EXPEDITION CAPE COD
Great White Sharks (GWS) have been a hot topic in the news for Cape Cod, Boston and the surrounding areas. An increased number of GWS sightings and a lack of understanding around the behavior and movement of these magnificent apex predators is driving both fear and questions that can only be answered by new data from an OCEARCH expedition.
The OCEARCH team, led by Chris Fischer and captains Jody Whitworth and Brett McBride, will be facilitating Great White Shark research for Dr. Greg Skomal and a team of top U.S. scientists including Mote Marine Lab’s Dr. Robert (Bob) Hueter – the Director for the National Center for Shark Research.
“These sharks are a 400-million-year-old secret. We don’t know where they are breeding, feeding or giving birth,” said expedition leader Chris Fischer. “What we do is provide the best scientists access to these sharks to gather information and help demystify the life of Jaws.” He adds: “Tagging provides real-time tracking for up to five years. Our goal is to increase knowledge of these animals to ensure that they have a robust future. Conservation decisions should be driven by data rather than emotion.”
“Using Fischer’s platform will give us a direct satellite linkup, and that’s something we don’t have,” said Greg Skomal, a shark expert with the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries. Blood samples taken from the captured sharks will also be measured to quantify the stress to the animal from its capture. Skomal said he will be happy if they succeed in tagging up to 10 white sharks.
OCEARCH is a non-profit organization with a global reach for unprecedented research on the ocean’s giants.
WHAT WE DO
OCEARCH facilitates unprecedented research by supporting leading researchers and institutions seeking to attain groundbreaking data on the biology and health of sharks, in conjunction with basic research on shark life history and migration. The researchers we support work aboard the M/V OCEARCH, a unique 126’ vessel equipped with a custom 75,000 hydraulic lift and research platform, which serves as both mothership and at-sea laboratory.
HOW WE DO IT
OCEARCH fieldwork involves the attracting, catching, tagging, and bio-sampling of sharks before they are released. The shark is monitored at all times under expert guidance 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.
WHY UNPRECEDENTED RESEARCH IS IMPORTANT
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 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. Our collaborative work with leading researchers and their institutions generates data in a number of areas pertaining to shark ecology. Including: 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. Adult behavior, especially mature females. 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.
WHY HELP SHARKS?
As apex predators, sharks play a crucial role of maintaining balance in the delicate oceanic ecosystem. Like the big cats of Africa, sharks have an effect on all levels in the food web below them. 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.