By Volunteer Ben Hanlan
A few months have now passed since arriving at Bimini Airport but being collected in a battered pick-up truck by a bare footed staff member, who I now know as Ellie the Lab manger, seems like a life time ago. Since then I have met the nicest people from all walks of life stretching from film crews to scientists, all of whom have a shared passion for sharks, of which I have now seen countless.
Our first few days at the Lab seemed hectic and were filled with classes covering everything from Fish ID to a History of the SharkLab and the Bahamas to the all important: How to work up a Shark (this is much easier with a model on a table compared to a large G. cuvier on the side of a boat in choppy seas!)
SO much information coming so quickly both excited and intimidated me. I was fired up and ready to get stuck in but also nervous that I wouldn’t be able to remember everything.
However experienced ‘Vols’ and staff members are incredibly patient and so helpful answering all manner of questions. This and the instant friendly vibes that exist at the Lab helped me settle in super quickly. Everyone here lives in very close quarters, working long rewarding days together followed by sleeping in four person dorms in two person bunk beds (These numbers are prone to variation).
The living conditions in the Lab are based on the image of a ship, styled and envisioned by founder Doc Gruber, this definitely becomes apparent walking down the narrow corridor after a long day on a small skiff with the feeling that you are still rocking from the swell and waves.
I had only seen one wild shark in the water previous to coming to Bimini and that juvenile
blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) made me hyperventilate into my snorkel.
After only two months at the SharkLab I now feel proficiently trained and confident enough to have been a safety diver with numerous Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi) and even a couple sneaky black-noses (Carcharhinus acronotus). This, on top of being in the water with more nurse sharks (G. Cirratum) than I could count, are unique experiences that I will never forget and carry with me for the rest of my life.
With regards to life at the Lab, much of a fellow volunteers time is divided amongst baby fishing, trawling, shark fishing, nurse wrangling, stingray catching and reorganising the bait freezer, with one of the main activities being gillnetting. This involves setting a 200 yard net tied up to the mangroves aiming to catch lemon sharks for ongoing projects, with some records dating back to the 90s. A few other creatures can also be seen in the net and volunteers will become closely acquainted with the blue crab. Once back from the field and after each piece of equipment has been ‘desalled’ and returned to its specific home the team members at the Lab will share a simple but hearty meal round the same table, eating food which everyone takes turns in creating. The lifestyle and activities can be challenging but the people surrounding you create a family feeling and the experiences I have had whilst here have made every moment worth it.