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Biology of Sharks in Bimini, Bahamas

"If you're passionate about learning about sharks, especially in their environment, if you're not afraid of swimming next to an 8-foot Caribbean reef shark, and if you don't mind the tropical ocean as one of your classrooms, then this rigorous introduction to shark biology might be just what you're looking for."-- Dan Abel

Coastal’s Department of Marine Science offers an exceptional opportunity for field experience in Biology of Sharks at the Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS) in the Bahamas. The course features lectures, discussions, analysis o­f research papers, frequent field trips, video presentations, and personal encounters with several species of large, actively feeding, and free-swimming sharks. Lectures focus on broad aspects of the biology of sharks, including: diversity, evolution, anatomy, physiology, behavior, ecology, fisheries, captive biology, conservation, and biomedical uses. The majority of the academic work will be field-oriented. This fieldwork will introduce students to research techniques used at Coastal Carolina University and BBFS, where research on sharks has been ongoing for over 20 years.


Before leaving for Bimini, students will participate in a number of classroom activities (lectures, discussions) focused on introducing them to the biology of sharks and their trip to Bimini. We will take a half-day research cruise on the R/V Coastal II, during which we will set several experimental shark longlines. Any sharks captured will be identified, measured, sampled for DNA, and tagged and released. After a short but rigorous training session and observing the experienced Coastal Carolina University shark team set and retrieve the longlines and handle the sharks, students will be given an opportunity to do the same. 

Biology of Sharks is truly the course that keeps on giving: after graduating, many students return to the Bimini Biological Field Station as volunteers or interns, and several have earned paid positions at the lab.

Students will spend substantial time on a daily basis in and around the water and on boats.All participants should be in good physical condition, must be able to swim and snorkel, and must be able to stay in the water for up to an hour. Students must be able to tolerate tropical heat and sun conditions and have no medical contraindications for water activities.

Students will need to take a swim test as a prerequisite of the course.


Course Information

Students participating in this program will be enrolled in either the undergraduate or graduate level course and lab, for a total of 4 credits.

MSCI 473/L (Biology of Sharks). (3 credits + 1 credit) (Prereq: BIOL 122 and permission of the instructor) (Coreq: MSCI 473L) An introduction to the biology of sharks. Lecture component covers evolution, anatomy, behavior, natural history, physiology, conservation, and ecology. Lab topics will include taxonomy, diversity, anatomy, and physiology. Field activities will include capture, identification, work-up, and tagging of sharks; telemetry tracking; and observation of shark behavior in both their natural habitat and captivity. This course and laboratory will be held on campus, in local waters, and at the Bimini Field Station.  
Instructor: Dr. Dan Abel

MSCI 573/573L (Biology of Sharks). (3 credits + 1 credit) (Prereq: Permission of instructor) This is a graduate level course and lab on the biology of sharks. 
Instructor: Dr. Dan Abel


Faculty Leaders 

Dan AbelDr. Daniel Abel, Professor, Department of Marine Science
dabel@coastal.edu • 843-349-2257

Dr. Daniel C. Abel is Professor of Marine Science at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC. He earned his Ph.D. in marine biology from the University of California San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and was postdoctoral fellow in marine bio-medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. His research focuses on the physiology and ecology of sharks and rays. He is co-author of the textbooks Environmental Issues: Looking Towards a Sustainable Future (4th ed.), Environmental Oceanography, and Environmental Geology (forthcoming in 2013). He has been an award-winning environmental columnist, was founding director of CCU's Sustainability Initiative from 2006-2012, and currently serves on the board of directors of the Dogwood Alliance, a forest protection non-profit. He has significant international teaching experience, which includes his annual Biology of Sharks course held at the Bimini Biological Field Station in the Bahamas for the last 19 years. He taught Marine Biology and Biology of Sharks on the M/V Explorer with Semester at Sea in spring 2010, summer 2012, and summer 2013. Dr. Abel is a Senior Fellow of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development. He resides in Pawley's Island, SC. 

Sam GarySamuel Gary, Boat Operations Manager, Department of Marine Science
sjgary@coastal.edu • 843-274-4204

Captain Sam Gary is the Boat Operations Manager at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC. He has his 100 Ton Master License with radar and towing endorsements. He earned his M.S. in Coastal Marine and Wetland Studies from CCU. His research focused on the ecology of sharks and rays in Winyah Bay located in Georgetown, SC.  He has assisted with the Biology of Sharks course held at the Bimini Biological Field Station in the Bahamas for over 10 years. He taught Navigation and Seamanship at CCU. He resides in Murrells Inlet, SC.

 

Accomodations & Meals

Students will stay in accommodations located on-site and owned by Bimini Biological Station, and in a hotel in Florida for one night.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be provided at BBFS, with one group meal on the last evening. Students will be responsible for snacks and lunches on the road.


Additional Program Information

About the Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS): This is a world-renown center of excellence in the study of shark biology and the director, Dr. Samuel “Sonny” Gruber, is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading shark experts. During our stay at BBFS, we will be either participating in lectures, on a variety of field trips (see examples below), or engaging in informal discussions about sharks, careers, environmental issues, or ways that students can work their way back to the lab as a volunteer or staff member (numerous CCU students have done so!). Although the course schedule is rigidly set (e.g., breakfast at 0730, lecture from 0830 – 1000, feed lemon sharks and rays in shark pen from 1030 – 1200, etc.), we are at the mercy of the weather and the success of longlines. So a lecture might be interrupted by the presence of a 12-foot tiger shark on a longline, in which case we grab our snorkel gear, throw on a life vest (a Coastal Carolina University requirement), hop in one of the boats, and motor the 15 minutes to the line. Once there, we will watch as the shark is worked up, then while the animal is tethered to the boat, we will get in the water and take pictures of one of the most magnificent beasts on the planet. The entire week, which flies by way too fast, is a combination of opportunistic lectures, insightful discussions, slowly acquiring a sense of place in the Bahamas, and sharks, sharks, and more sharks.

What students take away from this course, in addition to learning about the biology of sharks, is the observation that a passionate group of dedicated people – the folks at the Bimini Biological Field Station -- can accomplish great things when they care enough and work hard enough to gain insight into a problem. This is a lesson that never fades.

More About the Course: One student described the course as a little sleep, a lot of great food, and more knowledge of sharks than he had imagined could be crammed into such a short amount of time. The lectures are comprehensive, but the field trips become the course’s lab, and science, it is said, is learned in the lab.

Students will do some or all of the following activities: 

  • Telemetry-tracking of sharks with surgically implanted ultrasonic transmitters

  • Collecting juvenile lemon sharks with gill-nets in their mangrove nursery grounds; Biological workup includ‌ing morphometrics and tissue sampling for genetic analyses; Implanting PIT microtags, followed by recovery and release of the captured individuals

  • Observation of juvenile lemon shark behavior in mangrove nursery systems

  • Shark handling and husbandry class

  • Observation of bite force tests on sharks (from shark pens)

  • Several observational shark dives (snorkeling only), enabling students to view several species of free-swimming, actively feeding elasmobranchs in a natural setting. Species observed include Carribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi), blacknose shark (C. acronotus), blacktip shark (C. limbatus), nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Caribbean sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon porosus) and the southern stingray (Dasyatis americana), and others.  


Cost of the Program

Cost of the Program = Program Fees + (Number of Credits x Tuition Rate)

In-State Students ($357/credit hour)
CCU credits  Program Fees Tuition  Cost of Program
4 credits  $4,085  $1,428  $5,513

 

Out-of-State Students ($432/credit hour)
CCU credits Program Fees Tuition Cost of Program
4 credits  $4,085  $1,728  $5,813

Included: Coach bus transportation from CCU campus to Florida, charter flight from Florida to Bahamas, accommodations in Bimini, meals, excursions, emergency medical insurance. 

Not included in Cost of the Program: 

  • Housing in Conway area. Students are in the Bahamas for the first week of the Maymester term. They return to CCU to complete the course. Students will be responsible for their own housing for that time period and will also be responsible for meals and expenses while on CCU's campus. Students should confirm with faculty leaders the date of departure before securing housing.
  • Out-of-Pocket Expenses while abroad: $200.  Participants need to purchase a mask, fins, snorkel, and weight belt but no weights as these will be provided in Bimini. Students should bring money to pay for snacks not covered by program fees.  This estimate does not include the cost of a new passport.

Payment Schedule for Program Fees and Tuition

Program Fee & Tuition Schedule Due Date Amount Due
Deposit November 1, 2017 $300
1st Payment December 8, 2017 $1,262
2nd Payment January 12, 2018 $1,262
3rd Payment February 12, 2018 $1,261
Tuition April 20, 2018 In-State: $357/credit
Out-of-State: $432/credit

Deposits can be made in-person at Student Accounts (Baxley Hall) or over the phone. After acceptance to the program, payments can be made either online through Webadvisor or at Student Accounts.  Please note that payments made with a debit or credit card will be charged a service fee of 2.7 percent. For more information about methods of payment, visit http://www.coastal.edu/studentaccounts.

 

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