By Ryan Blessing
NORTH KINGSTOWN — High school students boarded a floating classroom last week and took to Narragansett Bay in search of sharks.
No, not the great white shark of “Jaws” fame, or infamy. But the 13 students enrolled in the University of Rhode Island’s second annual “Shark Camp” got to see and hold smaller species such as a dogfish, along with a plethora of other marine life during the week-long camp.
The week included visits to Mystic Aquarium and URI’s Kingston campus, but the main draw was setting out each day for three days on the URI research vessel Cap’n Bert to trawl the bay for marine life.
“The only other experience I had before this was the aquarium, so wild sharks look pretty cool,” Gregory Brown, a senior at Paul Cuffee School, a maritime charter school in Providence, said.
Brad Wetherbee, a URI biological sciences professor and expert on sharks, said the program was developed to expose kids who might not have ever boarded a boat before to the wonders of marine ecology. The hope is to spark curiosity, teach them some marine biology and maybe interest them in a future career path, he said.
Students from The Met School, Paul Cuffee School and Central High School in Providence, as well as from Central Falls High School, attended the camp.
Brown, 18, said he learned the names of several types of fish, “like the clearnose skate, that’s a type of stingray,” along with skills such as how to tie knots.
“We saw a lot of birds,” too, he said. “Because we were pulling up fish.”
Classmate Adrian Carrasco, a junior, also learned a lot from the trips.
“My favorite part was being able to see sharks and feel them, and take pictures,” Carrasco, 15, said.
He explained the process of lowering a net on the boat and trawling to catch the marine life that they studied.
“We go along for like 20 minutes or so, and when we bring it up there’s a bunch of fish and different animals,” he said. “Lots of crabs.”
The day typically started with the Cap’n Bert, piloted by former commercial fisherman Steve Barber, putting out crab catchers.
“They’re much easier to lay out and put bait in,” student Tyla Morin, 17, said. “After that, we moved on to the next area of water and used the net to catch more bigger groups of fish and invertebrates.”
He learned how to cut squid for bait, tie rope, pull up cages and more.
“Yesterday we lost a cage, which was pretty sad because it was pretty heavy. It probably had a lot of stuff in there,” Morin, a junior at The Met School, said.
He’s the first from his school to get an internship with the URI Graduate School of Oceanography. He’s been with it about a year and plans to keep pursuing marine sciences, he said.
“I’ve been interested in sharks for a long time. I’ve been in love with them since I was little, so my dream is to study sharks and one day go cage diving.”
It was an eye-opening experience as well for Colombian native Mateo Munoz, 17. He attends Central Falls High School.
“I learned a lot of things about sharks and other fish,” he said. “For example, sharks don’t have bones. They are made of all cartilage. That’s cool.”
He said it was his best experience in the several months he’s been in Rhode Island, and that he might pursue more ocean studies.
“With this experience you can learn about animals, about meeting people, everything,” he said.