Many people watched the team of OCEARCH for the first time studying the great white shark on National Geographic and then the spinoff series “Shark Men” on the History Channel. But the team members are not done yet by far.
Even though the great whites shark is known to prowl such waters, during the last two summer seasons reports of great whites off of the coast of Cape Cod made nationwide headlines. On July 30, 2013, off the coast of Cape Cod, OCEARCH is launching what is anticipated to be the largest great white shark expedition in U.S. history to further both science and public safety. Chris Fischer, who has covered over 250,000 nautical miles at the helm, is set to lead his 17th expedition studying the apex predator.
Fischer is the “ultimate modern-day explorer.” He is joined by Captain Brett McBride, who is the “first man in the water and the last man out” with these dangerous but magnificent creatures. The objective will be to capture, tag and release 10-20 Great White Sharks while providing top scientists 15 minutes with each shark to conduct approximately 12 scientific studies. The increased summertime population of great white sharks off Cape Cod has drawn significant science and public safety attention, specifically a quest for increased knowledge.
EXPEDITION CAPE COD 2013 will be different from OCEARCH’s 2012 Cape Cod expedition in that the research team will be working in an area known for high populations of seals. Leading the collaborative team will be MA Division of Marine Fisheries Senior Scientist and WHOI Adjunct Scientist Dr. Greg Skomal along with Dr. Bob Hueter and Dr. Nick Whitney of the Mote Marine Laboratory. They will be joined by Dr. Simon Thorrold of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and numerous other scientists and institutions including University of Massachusetts, University of North Florida, Middle Tennessee State University, College of Charleston, Cape Canaveral Scientific and the Georgia Aquarium. Skomal stated:
This expedition brings together an amazing team of researchers with broad experience in multiple disciplines. In doing so, we will be conducting over a dozen studies on white sharks, ranging from broad and fine scale migratory patterns to sonograms. Our knowledge base on Atlantic white sharks will grow exponentially, helping both science and public safety.
OCEARCH has conducted unprecedented research into the great white shark, specifically on shark life history and migration. Their fieldwork involves the attracting, catching, tagging, and bio-sampling of sharks before they are released. The shark is monitored at all times under guidance from the experts on the crew, and maintained on the platform by water over its gills. All fieldwork is done according to agreed and approved protocols based primarily on ethical considerations, and overseen by leading scientists/researchers.
Shark populations worldwide are under threat with significant declines in shark populations documented in areas where they were once common. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has determined that of the shark and ray species assessed, 30 percent are threatened or near-threatened with extinction. Conserving sharks is thus currently a global conservation priority and devising successful conservation and management strategies is largely limited by our scientific knowledge on their biology.
Significant information is lacking with regard to the medium and long range movement patterns of great white sharks. Traditional research has focused on fine small scale movements of white sharks within known aggregation sites. Gaining this previously unattainable information enables more effective shark and ocean conservation and – protection of human life.
From the OCEARCH web site, they describe their work targeting:
Reproductive behavior of white sharks, in terms of where and when they participate in mating and birthing behavior.
Behavior of juveniles, in terms of the existence and persistence of nursery grounds.
Individual movements as a function of season and life history stage.
Identification of additional coastal aggregation sites.
This unprecedented data enhances the ability of managers to make informed decisions to ensure the sustainability shark populations. Sharing data gathered during our research with the public is core to our mission.
As apex predators, sharks play a crucial role of maintaining balance in the delicate oceanic ecosystem. When a top predator like sharks are removed or depleted a potentially catastrophic domino effect occurs throughout the food web, threatening the balance of the ocean. For instance, rapidly reproducing species like squid have the potential to explode when the balance is shifted. Aggressively consumptive, squid can consume up to a third of their body weight daily as juveniles, placing unprecedented pressure on their prey.
Shark populations worldwide are under threat – sharks are being slaughtered at an unsustainable rate, many for a bowl of soup. This unsustainable harvest rate driven by the demand for shark fins, meat and other products puts not only sharks at risk, but also the entire balance of the ocean.
Conserving sharks is a global conservation priority and devising successful conservation and management strategies is largely limited by our scientific knowledge on their biology and life history. Significant information is lacking with regard to the medium and long range movement patterns of white sharks. Traditional research has focused on fine small scale movements of white sharks within known aggregation sites. Gaining this previously unattainable information enables more effective shark and ocean conservation.
Last March, the team from OCEARCH were busy tagging the first great white shark in Florida waters. They named the giant Lydia. You can track Lydia and any other great white shark tagged by OCEARCH with the Global Shark Tracker.
Expedition Jacksonville: Tagging the Impossible
Expedition Jacksonville: Layers of Learning
Expedition Jacksonville: Groundhog Day
Expedition Jacksonville: Ready for a Shark