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You are here: /main/research expeditions/ 2005 RAMP/9_25_05 Shark barf

9/25/05 - Shark barf
by David Nichols, State of Hawaii, DLNR, HIHWNMS

Randy and shark

Chief scientist Randy Kosaki follows a 12 foot tiger shark that has just been tagged and released.

Until today, I was under the impression that the vilest smell on this planet was the odor that emanates from rotting whale carcasses. I’ve experienced this stench up close and personal. In the course of my job duties, I (along with the help of many others) occasionally respond to dead whales washed up on the beach. Marine mammal carcass disposal is not a glamorous job -- but very necessary. A rotting whale carcass on the wrong beach in Hawaii has the potential to spoil entire vacations. Decaying whale blubber is very greasy and oily. It is absorbed (along with the stink) into the skin and is nearly impossible to wash off. The stink lasts for days and you never get accustomed to it. You sleep alone. You are even too disgusting for your dog to hang out with you.

Today, “whale stink” would have been like a big bowl of potpourri compared to what we were exposed to. I would have curled up in the belly of a large rotting whale carcass in order to avoid the stench that permeated the air surrounding our boat. I was again looking for a scuba tank and regulator simply to get a quick breath of useable air. The source of today’s stench? It came from deep within the gut of a thirteen-foot female tiger shark.

A tiger shark swims away after being implanted with an acoustic transmitter (notice the incision with a single stitch in the abdomen).

As the shark team was pulling in the longline that they had set earlier in the morning they came across their second hooked tiger shark of the day. The first large male was measured, tagged, implanted with a transmitter and released without incident. As the second one was being maneuvered into position alongside the HI-2 we noticed it regurgitate a large amount of what looked like motor oil. We watched with fascination as the large cloud of oil droplets slowly rose to the surface. Once the oil droplets broke the surface, our fascination turned quickly to queasiness. The odor was intense – an order of magnitude higher than “whale stink” – though it was vaguely familiar. It was almost as if the shark had spent the last couple of weeks feeding on a rotting whale carcass and was finally finishing up its digestive processing. All that was left was the juice.

The team fought back the urge to do some regurgitating of their own and continued with the measurements, tagging and transmitter placement as we drifted along in this large repugnant oil slick. If only there was some way to capture this disgusting fluid. Imagine the possibilities…

Getting on the Hi'ilalakai

Kosta Stamoulis climbs aboard the Hi`ialakai from the HI-1 as Richard Osada, Greta Aeby and Darla White wait their turn.

Note: I realize that many of the updates so far have focused on the apex predator (i.e. shark) team. There is much more research going on during this cruise -- research on algae, fish, corals and other invertebrates. Also, the crew on board the Hi`ialakai work extremely hard and are dedicated to supporting the science teams and fulfilling project objectives. I intend to focus future updates on these other aspects of the cruise just as soon as the shark team has an uneventful day.


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