FantaSEA Football Furor Takes Over UMiami Rosenstiel School

It has been a long grueling season for you Fantasy Football owners. The roller coaster ride of emotions has been full with moments of joy, confusion (anyone owning C.J. Spiller or Jamaal Charles) and bewilderment (Seahawks vs. Packers).  Now it is playoff time – Winners move on, losers pack their bags and empty their wallets. But this had us thinking. What would the ultimate Fantasy Football roster look like? And what if this hypothetical roster was composed of sea life? So, in spirit of Fantasy Football playoffs, here is our Pro Bowl roster. Good luck!

OctopusQuarterback Octopus: It makes sense to put a cephalopod with 8 arms behind center. Honestly, who else would you want as your field general? Not to mention, the Octopus is highly intelligent and capable of making those crucial decisions. The Octopus is also able to camouflage himself as a defensive mechanism.

Running baTiger SharkckTiger Shark: This is our top point getter – think Arian Foster. This top predator is going to rack up tons of points and eat everything in sight. Sharks are the police of the ocean. If it’s 4th and goal, you are handing it off to the Tiger Shark.

MahiRunning backMahi-Mahi Flashy, quick, and strong.  Mahi grow quickly and are always ready for a good fight.  Their acrobatic moves and ability to change color make them a top pick for any good fantasy team.Otter

Wide Receiver Sea Otter: Think Julio Jones here. The sea otter is one of the only marine animals that can use his hands, is quick and reliable. The otter is very popular and is going to give you lots of points on a weekly basis.

SailfishWide ReceiverSailfish: Every team needs a player like AJ Green. Fast, explosive and has a deep threat potential. The Sailfish is arguably the fastest and most aggressive fish out there, and eats smaller fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Chalk up 6, because the Sailfish is going deep!

Humpback Whale by Kyra Hartog

Tight End Humpback Whale: Does Rob Gronkowski ring a bell? Much like Gronk, the Humpback Whale is multi-talented. It can block, dive, breach, swim long distances or stay in the same area (Hawaii breeding grounds). The Humpback Whale is our go-to passing option in the red zone.

KickeDolphinr – Dolphin: Can you think of a better option here? The Rosenstiel School is in Miami, we have the Dolphins, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to reference Ray Finkle in a blog post. Ace Ventura aside, the Dolphin is a highly charismatic mega fauna, and can score you lots of points if need be. Don’t worry, pressure doesn’t get to ol’ Snowflake during that last second 50 yard field goal for the win.

TunaDefenseSchool of Blue Fin Tuna: The Chicago Bears defense has had a great fantasy season. Much like the Bears, the Bluefin Tuna are big, fast and it’s hard not to appreciate them. You can’t go wrong with the Bluefin Tuna.


Check out our FantaSEA team in action!

So what sea creatures would YOU have on your FantaSEA team?  Think you can beat us?  Write a comment below and let us know who you would have picked and why?

Brought to you by Andrew DeChellis & Laura Bracken; Drawings by Kyra Hartog; Animation by Lizzie Bracken. Special thanks to Austin Gallagher and Peter Chaibongsai for their invaluable assistance.


The Florida Everglades: Lair of the Bull Shark

It’s always fascinating to watch different species of fish arrive seasonally at the spots you frequent. Last weekend, while tagging sharks for research in the Everglades, it became clear to me that this very phenomenon was occurring, with blacktip sharks beginning to trickle back into the habitats, being followed around by even bigger local predators.

The Everglades is a fascinating spot to work because there are lots of predators – and those predators vary in size, number, and relative power over each other. At the apex – literally the top of the food chain – are the bull sharks. The Everglades is their lair. Blacktip and lemon sharks are also predatory sharks, but the blacktips are potential prey for the bulls, making them the proverbial “middle man on the totem pole.” The blacktips are usually the largest in number, and are often smaller than both the lemons and the bulls. Indeed, parts of the Everglades and Florida Bay give sub-adult blacktip sharks refuge from the risky, open water of the Gulf where they risk being consumed by larger predators. However, in nature, there is no free lunch, so by trading off open ocean habitats for the Everglades ecosystem, blacktip sharks gain some refuge and feeding opportunities, but subject themselves to a smaller number of large predators – the bulls – which are cruising the river mouths, coastlines, and estuarine areas for small prey. In fact, a recent study published in PLoS ONE by R.J. Dunlap Director Dr. Hammerschlag and colleauges found that bull sharks in the Everglades cause other prey species (such as tarpon) to alter their behavior when swimming through areas of high bull shark abundance. These “risk effects” are especially difficult to detect with large predatory fishes, and this study is the one of the first of its kind to detect these often overlooked measures of predator-prey relationships in marine settings. Another reason for this change in the shark presences is due to the prevailing water conditions– strong oxygen content, slightly cooler temperatures that we see from July – September, and stable salinity.

Most visits to Everglades National Park usually produce a large bull shark for our research. It is critical to establish estimates of how many bull sharks in the area, what they are eating, and if/how they can tolerate human-induced changes in the ecosystem. I encourage all of the readers to visit the Everglades and explore – the ecosystem is starting to ignite, and it is awesome to watch the predator-prey interactions between different coastal shark species. If you plan on fishing, I urge you to practice catch and release, as the seasonal blacktip aggregation already gets enough pressure from the bull sharks in the area, and the bull sharks themselves are in smaller numbers because they are the top predator. Release is a great option for these species, because both bulls and blacktips do relatively well with responsible catch and release.

-Austin Gallagher
PhD Student, Research Assistant
RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program
Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy

Sharks: Turning Fear into Fascination

Despite the diversity of shapes and sizes in the animal kingdom, there is truly nothing like the shark. As ocean predators, they command our ultimate attention. The shark is something we learn about at a young age, a creature whose reputation becomes indoctrinated in our deep psyche likely before our first conscious foray into the ocean.

This is how I – like many others – first considered these predators. But alongside our reservations, comes a parallel sense of fascination. As I grew up, this fascination took over, and I now spend my time studying, researching, and engaging these species as much as possible.

In my film, “Coastguards,” I hope to illustrate humanity’s obsession and mixture of fear and fascination for sharks, while bringing their ecological importance – and plight – into the spot light. Told through my perspective with footage compiled from expeditions and research trips from the last 3 years, “Coastguards” is a metaphor for the role sharks play in maintaining the health and stability of our precious blue planet.

-Austin Gallagher
PhD Student, Research Assistant
RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program
Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy

Clap Your Hands for Sharks

How many of you are having Shark Week withdrawal? I know I am. It is true that Shark Week doesn’t always have themes of education or conservation in mind (insert mental image of a hydraulic-powered Megalodon biting kegs in half from this years lineup). But despite this, there is obvious value in making ocean science cool for the masses, even if only for one week a year. But alas, Shark Week has come and gone and we are left with a year of waiting before our television screens light up with that hypnotic blue that only the ocean can deliver.

If you find yourself reeling in despair over this, fear not, the sharks are coming! Next week a group of RSMAS graduate students from Waterlust will be releasing a video that delivers sharks, sharks, and more sharks. Created by Ph.D candidate and R.J Dunlap shark guru Austin Gallagher, Coastguards explores how childhood fears can evolve into fascination of arguably the most misunderstood animal on the planet. Always at the forefront of social media technology, Waterlust has teamed up with a New York based startup called Thunderclap to add some spice to the release of the short film. What is a Thunderclap you ask? More than just an information sharing service, a Thunderclap allows users to coordinate the release of a certain message (in this case a video release) by a large group simultaneously – essentially sending a shockwave of awesomeness through the interwebs.

Will this strategy of crowdspeaking allow groups like Waterlust to get their content to more people? Find out next Wednesday, September 12 at High Noon when Coastguards goes public.

Join the Thunderclap here.

Patrick Rynne
Waterlust Founder/AMP Graduate Student
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White Shark Sighted Off Florida – Time to Cue “That” Music Once Again

Earlier this week, a group of Fort Pierce spearfishermen stumbled upon a rare occurrence – a white shark (the true common name actually omits the ‘great’ part) patrolling the warm waters of Florida.

White sharks have perhaps the widest global range (the habitat they can persist in) of any shark species, largely because this species is more or less “warm-blooded.” The white shark is in the Family Lamnidae, a group of speedy and robust predatory sharks that includes the makos, threshers, and porbeagles. These species are superb swimmers, and have a relatively higher metabolism due to their warmer internal temperature. For this reason, they are generally always on the move and hunting speedy prey.

While a few white sharks are spotted off Florida and the Keys each year, seeing them in the summer is quite a rare event, mainly because the warmer water temperatures can actually be energetically costly for warm-blooded species (where they would need to keep raising their metabolic rate).

Furthermore, white sharks don’t exclusively feed on marine mammals like seals. They actually have a wide range of food items that includes bony fishes like tuna and jacks, they can switch prey with seasonal changes, and recent research suggests that may even utilize stalking and scavenging (on whales) as a feeding strategy. There aren’t many large marine mammals off Florida in the summer, so it’s possible this species was passing through while stalking spawning schools of game fishes.

White sharks are among the most publicized and well-studied species of shark in the world. And while they are certainly a very “sexy” species, they are truly magnificent predators. The most intriguing thing about them is that they are still keeping us guessing – still surprising the greater research community as new insights on their biology and ecology develop. And while the discussion of “danger” surrounding this species is a common thing, I think ocean conservation in general can benefit from avoiding the mention of its falsified mythology. Therefore, my main question is this: will a news story or the journalism community ever be able to resist mentioning the movie Jaws when a shark is sighted?

One thing is for certain – I would have loved to be on that boat. And while our research team has actually encountered and tagged mako sharks (a close relative of the white shark) in Florida waters, I speak for all of us when I say that we are still holding out for an encounter like this.

-Austin Gallagher
PhD Student, Research Assistant
RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program
Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy

The Biggest Bull Shark…Ever?

Every once in a while, the ocean presents us with something truly amazing – whether it’s a crazy storm or a record catch, these events serve to remind us of the awesome power and beauty of the sea.

It was early June, and we were conducting another day of our continual catch and release shark surveys in the Florida Keys. In general, April, May and June tend to be some of the heaviest months for large sharks in the Keys, a time when these coasts are visited by the “semi-pelagics” that are following the fishes that spawn offshore. As our team hauled in the final drumline (shark-friendly, passive fishing device) of the day, something big tugged on the other end, almost pulling our team into the water.

“It looks bull-y,” remarked Dr. Neil Hammerschlag.

“I see the football-y shape,” I responded, looking 70 feet down on the shadow coming towards me.

Turns out we were right, it was indeed a bull shark – Carcharhinus leucas – a large female. As we brought her closer to the boat, it soon became evident that this wasn’t just any bull—she was over 8 feet long, and was thicker than any shark I have seen in the Caribbean (including 14 foot tigers and 12 foot hammerheads).

Bull sharks are a fascinating species, and our tagging experiments tell us that they are constantly on the move, timing their movements with prey such as tarpon and ladyfish in the Everglades, while also alternating to deeper oceanic locations for mating and birthing. Of the 80 or so bull sharks we have tagged and released in the last several years (one of the more rare species we encounter), most are around 6-6.5 feet, a size representing a mature adult. This bull shark dwarfed every other bull I have seen, and there is no doubt in my mind this bull is part of a very elite club in Florida-and probably Western Atlantic. After measuring her length and sampling her blood for reproductive hormones and stress parameters, she was released in great condition, swimming away to reclaim her seat on the throne of apex marine predators.

Members of the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program with the Bull Shark.

Reports of the tagging of the massive bull made national news in a few days, with stories commenting that the animal could have weighed up to 1,000 pounds. While we didn’t have a scale on board, this fish was every bit of 800-850 pounds. There is a chance she could have been close to 1,000 pounds, perhaps making it the largest bull ever caught. And while we will never know her true weight, it would be a slap in nature’s face to ever sacrifice an animal this size for a record book. When the news reports spread of this amazing catch and tag, I was excited – knowing it would be seen by many fishermen worldwide, hopefully serving as an example of not needing to sacrifice large animals to still get an amazing experience. And it is great that many anglers are subscribing to this conservation ethic. Pictures last forever, and so will my memory putting my arms around her belly and feeling truly humbled and impressed.

Austin Gallagher is a PhD student at the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami. He is also a research assistant for the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation program, focusing his doctoral studies on shark conservation biology.

-Austin Gallagher
PhD Student, Research Assistant
RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program
Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy