The Safina Center

May 2nd
2014

Shark Tagging, Bahamas – Part 1

Blue Ocean Institute Fellow Dr. Demian Chapman, is leading a scientific research expedition in the Bahamian Shark Sanctuary. Chapman’s team is conducting groundbreaking research on the movements and behavior patterns of different shark species in an attempt to better understand and protect them.

Christine O’Connell, a science communicator at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, is part of Chapman’s team and is blogging about their experiences from the Bahamas.

Read on and stay tuned for dispatches from the field!

Shark Tagging Update

April 18, 2014, by Christine O’Connell

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Dr. Demian Chapman landed in Grand Bahama this week with some of the research team.  They have already tagged some 48 sharks in 3 days, including lemons (above picture), bonnetheads and blacknose sharks! “The two former are subjects of our genetic studies, so this is really great,” said Chapman.

One of the main objectives of this trip is to survey potential nursery areas for juvenile sharks in the Bahamas. Of particular focus is the lemon shark. This project builds on a 20-year research project conducted at the Bimini Biological Field Station that has shown that female lemon sharks return to their birthplace to give birth.  The team is visiting different habitats around the islands to find young sharks. This week is Grand Bahama Island.

Lemon shark being measured

Lemon shark being measured

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MY FIRST SHARK

April 21, 2014, by Christine O’Connell

The ride out this morning was a little rough and overcast. We pulled up to the first spot and anchored the line. It was promising. A shallow cove surrounded by mangroves with a small channel leading inland. It was the perfect spot for baby sharks.

Lemon sharks stay in shallow waters for their first years of life. The mangroves provide protection as well as a buffet of smaller fish to eat. As the sharks get bigger they move out from the protection of the mangroves to patrol deeper waters. But not until they are 4-5 years old and around 5 feet long. We don’t really know where they go after they leave their mangrove nursery, but aggregations of lemon sharks are found along the eastern seaboard, as far up as North Carolina.

After we set the chum in the water, and baited the lines, we waited patiently, hoping for the sun to peak out from behind the clouds. It had been about 20 minutes and we hadn’t seen anything, not even a nibble. It was perfectly quiet. Then, I got my first bite! I grasped my fishing rod tightly – the little shark on the other end put up quite a fight. I was so excited reeling it in. I pulled it along side of the boat and Mark Bond, one of the veteran scientists on the project, leaned over to grab it. After the shark settled down, we took 3 measurements. One from the tip of the nose to the notch right before the tail (caudal) fin, then to the fork in the caudal fin, and then to the tip.   My shark was 105 cm, or about 3.4 feet.

Christine and Mark with a Lemon shark.

Christine and Mark with a Lemon shark.

Then Sean Williams, another shark researcher on board, took a small genetic sample, and Mark set the tag right below the base of the dorsal fin. Then the shark swam quickly off, disappearing into the shadows of the mangroves.

We caught another Lemon at that site, a smaller male, and then continued to fish at 4 other locations. At the next site, we saw a few Lemons, but ended up catching a Bonnethead – one of the smallest types of Hammerhead shark. Bonnetheads have a head that looks like a garden trowel and only grow up to about 4 feet.

Sean with a Bonnethead.

Sean with a Bonnethead.

Bonnethead after being tagged.

Bonnethead after being tagged.

We didn’t have much luck the rest of the day, only catching 2 more Bonnetheads, one of which got off right at the side of the boat. At 4:30 pm we headed back to Port Lucaya through some rough seas and a big rain storm. We were a little soaked through, but it was a great day. One I will never forget, catching and tagging my first shark!

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