Shark Conservation, Research and Tracking in South Africa. 

Ocearch shark research ship

Photo credit: Paul Taggart/www.ocearch.org.

Shark tracking has revolutionized our understanding of sharks. The ability to follow these enormous predators as they journey through their natural habitat has provided excellent data for scientists and conservationists around the world.

Getting sharks on board the Ocearch

Installing shark tracking device

Riley the Great White Shark

Shark tracking device. Photo credit www.ocearch.org.

At the forefront of this global initiative is Ocearch, an organisation committed to the the conservation of sharks in the wild and the critical understanding that the strenuous effort of tracking them brings.

Since 2007, the crew aboard the M/V Ocearch have conducted 27 expeditions worldwide, tagged hundreds of sharks and partnered with 146 scientists from 80 regional and international institutions.

Their efforts have resulted in over 50 published scientific papers on the biology and conservation of sharks and provides researchers with constant access to an incredible amount of real-time data.

Not only that, the novelty of naming and tracking sharks across the world’s oceans has resulted in an impressive engagement with the general public and has created over 6 billion media impressions across news networks and social media platforms.

The company is recognized as a global leader in the telemetry of keystone marine animals, though their focus is undoubtedly on the tracking of the great white shark in particular.

A number of their early expeditions are documented on the popular History channel show, Shark Wranglers. A typical episode shows the entire procedure from start to finish, first the locating of untagged sharks in the open water, the catching of the shark, the various tests conducted and finally its release.

It is a fascinating process to watch and it is one that is making a truly invaluable contribution to collaborative ocean research.

Great white sharks weigh on average between 900 and 2200 kilograms depending on maturity so the process of tagging sharks is an understandably difficult one; but the process is handled in a strikingly efficient and seamless manner by the professionals on board.

After being caught, the shark is safely maneuvered onto a custom built 30 ton capacity lift, ensuring the least amount of trauma for the animal. The deck is then lifted up, before the water is drained and the shark is tranqulised.

Once the shark is secure, scientists are able to conduct a number of invaluable studies that provide insight into the behavior and makeup of the various shark species caught, while the tags allow researchers to track their movements, range as well as feeding and breeding habits.

The whole procedure lasts around 15 minutes, with the shark being closely monitored throughout by veterinarians on board. Data from blood obtained on the lift shows that the animals are minimally stressed by the event and confirms that sharks return to their natural disposition between 2-4 hours after they are released.

This is supported by the fact that these sharks display incredible long-term survival capabilities as is evidenced by the amount of time scientists have been tracking them and the long distances they cover.

Lydia, the first shark tagged off the coast of Florida was tagged in March 2013 and has traveled nearly 75,000 kilometres in the four years since her tagging by Ocearch.

The tracking device, which is inserted into the shark’s dorsal fin, transmits a signal to a satellite which “pings” every time the sharks fin breaks the water. The satellite then sends back an estimated geo location to researchers on the ground.

Ocearch’s expeditions allow researchers access to previously unattainable data which contributes to both conservation efforts globally and public safety in areas of the world humans come into contact with sharks.

This research is then able to influence informed policy decisions among governments and ensure the best steps are taken to improve both the lives of these magnificent animals and our understanding of their behaviour.

Learn more about shark tracking and conservation:

Meet the sharks:

Credit: All data found on www.ocearch.org.

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