. Grant, Lilian and I went out to deliver food at 11pm, and for the first time I had seen, all four boats (five, including ours) tied up together into the what could have been the beginning of a floating research compound. We all ate a brief dinner together, and then the net boats had to resume their gill net checks (and the tagging boat had to resume sleeping, presumably ;).

The home team has been fixing gill nets, cutting bait, and accompanying Doc and the film crew as they go out to get all of the shots they came here for. Everyone is starting to feel the finality of the coming days, even though only a few of us will actually be leaving. The rest of the summer will revert the lab back to "normal" projects, and the remaining volunteers will resume (and start) the projects they came here to research. At the staff meeting today, Doc instituted bi-monthly long-lining, which put smiles on everyone's faces. Even though long-lining involves a lot of manual labor, getting close to big sharks is always fun!

[see photos from today]

Thursday - 06.19.2003

The away team returned this morning after 12 hours of overnight gill netting for the last time this year. Instead of retiring to bed with most of the others, Alan took a boat out with Laura, Joy, and me to feed the sharks in the large holding pen and to move the re-captured sharks that had escaped two nights ago back to the pen they escaped from. Alan and I had a lot of fun swimming around with the little sharks (camera in hand), while Laura and Joy fed them from the boat.

Most of the rest of the day was spent resting. Members of the away team got out of bed at various points during the late afternoon and started reading, watching movies, and horsing around in the hallway. Doc had a meeting with all of us during the evening and told us that he thought this year's PIT couldn't have gone better, and that he was very impressed with our work -- especially given the relative inexperience of the team (only Kristene had participated in PIT in prior years). He will be leaving with the film crew tomorrow, but will be back on Sunday with food and other supplies. After that, he leaves the field station and doesn't return for a month. Life at BBFS should slowly return to "normal," which is to say that normal projects will resume, waking hours will be during the day, and some free time will be available to relax and to sleep.

[see photos from today]

Friday - 06.20.2003

The staff and all of the volunteers decided to get out of bed early in the morning to release the sharks for the Italian film crew. When I tried to photograph the Sharkland shark release, only two people were in the water to herd the sharks towards the opening in the pen, but this time, about ten people were in the pen, so things went more smoothly. Osvaldo and Pippo were able to get footage of a large group of sharks leaving the pen, followed by the volunteers, as they swam out!

After releasing the sharks, Doc, the Italian film crew, and I returned to the Sharklab while everyone else stayed in the North Sound to take down the pens.

Most of the rest of the day was completely free. I finally walked to Shell Beach (with Marta and Ruth), which was beautiful, despite the cliff that has formed from sand being washed away. The water at Shell Beach was crystal clear, and we swam around for awhile before returning to the lab. There had been a bonfire planned for the evening, but it turned out that dinner had been scheduled for 4:30pm at the Big Game Club, so we got dressed up (the girls, mostly) and headed north.

It was quite hot and muggy at the Big Game Club, but there was a nice view of the marina, and we spent a lot of time watching sting rays and huge tarpin swimming around discarded bait that had been tossed off of the dock. The group sort of split up and wandered around after dinner, but all of us eventually ended up at the Compleat Angler Pub, where Lilian told the bartender, "I've lost my cherry," (she was speaking literally) to which he responded, "Did you lose the box it came in?"

We ended up back at the lab fairly early, and groups split off and watched movies in various rooms.

I sort of promised myself that I wouldn't write about mosquitos anymore, but on the way back to the South Island, they were horrible. A swarm descended upon us, and we spent the entire water taxi ride back cursing and slapping them away. I received 12 bites on my right arm alone in just a few minutes. We gave a local woman a ride back to her place and somehow managed to find it, even given her drunken directions, which went something like, "go straight ahead, continue straight ahead, and straight ahead."

[see photos from today]

Saturday - 06.21.2003

Today was rare -- completely free -- but instead of beautiful weather, we were given heat, clouds, humidity, and rain. Kristene had stayed with us in the staff room the previous evening, and we loafed around during the morning, napping and talking until early in the afternoon. It was a luxury to have absolutely nothing to do! Even though it was a muggy, buggy day, some people still went out exploring. In the late afternoon, a small group of us went out fishing and looking for sharks (yes, we look for them even on off days!), but we didn't really find anything interesting, and we tried to get back to the lab before the ominous clouds unleashed their fury. It was fun to see Joy push Bryan off of the boat, however. He was leaning over the port side for some reason, and she just shoved him over. :)

The rain made the planned evening bonfire on Shell Beach impossible. Instead, we just sort of relaxed, and those of us who are leaving tomorrow packed up our belongings and cherished our last hours with the team. It will be really sad for those people who have been here for a long time to see Kristene leave. She has been with the lab for a year and a half now, spending every waking moment with the small group of fellow shark enthusiasts. Just past midnight, those of us who were still awake and not out in town walked down to the back beach to present Kristene with a special farewell collage that the three captains (Brian, Alan, and Steve) had spent a good chuck of the day making.

In the staff room, a few of us tried to stay up watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but at around 4am, we called it a night. Crazy shouting from mental hospital patients does not mix well with being half-awake. :)

A message to Joshie, from Ruth.

[see photos from today]

Sunday - 06.22.2003

Farewells are hard. The PIT 2003 crew have been here for 23 days now, having spent every minute of each day together. Even though only four of us left today, tears were running down the faces of many (but not from any of the boys. i guess we express ourselves differently. either that, or we're just emotionally unavailable :). It was touching to see how hard it was for Kristene and the staff to part ways. After being here for only three and a half weeks, I can't even imagine what it must be like to leave after a year and a half! The Sharklab becomes your family when you are here, and it is special that a field station like BBFS can bring together so many people with common interests.

I'm trying to think of what else to write now, but no words are coming to me. PIT was a wonderful adventure, and I have met some amazing people I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. I think it may take me some time to adjust to "normal" life again -- you know, things like fresh-water showers, wearing shoes, telephones that don't cost $2/minute, driving a car, paying bills, and hanging out with people who think you are strange for really liking sharks...

To Doc, and all of you who made the experience so great: Thank You! (In the spirit of what some of the other folk here have done, I should have probably made a sign. Sorry about that. :)