Bait Roping

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This week I was psyched to be able to finally man the bait rope on a chumming trip. The bait roper mans the bait rope so that the sharks come close enough to the boat for the photographer and go pro operator to get the footage they need, while still keeping the sharks from eating the bait or being harmed. Although the bait does occasionally get taken, we try our hardest to keep it from happening. Unfortunately, my reflexes were not fast enough for when a 4.5 meter white shark rushed the bait from the deep in an ambush attack. He ended up biting clean through the rope as opposed to just ripping the bait off like in most unfortunate cases when the shark gets the better of us. The shark was so amazing and majestic that I honestly was just standing awestruck as it stole my tuna head from me.

Below are some pictures taken while I was bait roping. I was pretty proud at the fact that I could get the sharks to come close enough for the photos and that I could get them to come up and bring their dorsal fins out of the water. This is important for the photographer because they need photos of the fin above water because the details can be distorted underwater.

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One of the sharks coming for the bait right before I pull it out of the way.

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The shark trying to sneak in under the glare so that I don’t see it coming for the bait.

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Turning away after I pulled the bait from him.

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Turning quickly after missing the bait.

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Such a gorgeous animal.

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Perfect dorsal fin shot.

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Starting to dive back down after attempting to take the tuna head.

 The things that we look for in order to identify the sharks is black pigment, which looks like black freckles, on their dorsal, pectoral, and caudal fins, white pigment, which are more specifically placed and sometimes called “rosies”, and deformities on the fins, such as with Nubs, who has lost most of his dorsal fin. We also look at their length and if they have any type of tags.

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Nubs, who has lost a majority of his dorsal fin. He’s one of my favorite sharks because he is so curious. He routinely ignores the bait to instead explore other things such as shark cages.

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A “rosie” of white pigment on the dorsal fin. This particular shark is nicknamed Rosie at Oceans Campus and Sweetheart at White Shark Africa. The rosie on her dorsal looks like a heart.

In addition to the above information, we also record the number of baits consumed (with which shark and time, if possible), and how many boat contacts there are. A boat contact is when the shark bumps into a part of the boat due to us. This would not include if a shark just came up out of no where, with no bait in the water, and ran into the side of the boat. We recognize that accidents happen, and that our research occasionally will end up with a shark bumping the boat. That is why we do not hide how many boat contacts we have or when they happen. We record the time of contact, what shark, where on the shark’s body it contacted the boat, and where on the boat. I would like to reiterate that boat contacts are not a common occurrence and that the sharks are not at all harmed by them.

Overall, bait roping is truly a skill that is important to the sharks’ and researchers’ safety. Bait roping should not be taken lightly as a responsibility; however, it is one of the most surreal and awesome feelings in the world. To have a 4.5 meter white shark propel itself toward you and your bait, knowing that you need to keep the shark and the crew safe, is one of the most amazing feelings ever.

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