Stories from the Bay
by Capt. Alek Modjeski, Habitat Restoration Program Director, American Littoral Society
Round three of the American Littoral Society’s fish survey at the oyster reef we built in South Reeds Beach began pretty routinely on September 1. Quinn Whitesall (our Habitat Restoration Technician) masterly launched our research vessel, the R/V Great Auk, from the ramp at Smokey’s with support from Shane Godshall (Habitat Restoration Coordinator) and Capt. Al Modjeski (Habitat Restoration Program Director). We then prepared the fish traps and boat for day one of the two-day project, and left the dock with Capt. Al at the helm. There weren’t any green heads biting our legs, which always makes these trips better.
Shane and Quinn had marked the sample sites previously, and we were able to set our traps relatively quickly. That gave us time to investigate a potential restoration site and familiarize ourselves with the smaller creeks that stem from Bidwell’s before retrieving some of the traps placed on top of the reef. In our travels we saw Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus) and double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus ) feeding on numerous schools of baitfish, a pod of about 12 dolphin swimming towards the ocean, and even a Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) dive bombing offshore. The ospreys were working the water as well so it was a great day to see nature at work on the bay.
That was when we heard it. Apparently something else was enjoying the bounties of the bay. And the US Coast Guard was letting everyone know. They were alerting boaters to be on the look-out for a 14-foot white shark spotted off Cape May Point and heading towards the interior of Delaware Bay. We immediately began scanning the horizon with the knowledge that shark was only 5 feet smaller than our research vessel.
Was that really the radio alert or did we hear it wrong?
Memories of "Jaws" came to mind and “what if” conversations ensued as we headed to Bidwell’s Creek and then on to the reef site. It was pretty exciting even though we knew that it was highly unlikely we would see a shark that day. We also learned that Quinn had never seen "Jaws", which meant someone else had to say: "We're gonna need a bigger boat."
As the day moved on, we were able to investigate a smaller tributary in the interior of the marsh where we came across two Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), a few Glossy Ibis ( Plegadis falcinellus), and a couple of trees loaded with Egrets and Cormorants. As the tide pulled out, we headed back to the traps where we measured, weighed, and released species collected. Meredith Brown, our Delaware Bayshore Conservation Coordinator, joined us for the second day.
Over the two day event, we collected a number of blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus), a pin fish (Lagodon rhomboides), several mud crabs and amphipods, as well as a smooth dogfish. Remarkably, the dogfish stuffed its 20” body into our small trap. We are guessing it was foraging close to the reef and feeding on the little crabs and invertebrates. Though it wasn’t a 14 foot White Shark, it was quite a find and we lived to blog another day. See you in two weeks with more exciting adventure stories from the deck of the American Littoral Society’s R/V Great Auk.