Three Mote Marine Laboratory scientists have returned to Sarasota, Florida from a three-week shark research expedition aboard the internationally known M/V OCEARCH.
Expedition Jacksonville took place from March 15 to April 2. It began in Jacksonville and moved off Florida’s northeastern coast and reached waters off the southern coast of Georgia; a first for an OCEARCH shark expedition.
The main objective of the expedition was to gather data critical to ocean conservation by satellite tagging sharks off Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia to study their health and behavior.
Eleven scientists from ten institutions caught, sampled, and released seven sharks with the purpose of collecting data to further understand the ecology, natural history, physiology, and behavior of large sharks in the Atlantic Ocean. The more that is understood about these complex animals, more can be done to protect them now and safeguard their future.
Four tiger sharks were fitted with SPOT tags, a type of satellite tag that tracks the shark’s location and sends data back to scientists when the shark’s dorsal fin breaks the water’s surface. Three of those sharks were fitted with acoustic tags to help monitor their position on a finer scale. One sand tiger shark was fitted with an acoustic tag, and two blacknose sharks were not tagged, but blood samples and other tests were performed.
The public can track four of the tagged sharks here.
Participating scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory included Drs. Robert Hueter, Heather Marshall, and Kim Ritchie. Hueter served as a principal investigator, overseeing the dozen or so procedures performed in the 15 minute window that scientists have access to sharks on the ship’s lift. Marshall took blood samples from all the sharks to study the physiological effects of capture stress. Since incidental fishing capture of sharks is a global problem, it is critical to understand how capture and handling affects the sharks’ physiology and ability to recover. Ritchie collected bacterial samples from the sharks’ epidermis to study the antibiotic-producing bacteria associated with large sharks. This can help explain the animals’ natural resistance to disease and injury.
All data from this expedition will be shared in an open-source environment so collaborating institutions can ultimately publish studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Peer-reviewed studies can be catalysts in management and policy decisions about these important ocean predators.