From the Field

In search of scalloped hammerheads

Mission Overview

Thanks to the Moore Charitable Foundation and Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, we headed to San Salvador in the Bahamas in search of endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks. Although a shark sanctuary, there are few data showing the existence of scalloped hammerheads in Bahamian waters. On 840 baited remote underwater video surveys (BRUVs) previously completed in the Bahamas by our team, no scalloped hammerheads were documented. Anecdotal accounts of scalloped hammerheads from local dive shops and fishers sparked our interest to investigate further.  From our core research team were Florida International University’s Dr. Demian Chapman and Gina Clementi, as well as Dalhousie University’s Taylor Gorham. Joining them were FIU researchers Dr. Yannis Papastamatiou, Dr. Bautisse Postaire, and Megan Kelley as well as photographer Andy Mann, free-diver Trevor Bacon, Captain Scott Genereux, first mate Joey Salomone, journalist Amaro Pablo-Gómez, and Pew Charitable Trusts conservationist Maximiliano Bello. Using BRUVs, dive surveys, and environmental DNA (eDNA) collection, the team had their sight set on confirming the presence of scalloped hammerheads in San Salvador.

Day 1

With energies still high, we decided to start the trip off with BRUVs. After completing eight deployments, we headed in for the night to enjoy dinner together and test out our new eDNA sampling equipment. But, as luck would have it, the boat we were using to set BRUVs had a mechanical issue, taking away dinner while it was practically right under our noses. That feeling must be what it’s like to be a shark not able to get the bait in our cages! After a couple of hours waiting safely at sea for assistance, we finally returned to our home boat, the Lady G. With full stomachs, we headed to the deck to collect eDNA samples. After spotting lemon sharks and one southern stingray swimming around the boat, we decided to call it a day – a very successful one!

Dr. Postaire (left) carefully drops the Niskin bottle over the side of the boat to collect water that was later filtered for eDNA. Back in the laboratory he will use genetics to try to look for sharks and rays. He will likely find the lemon shark that was swimming around the boat, pictured on the right.

Day 2

Today, it happened! Yannis and Megan spotted a scalloped hammerhead immediately after a dive and right before a BRUV retrieval. Although not filmed by the BRUV, Yannis was able to capture a video of it pooping, seen below. We completed nine BRUVs today and sampled for eDNA at three sites.

Day 3

Diving and BRUVs continued, with our second scalloped hammerhead sighting.

Diver Megan Kelley seen with a Nassau grouper. Photo credit: Andy Mann

Day 4

Taylor and Bautisse sampled another four sites for eDNA while the rest of the team went to explore a seamount. Sighted were silky sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks, three whales, and a tiger shark on a drifting pelagic BRUV.

A curious silky shark investigates the team. Photo credit: Andy Mann

Day 5

Edd Brooks from the Cape Eleuthera Institute joined the team. We were slowed down by strong wind and rain today, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits. Three BRUVs were completed and a pod of dolphins swam around us for 30 minutes, playing with corals, eating gobies in the sand, and chasing barracuda.

Day 6

The talented Andy Mann filmed a few staged BRUVs today (check out some of the resulting footage on our homepage), while the science team completed three BRUVs and sampled five sites for eDNA. Edd took some of the team to the mangroves where they successfully caught a juvenile lemon shark for a tissue sample.

A Caribbean reef shark swims past our staged BRUV, allowing photographer Andy Mann to capture this stunning moment on camera.

Day 7

Our trip has come to end. Due to prevailing winds and because both our Niskin bottle and pump for filtering water broke, we decided to end the trip early. After 26 coral reef BRUVs completed, one pelagic BRUV set, two deep BRUVs set, 21 eDNA samples collected, and sightings of scalloped hammerheads, we can call this a successful mission!

And we’re off! Photo credit: Bautisse Postaire 

Another day, another milestone

CORDIO samples Tanzania

FinPrint Spotlight

Author: Clay Obota, MSc

Organization: CORDIO East Africa

Biography: Clay joined CORDIO as an intern working under the Fishery Aggregating Devices project and advanced to a research assistant working on marine biology/ecology, fish population dynamics, fish stock assessment, and fisheries management.

On March 13th 2017, representatives from Kenya and Mozambique set off by road from Mombasa on the Kenyan coast to Tanga, 175km south of Mombasa, in Tanzania, to learn how to do baited remote underwater video surveys (BRUVs) to record shark populations as a part of the Global FinPrint project. The travelers were myself, Clay Obota, Kennedy Osuka, and Melita Samoilys from CORDIO, Benedict Kiilu from Kenya Fisheries Service, and Gelica Inteca from Uni Lurio in Pemba, Mozambique. That evening we met at the Mkonge Hotel in Tanga with our three Tanzanian counterparts: Hassan Kalombo, the Regional Fisheries Officer, January Ndagala, Acting Warden of the Coelacanth Marine Park, and Hakim Matola from TAFIRI in Dar es Salaam, as well as the lead trainer, Dr. Jordan Goetze, from Curtin University in Perth, Australia.

All the participants were guileless and eager to learn about BRUVs, in particular how to analyze, interpret, and use the data collected from the videos. Jordan kicked off the training with a day on land including lectures, discussions, and hands-on practice with the equipment. The lectures covered how to survey fish abundance using BRUVs with detailed procedures on calibration, deployment, and field data management. This was followed by hands-on training setting up all the equipment for deployment. This consisted of five GoPro cameras mounted in housings on a light aluminium frame or rig, and meters of rope.

Since most of us were new to using BRUVs, this was set to be a hard day for Jordan, but we worked against all odds and managed to do 15 drops. Just like experts, we picked up the science quickly. After multiple one hour deployments, we managed to deploy the BRUVs at two sites: Nyuli (2 sets) and Mwamba Nyama (1 set). Seven connected reef systems were mapped and marked for sampling on the rocky and fringing reefs along the coast of Tanga, North of Tanzania. The success of the first day was a clear indication of future productivity. The following days were a walk in the park where each team worked efficiently with smiles and laughter lighting up the experience. 

From bait preparation to BRUV deployments and pick-ups, everyone worked hard as a team on the second day of sampling the reef systems of Fungu Tangoni and Karange, where we set 20 BRUVs. We almost lost one video frame due to strong currents on the third day while sampling Karange and Jambe. We had to pull it out and redeploy it in shallower water. Mwamba Nyama, Mwamba Wamba, and Chundo Kiroba reef systems were successfully sampled on the fourth day, with the deployment and retrieval of 20 BRUVs before 4pm, the fastest day since the beginning of the field trip thanks to low currents and smooth deployments.

Chundo Kiroba and Mwamba Wamba reef systems were sampled on the fifth day. Although the team was eager to deploy as many BRUVs as the previous day, the tides were strong making this goal challenging. The last deployment for the day at Chundo Kiroba reef was set to a depth of 40m. It had to be retrieved and re-set at 35m since the currents were strong and the rigs were drifting. Even with the strong currents, the team managed to maintain 20 drops on this day as well.

On the last sampling day, the BRUV team worked without Jordan for a half day. The team completed 10 more drops for a total of 105 drops over the course of the entire sampling trip, 15 drops more than the initial target of 90 on Tanga’s reefs. This was a great achievement thanks to the excellent team spirit and enthusiasm from everyone who learned efficient BRUV techniques.

As we felt confident in this methodology, the idea of using BRUVs as a tool for estimating population size of large fishes including sharks became increasingly popular across the participants from the three countries. The team is now looking forward to opportunities to use these acquired skills. CORDIO will be coordinating reef sampling in Kenya and Mozambique later this year to estimate shark populations, again as part of the Global FinPrint project.

Mozambique Mission 2016

FinPrint Spotlight

                                                                      Anna FlamAlexandra Watts

In August, the Global FinPrint team headed to Mozambique to assess the marine life found on the reefs around Vilanculos and Bazarut Archipelago National Park. Anna Flam (left) and Alexandra Watts (right) from the locally based Marine Megafauna Foundation joined the team to deploy baited underwater videos (BRUVs). Alexandra Watts reports from the field.

The Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) has been researching large fish such as sharks and rays in southern Mozambique for over 10 years. So we were really excited when the Global FinPrint research team invited us to help them with the reef assessment in this beautiful and biodiverse part of Mozambique. The goal of this collaboration was to complete half the BRUV drops inside the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park and half outside, to look at the differences inside and outside the protected area. After the equipment arrived from Australia, we began setting up the BRUVs by securing frames, legs, GoPro housings, ropes, buoys and floats, batteries – these had to stay dry until ready for use.


The first day, we waddled down to the beach; each laden with various bits of the BRUV kits, and loaded them onto the boat with the help of Zito, our local skipper. We were aiming for the northern end of the archipelago and dropped around ‘Spaghettis’ and ‘Three trees’ – reefs on the northeast side of Bazaruto Island. Luckily, the weather was on our side and we were able to drop here for several days. By day 3 and 4, the weather had closed in a little and so we stayed closer to Vilanculos, on our second site at Two Mile reef.

Photo: Alexandra Watts

Photo: Alexandra Watts

After the first few days, we eagerly waited as the experienced BRUVers Conrad Speed and Jordan Goetze downloaded all the footage and replayed it. The footage was fantastic. Moon wrasse, yellow snapper, red fanged trigger fish, sailfin tangs and a giant guitarfish were just part of a kaleidoscope of species of all shapes and colour. Within the first day the guys had noticed something they had never seen before; schooling Moorish idols. They saw this species in Australia and other locations but never in such huge numbers before. Moray eels took a particular interest in the bait bags, grabbing them and death rolling to get access to the fish, while an octopus and a blotched fantail ray just sat on top of the entire bag, preventing anything else from getting access.


Moorish idols surround bait bag

BRUVs are a useful tool to collect data on marine species composition and information such as this can be communicated to local government. Sampling is often done using underwater surveys. However, BRUVs are especially useful for avoiding biases with these techniques such as behaviour changes by species in response to a diver carrying out video surveys. This is important when carrying out species counts – fish which actively avoid divers may cause a species to be completely omitted from a study, resulting in an inaccurate account of species within an area. It is also an efficient census technique – they don’t require skilled divers in the water and all the associated risks and technical equipment. They can be left on the seafloor without an operator, simply with a marker nearby to make it easy to find them, whilst further work can be continued elsewhere.

Technically, this is an advantage. But, after reviewing some of the footage, we wish we had been there to see it with our own eyes – not only did we have visits from both reef and giant manta rays but also smalleye stingrays, round ribbontail (aka blotched fantail) rays, pink whiprays, Jenkins’ whipray, spotted eagle ray, bull sharks, blacktip sharks, blacktip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, and whitetip reef sharks.

We were also specifically looking out for dugongs, which are one of the only herbivorous marine mammals in the world and rare inhabitants off the coast of Africa. This animal is extremely sensitive to anthropogenic threats such as gill netting, hunting, pollution, habitat loss, and coastal development. Population numbers have been drastically reduced in East Africa. The Bazaruto Archipelago population is now possibly the only viable population in Africa, and the second largest in the Western Indian Ocean. And, although we didn’t manage to see one face to face, we did get a couple of glimpses of these curious animals on BRUVs!

A dugong casually swims past one of the BRUVs.

Analysis of the footage is (understandably) time-consuming and will take a little longer until we can begin to summarise the findings. It was an absolute pleasure for Anna and myself to be involved in this study and we hope it paves the way for further collaborations of this nature. The more marine scientists can connect and work together on both international and regional projects, the more efficient research becomes. Human pressures have exerted such a huge threat to so many forms of marine life that the oceans are reaching a breaking point. Targeted conservation initiatives – informed by projects such as this – are the only way we are going to begin to make a difference.

Conrad carefully drops the BRUV. Photo: Alexandra Watts

Conrad carefully drops the BRUV. Photo: Alexandra Watts

Bahamas Mission 2016

In 2016, the Chapman lab sampled six reefs in the Bahamas, thanks to the Moore Bahamas Foundation, Cape Eleuthera Institute, and the International SeaKeepers Society. In collaboration with these organizations, student Gina Clementi, project coordinator Jasmine Valentin-Albanese, and volunteer Jessica Quinlan set a total of 278 baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs), which produced amazing data and footage from the shark sanctuary.





Our lead principal investigator Demian Chapman and social media manager Katie Flowers accompanied this mission by participating in local outreach sessions led by the Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF). You can find their blog post about this mission, originally published on, below.



© Cay Focus Photography


Life’s Better in the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary

Most of you have probably heard it somewhere before, the iconic piece of information shared tirelessly and sometimes incorrectly attributed to nothing but shark finning, “100 million sharks are killed every year”. Although this is an alarming number, it’s actually better to look at the range from the larger study estimating exploitation rates of sharks: 63 million – 273 million sharks killed annually. One hundred million is thus a conservative estimate, and the shark fin trade is not fully responsible for those landings. Data aside, the more important question now is what can we do about these losses?

The answer may partially lie in the Bahamas. Before the study mentioned above even came out, the island nation made a progressive choice by fully protecting its sharks from fishing in 2011. Bahamians had put two and two together: many shark species in their waters live there either partially or year-round, and these sharks are worth big bucks alive – a 2007 estimate of $78M US in the Bahamas alone (Report of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism). The Bahamas is one of the best places in the Caribbean and arguably the world to dive with sharks, which might not be the case if populations were under high fishing pressure.

Dr. Demian Chapman, a marine biologist and shark expert formally at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and now at Florida International University’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education leads a global study of sharks and rays called Global FinPrint. It is a project that partially stems from the 2013 study by asking some of the next most valuable questions including: where on the world’s coral reefs do we find many sharks and rays and why are they there? The project sets GoPro cameras on the seafloor to estimate shark and ray abundance and diversity. So far, the Bahamas has been one of the leaders in this study (see video), with sharks and rays on almost every survey, including several with endangered great hammerheads. This project along with a tagging expedition in its fourth year have certainly made life better for sharks in the Bahamas, thanks to Louis Bacon’s Moore Bahamas Foundation.

The Bahamas has emerged as a leader in shark conservation, and the sanctuary could be a model to replicate for countries looking to protect their sharks and boost their economy. Extending this same protection to rays, the lesser-known cousins of sharks who play their own vital roles in the ocean’s ecosystem, would make sense. The Bahamas is one of the few places on earth where you can find the critically endangered smalltooth sawfish, a ray that is often confused with a shark. Their populations have seen about a 95% decline since the 1960s. Yet these sawfish are not granted protection in the country, nor are the other species of rays that could bring in even more tourism money. It is the belief of Global FinPrint that the Bahamas can take the next innovative step to make them a world leader in shark and ray conservation by granting rays full protection.   


Smalltooth sawfish Photo: Katie Flowers


Impacts of sharks on coral reef ecosystems

Do healthy reefs need sharks? This is one of the most misunderstood questions in coral reef ecology. Shark populations are declining due to habitat loss, overfishing, and other stressors. It is important to understand how these losses could affect the rest of the ecosystem.

Understanding the predator-prey interactions between herbivores and sharks is crucial for coral reef conservation. As top predators, sharks not only eat other fish, but they can also affect their behavior. In the presence of sharks, herbivorous fish may be concentrating their grazing to small, sheltered areas. Because these fish would likely be eating where they are safe from predators, there should be more space to allow young coral to settle, grow, and thrive. In the absence of sharks, herbivorous fish may spread out their grazing randomly across large patches of algae, leaving few well-defined or cleared areas for corals to settle.

Fortunately,Untitled Florida International University has just the place to explore these dynamic questions, a lab under the sea – Aquarius Reef Base. From September 7th to 14th, a mission at Aquarius Reef Base will combine sonar with baited remote underwater video surveys (BRUVs), an experiment the first of its kind to bring these technologies together. Researchers on this mission strive to understand the direct impact of shark presence on herbivorous fish behavior as well as the indirect impact of sharks on algae communities. Combining these technologies:


  • Provides a new way to study reef fish behavior
  • Carves the path forward for future ecological research
  • Offers insights that may lead to critical marine conservation outcomes

Below are data produced from last year’s shark mission: a shark swims by the remote camera and shows up on the multi-beam imaging sonar.

© FIU, Dr. Kevin Boswell

Mission Overview

Dr. Kevin Boswell

Dr. Kevin Boswell, an assistant professor of biology, is leading this mission. His lab will use low frequency sound to attract sharks around Aquarius. HD remote video combined with multi-beam imaging sonar will be used to quantify how fish behavior changes in the presence and absence of sharks. At the same time, grazing intensity by herbivores will be measured to understand the impacts on the benthic community.




Dr. Michael HeithausDr. Michael Heithaus, Dean of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education & Global FinPrint’s co-lead principal investigator, is co-leading this mission. His lab will set BRUVs to provide data on fish behavior in the presence & absence of sharks. Setting the BRUVs is also part of Global FinPrint, which attempts to assess the presence of sharks & rays on coral reefs all over the world, understand the factors affecting their distribution, and inform conservation actions for threatened species.






In an effort to inspire the next generation of ocean enthusiasts and engage the public using innovative research technologies, a FIU student teacher, Carlos Calle, will take part of this mission via the Teacher-Under-the -Sea program. This work would not be possible without the help of our amazing Aquarius Reef Base staff and the support of the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.



Join the adventure live online

Aquarius Reef Base Twitter #Angellsharks

SEAS Twitter #sharksFIU

Global FinPrint Twitter #count2save

Meet the Team

Alain Duran – Science Team Lead

  • Ph.D. candidate at FIU.
  • Studies the effect of biotic and abiotic drivers of herbivorous fish-algae interactions and their impacts on coral reef dynamics and conservation.
  • Works on the dynamics of coral reef fish, particularly herbivores.

Benjamin Binder - Scientist

  • Graduate student at FIU.
  • Focuses on the community wide effect of fish spawning aggregations (FSA) in the South Florida region and the spatiotemporal patterns of FSA formation.
  • Tools of his trade include various fisheries sonars, which will be used extensively during the mission. 

Frances Farabaugh - Scientist

  • Ph.D. student in the Heithaus Lab at FIU and is involved with the Global FinPrint project.
  • Focuses on behavioral ecology of marine predators.
  • Hopes to elucidate the role sharks play in structuring reef communities by investigating predation risk effects and the functional redundancy of top predators. 

Roy Bartnick - Science Translation Specialist, Teacher-Under-the-Sea Program

  • Currently working on his Ph.D. dissertation in Educational Leadership at Capella University, Minneapolis, MN.
  • Goal is to seamlessly blend STEM across the curriculum at the elementary school levels in hopes of fostering a love of learning while providing students the ability and opportunity to apply their knowledge to real world applications on a global community level.
  • Will mentor the FIU student teacher, Carlos Calle, and lead many of the educational programs conducted aboard Aquarius through collaboration with Skype in the Classroom.


Carlos Calle – Science Translation Specialist, Teacher-Under-the-Sea Program

  • Studies elementary education at FIU and is completing his internship at Norman S. Edelcup K-8 Center in Sunny Isles, Florida.
  • Has a special interest in conducting experimental research in natural sciences and will work hand-in-hand with the science team.
  • Will lead many of the educational programs conducted aboard Aquarius through collaboration with Skype in the Classroom. 

Cathy Guinovart – Aquarius Reef Base Education and Outreach Coordinator

  • Senior pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sustainability and the Environment.
  • Started a student-run organization at FIU called “Age of Aquarius”, which is dedicated to teaching the community about the value of Aquarius and the oceans as a whole. 
  • Schedules all virtual field trips for this mission and facilitates shore base live links with Carlos Calle.







Caring for conservation: the value of imagery

FinPrint Spotlight

PeterVerhoog_portrait-286x300Author: Peter Verhoog

Where to find his work: Underwater PhotographyDutch Shark Society

Sampling Location: Maldives

I am passionate about marine life, and I just love sharks. One of my favourite jobs is documenting shark and ray research in the field.

I have worked with Dr. Mark Meekan on the sharks of Palau, the manta rays of Hanifaru and the whale sharks of Ningaloo Reef. When he asked me to join the Global FinPrint expedition in the Maldives, I was over the moon. I love discovering new projects and research methods, and am always keen on understanding the science.

BRUV on reef

BRUV on reef

Global FinPrint is an extremely valuable project because of its scale and reach. This mission yielded visuals that will help communicate the project’s scientific and conservation message to a wide audience.

Peter waiting near a BRUV

Peter waiting near a BRUV


As a conservation photographer, I had to work around the baited remote underwater video set-ups without interfering with the research goals. I had to strategically choose a location for each dive that would not disrupt the fish attracted to the area. There are at least 500 meters between each BRUV, and I could not swim from one set-up to the other.

Nature is an additional challenge to our work because it is unpredictable and you never know where sharks and rays, my favourite subjects, will turn up. I did not see them every dive, but was able to capture some exciting pictures and footage.

I did have some unexpected encounters that I thoroughly enjoyed and after over 35 years of diving were a ‘first’ for me, like the one with a sailfish and with pink whiprays (check out the footage below).



I first dived the Maldives in 1990, and had great memories of the trips I made, the richness of the reefs, and the large predators on every dive. Like many other countries, Maldives is highly dependent on marine resources and tourism, and just like in many other places, there has been overfishing. It is therefore wonderful to see that the Maldivian government gave Global FinPrint the opportunity to document the reefs and its inhabitants, so that conservation regulations for the future can be established.

Bleached reef



What particularly struck me was the coral bleaching in the Maldives. This has become a widespread global problem. It is my hope that the reefs can and will recover so that all marine life can thrive in the area.





The atmosphere on board was great, and it was wonderful to meet great marine scientists. For me, it was a privilege to be a member of the Global FinPrint team!



Peter Verhoog

You can find BRUV highlights from this mission below:

A special thanks to Vulcan, Inc., the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Pew Global Shark Campaign, the Maldivian government, Atoll Editions, and the crew aboard the Conte Max for making this mission possible.