The North Carolina Aquariums and the shark research group, OCEARCH are partnering in a new effort to better understand sand tiger shark populations.
The groups will tag mature female sand tiger sharks in the waters off southeastern North Carolina in June.
A team of scientists led by the NC Aquariums will join a crew from OCEARCH on their 126-foot vessel to tag the sharks and collect data about their migration patterns and habitats.
OCEARCH founder and expedition leader Chris Fischer gave a special presentation on Wednesday in the UNCW’s Lumina Theater. Fischer talked about the research expedition, the first for OCEARCH in NC.
“There is very little known about this species in our waters," said NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher Director Peggy Sloan. "Yet, these animals are so important to the health of our ocean."
Sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) are found in the western Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Maine to Argentina. They are known to congregate near the many shipwrecks along NC. Little is known about their migration and breeding patterns and they have one of the lowest reproduction rates of all sharks.
Tagging mature female sharks will help researchers better understand what habitat may be critical for migration, mating, and giving birth. Sharks will be tracked initially for two years.
"People should care about the sharks in our waters," said Fischer. "They are the balance keepers. They will keep this area in balance, so there is an abundance of fish and that is one of the main reasons we are doing this research."
Scientists estimate the loss of as many as 200,000 sharks a day, largely from overfishing and habitat loss. Without these apex predators, animal populations can become out of balance threatening ecosystems and economies.
"We're trying to eliminate all of these data gaps that we have because we have to have that data to ensure an abundant future," Fischer added. "The Carolinas are important. It's thriving off the beach here. There is a tremendous amount of life. A lot of sharks are leveraging the area of many species and that means it's important to the overall future abundance of the North Atlantic Ocean."
The OCEARCH team has experience finding and safely working with sharks, as well as collecting scientific data from them with minimal impact. Two of the white sharks previously tagged by OCEARCH, Mary Lee and Katherine, are frequent visitors to the NC coast.
The acoustic tags used in the NC Aquarium study differ from the tags used on the white sharks and will not be tracked on OCEARCH’s Global Shark Tracker.
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