Track Sharks with OCEARCH’s Global Shark Tracker
Name: OCEARCH's Shark Tracker (Visit OCEARCH's Shark Tracker)
Type: Shark Tracker
Best Website For: Shark Tracking
Reason it's on The Best Sites:
OCEARCH's shark tracker is an interesting website that's worth a couple minutes of your time. Their team goes around capturing 3000 lbs. sharks to do tests on them and then adds a tracker to them. The data that the tracker collects is then added to their website for your viewing pleasure.
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.
We caught up with Clark Morgan, Graduate Student at the University of North Florida, after his interview with OCEARCH for the third installment of #SharkScienceFriday (watch here), to ask more questions about the reproductive biology of white sharks.
1. How much do we already know about sharks’ reproductive biology? Elasmobranchs, which includes sharks, skates, and rays, have one of the most diverse ranges of reproductive strategies in the animal kingdom. Generally speaking, these animals are slow growing, have late maturity, and produce relatively few offspring. Some sharks give live birth, some lay eggs that hatch in the ocean, some sharks hatch from eggs inside their mom, others eat their siblings inside the uterus! While we know a lot about these different strategies, a lot of research now focuses on understanding when and where sharks are mating and the duration of their pregnancies. Also of particular interest is how often sharks mate-some sharks reproduce every year, others every two or three years.
2. How often do you encounter pregnant sharks? Have you encountered a pregnant white shark? In northeast Florida, we encounter pregnant sharks of certain species in the late spring and early summer before they pup in coastal waters. Afterwards throughout the summer, it is common to catch newborn sharks known as Young of Year (YOYs). At this point, no, there has not been a confirmed pregnancy via ultrasound of a white shark in the western Atlantic.
3. How many pups do white sharks give birth to at a time? White shark litters are normally 2 to 14 pups.
4. What is the average size of a white shark pup? Newborn water shark pups are between 1.2-1.6m (4-5 feet).
5. How early in a shark pregnancy can you detect pups via an ultrasound machine?Detection of pups via ultrasound normally relies on the ability to see structures such as the vertebrate of the pups. While gestation times vary across species, this level of development takes several months at least.
6. Is there another way to determine a shark’s pregnancy? For some shark species, analysis of the blood can provide insight on hormone levels that correspond to different stages of reproduction such as egg development, pregnancy, and postpartum status.
7. Do you use the ultrasound machine to look for anything other than pups? Yes, the ultrasound can be used to perform health assessments on other organs such as the heart and the liver.
8. How do you determine a female shark’s reproductive status when you can’t detect pups? For well studied species, overall body length can be used to assess a sharks life stage and whether or not it is mature. Also, mating wounds on females can be indicative of reproduction attempts. Additionally, hormone profiles attained from the shark’s blood can provide insight to a shark’s reproductive stage.
9. How do you determine a male shark’s reproductive status? Male sharks possess external reproductive organs called claspers, and these appendages calcify and harden upon reaching sexual maturity.
10. How will you use the ultrasound machine to create a pregnancy test? If pregnancy can be confirmed via ultrasound, the analysis of hormones from the blood can be paired and become much more powerful.
After his recent interview with OCEARCH for the second installment of #SharkScienceFriday (watch here), we thought we’d catch up with Dr. Bryan Franks, Assistant Professor of Biology and Marine Science at Jacksonville University and lead scientist on the Expedition #LowcountryII, to ask him more questions about the at-sea laboratory aboard the M/V OCEARCH vessel.
1.How do you prep before a shark comes onboard? We have a science team meeting to make sure each team member knows their role during the shark workup: which samples they are collecting, what data they are responsible for, etc. Then we pack the gear each team member will need while on the lift into a small bag so they will have all of the tools they will need during the workup. Tags are prepped and placed in standby mode. Surgical tools and the acoustic tag are soaked in sterilizing solution to minimize contamination. Lastly, we double and triple check everything so we are ready for the call.
2.What happens during a shark workup? As the shark is brought onto the lift a hose which provides fresh oxygenated seawater is placed in the mouth and is set to ensure good flow over the gills. A wet towel is also placed over the head and eyes to both keep the eyes moist and calm the shark. Lastly, a crew member is responsible for continually bucketing seawater over the shark to keep the skin moist. The workup begins with Stage 1 whereby the shark is placed on its side to expose the ventral surface so certain samples and tasks can be completed. Each team member begins on their assigned tasks and the advantage of the lift quickly becomes apparent as 4-5 scientists are completing duties simultaneously. During Stage 1, we take a blood sample from the caudal vein, surgically implant the acoustic transmitter, collect parasites, collect bacterial and semen samples, measure claspers if it’s a male, and conduct an ultrasound scan. After those procedures are complete we roll the animal into an upright position for the Stage 2 workup. This includes attaching the SPOT tag and PSAT tag, collecting additional parasites, taking a small fin clip and muscle biopsy, collecting additional bacterial samples, and taking measurements of the animal. Once these procedures are complete a final blood sample is drawn and the science team leaves the lift. The lift is lowered, the hose is removed from the mouth, and the shark is released.
3. What type of samples do you collect? We collect 2 blood samples (one at the start and one at the very end of a workup), a muscle biopsy, a fin clip, swabs from the skin, cloaca, and gills, a fecal sample, a semen sample (if it’s a male shark), photos of the eyes and caudal fin, and parasites from various locations on the body.
4.What happens during the post-workup processing? The first steps after a workup are to take a sub-sample from each blood draw to run through a unit which gives us real-time measures of a set of blood parameters which serves two purposes. One, it provides baseline knowledge of these measures such as blood pH and lactate levels in wild sharks while also allowing us to examine the stress response to the capture and workup process. The remaining blood is then put through a variety of processes to examine further blood parameters and also prepare samples for future work. Some analyses require whole blood, some plasma, etc. so these are prepared, fixed, and stored at either room temperature, refrigerated, or frozen. Other samples (muscle, fin clips, swabs) are divided, fixed in preservatives, and stored for later analyses. One of the most critical components of post-workup processing is labeling and storage as each sample must be labeled with a variety of information and stored properly for post-expedition work.
5. Why do you spin the blood collected and separate the plasma? The plasma of the blood contains vitamins, proteins, and hormones which are some of the parameters being examined by our collaborators. Our scientists are also assessing enzyme and electrolyte levels in the plasma to get a sense of organ function.
6. What do you do with the bacterial samples collected? The bacterial samples collected are used in a couple of projects being conducted by our collaborating scientists. Dr. Kim Ritchie from University of South Carolina, Beaufort, is examining the bacterial flora found on the skin surfaces of sharks with dual goals of determining the role of bacteria in the innate immunity of sharks and its potential as a novel source of antibiotics. Another project utilizing bacterial samples is a joint project with scientists from USC, Beaufort, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Georgia Aquarium. This research is using bacterial communities found in various areas of the shark’s body including the gills, skin, and cloaca. One of the major goals of this work is to identify the bacterial community in the gastrointestinal tract of white sharks and to assess its potential in shedding light on the diets of these animals.
7. What kind of results have you collected from the on-site processing? One of the major findings we’ve found with the on-site processing of blood samples is that the capture and workup procedures we use seem to be quite effective at limiting the stress response in these sharks. By taking a blood sample at the start and end of each workup, we see that stress levels are relatively low when the sharks come onto the lift and in many cases, they stay low and sometimes even decrease during their time on the lift.
8. How many scientists will receive the samples collected? Samples and data collected from sharks on this expedition will be provided to 22 scientists from 18 different institutions currently working on a variety of projects on the North Atlantic white shark.
After his recent interview with OCEARCH for #SharkScienceFriday (watch here), we thought we’d catch up with Dr. Robert Hueter, OCEARCH Science Advisor and Director of the Center for Shark Research, to ask him more questions about the tags OCEARCH and its collaborating scientists use while on expedition.
1. How long do the satellite tags last? The tags can last anywhere from 1-5 years depending on how they are set and which model is used. The new ESA tags might be able to send data for longer, perhaps decades.
2. Is there a way to track the animals when they don’t surface? Not with satellite tags, which require transmission of data through the atmosphere, but we outfit our sharks with acoustic tags, too, which do work underwater. To track a shark acoustically, however, they must be in range of an acoustic receiver station. Most of the ocean isn’t covered by these stations.
3a. How many different types of tags do you use on the animals? 2-3 types of satellite tags and one type of acoustic tag.
3b.Why? They give us different types of information – some just location, others more details such as temperature and depth profiles.
4. Why do you paint the tags black? That’s an anti-fouling compound to prevent marine growth from building up on the tags and affecting their function.
5. What other issues do you need to overcome with the tags? Attachment of tags must be done carefully and for the specific application. And cost of each tag is high, as much as $4,000 each in some cases.
6. Does the size of the shark influence the type of tag used? Yes, as too small a shark cannot tolerate too big a tag. We scale the size of the tag to the size of the shark very carefully.
7. Can you explain the difference between the ESA tag and the Wildlife Computer tag? The ESA tag has an innovative new chip in it designed by the Europeans to ensure that transmitted data is received by an overhead satellite, which helps to reduce the use of battery power when satellites are not in range.
8. What kind of questions/studies does the satellite tag help answer? Where and when the sharks go, how deep they go, and what temperatures they inhabit. This helps us identify critical areas for the life cycle of the white sharks, such as where they reproduce, where their nursery areas are, and where they feed.
9. How do you think tag technology might evolve in the coming years? Hopefully with smaller and less expensive tags. The ESA tag shows great promise of helping with this.
OCEARCH is back in the Lowcountry – Florida, Georgia, South Carolina – after tagging two white and two tiger sharks in the area last year.
“We’re returning to the Lowcountry because our sharks led us here,” Chris Fischer, OCEARCH founding chairman and Expedition Leader, said. Previous data collected shows that OCEARCH’s mature Lowcountry white sharks and most of OCEARCH’s mature Cape Cod white sharks have differing paths. The team is returning to gather data that will help researchers understand the habitat use of the Lowcountry White Shark vs. the Cape Cod White Shark.
“Two of our mature animals, Lydia and Hilton, tagged in the Southeast spent significant time in Canadian Atlantic waters, while most of our cape Cod sharks have not, with some exceptions, but those exceptions were immature animals,” Dr. Hueter, Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory, said. “Because of the overwintering importance of the Southeast for the entire Northwest Atlantic population, and because our mature animals tagged there went to Canada, it’s important we follow up on previous expeditions and try to get more tags out in the Southeast, especially on mature animals.”
OCEARCH tagged Hilton, its first mature male who is currently pinging off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, in the area last year. In total, the research group has caught, satellite-tagged, and tracked 33 great white sharks in the Atlantic since 2012, including five mature white sharks; however, scientists need a larger sample size.
“More movement data, especially on mature animals, remains the key to a comprehensive understanding of the species’ habitat use,” Dr. Bryan Franks, expedition lead scientist and Assistant Professor of Marine Science at Jacksonville University, said. “More data will allow researchers to better understand seasonal ranges and identify critical areas for the white shark along the eastern seaboard.”
The team of shark researchers and fishermen will begin their research on January 18 off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, before heading to Hilton Head, South Carolina, as part of Expedition Lowcountry II. OCEARCH will host 11 researchers, from 11 various institutions, aboard its M/V OCEARCH research vessel as part of its mission to enable data collection by providing collaborating researchers and institutions unprecedented access to mature marine animals.
There are also 11 other researchers from 10 institutions who will receive the biological samples from each animal tagged, allowing them to analyze the results from the blood, mucus, muscle, parasite, genetic, and other samples collected. Researchers will use these samples to conduct several studies, including understanding the sharks’ reproductive condition.
The expedition will include scientists from Jacksonville University, Mote Marine Laboratory, Adventure Aquarium, Georgia Aquarium, Georgia Southern University, University of South Carolina-Beaufort, WCS’ New York Aquarium, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Massachusetts, University of North Florida, Auburn University, College of Charleston, University of Florida, Cape Canaveral Scientific, South Eastern Zoological Alliance for Reproductive Conservation, VithajSafari, Long Island Shark Collaboration, Georgia Institute of Technology, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Windsor University, and Shedd Aquarium.
All sharks will be fitted with at least one satellite transmitter tag and an acoustic tag. As the sharks’ fins break the surface, the satellite tag will transmit their locations. You can follow the sharks tagged during Expedition Lowcountry II by accessing the near-real time, free online Global Shark Tracker or by downloading the Global Shark Tracker App available for Apple and Android platforms.
This past August and September, a team of researchers at Texas A&M University tagged a group of 12 mature, female Olive Ridley sea turtles off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The addition of this new species is an exciting next step for the Global Shark Tracker. Following the movements of not just sharks, but many species, will allow researchers to locate probable ecosystem hotspots – a critical component for global conservation efforts.
Olive Ridley sea turtles are the most abundant of the seven sea turtle species and one of only two species not classified as endangered. They can be found in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the globe, and Costa Rica is one of the few established Olive Ridley nesting grounds in the world – making it a perfect spot to attempt a tagging expedition. While both male and female Olive Ridleys tend to stay near shore to feed on crustaceans, jellies, and mollusks, only mature adult females ever return to shore once they have hatched. As males Olive Ridleys do not return to shore unless they are sick or injured, it makes them much more difficult to capture for tagging purposes.
Cumulatively between the 12 turtles, they have traveled over 14,000 miles and covered some interesting paths. It is known that sea turtles will sometimes use underwater landmarks such as trenches and mountain ranges to navigate. Since leaving the beaches they were tagged on, several of the turtles have followed either the Middle American or Ecuador Trench to reach their current locations.
Continuing to track the movements of these Olive Ridley Turtles will provide scientists with critical data. These are the type of data sets that motivate local and federal governments to establish marine preserves and other safe-havens for these vulnerable species to reestablish and thrive.
To track these sharks and sea turtles in real time, download the Global Shark Tracker app available for Apple and Android.
During Expedition New York, 13 scientists and researchers from 11 different institutions to collaborated on projects and gathered important data on young of the year white sharks off Montauk, New York. While a shark is being tagged, many tests are performed to gain insight into the health and movements of each species. One of the research projects conducted this expedition is the thermal physiology of these juvenile white sharks. This area of shark research has been well studied in mature, adult white sharks, but is not well documented or studied in young of the year or juveniles.
White sharks have a unique ability to maintain the temperature of their brain, eyes, muscles, and viscera (liver, stomach, etc.), to be above that of the water around them. They are regional endotherms, partially warm-blooded. This is an advantage to them, compared to other fish species, which are cold-blooded, because white sharks are able to swim, see, digest, and react faster than them. This is a predatory advantage to them when they are in colder water.
To measure the internal temperatures of juvenile white sharks, scientists use an internal acoustic transmitter tag that is inserted and placed next to the shark’s stomach. This tag will send the data of an individual shark when it swims by an acoustic receiver that is mounted on a tracking boat. That boat is operated by Captain Greg Metzger, who followed shark for several hours to stay within the detection range of the tag. Once the data is collected, the track is compiled and the researchers can analyze the data.
Figure 1. A sample of stomach temperature data (°C) from a juvenile white shark compared to the surrounding water temperature.
In addition to the internal acoustic transmitter tag, Dr. Christine Bedore (Georgia Southern University), used a FLIR thermal imaging camera to try to non-invasively measure the eye temperatures of the white sharks we catch. The brain and eyes of white sharks are also kept warmer than the surrounding water, which may allow them to visually track fast-moving prey in cold water. If the FLIR cameras work for taking these measurements, it will provide a new tool to study the physiology of these warm sharks. These tools gather data that is critical for understanding the movements, range, and habitat distribution of these young white sharks. Once their range, depths, and prey are identified, there can be better management of that region and fisheries to make sure these young of the year white sharks will have a healthy future and ocean with them in it.
After a month-long expedition in the waters off Montauk, NY, OCEARCH and its collaborating scientists have reached the target sample size for its North Atlantic study for the juvenile white shark.
The team captured and sampled a total of 18 sharks, including 11 juvenile white sharks in its most recent expedition. “The juvenile white sharks sampled and tagged during the expedition provide a major leap forward in the science on this species in the Northwest Atlantic,” said Tobey Curtis, New York Expedition lead scientist and fisheries biologist at NOAA Fisheries. “We have reached our target number of tagged sharks for this phase of our ongoing research, and now we can focus on following their movements and learning from them.”
This expedition marked OCEARCH’s second time in New York waters and the organization’s 30th expedition to date. The team’s objective was to collect samples from juvenile white sharks in the region, tag them, and follow their movement patterns in real-time on the Global Shark Tracker.
Combined with the nine individuals OCEARCH tagged during last year’s expedition in Montauk, there are now a total of 20 satellite-tagged juvenile white sharks swimming around the North Atlantic. “The satellite and acoustic tag data reporting in from these sharks will finally help us observe juvenile white shark movements, migration, and habitat preferences, clarifying which areas are the most important to their survival,” Curtis said.
Up to 24 researchers from 20 various institutions will receive biological samples from each animal tagged, allowing them to analyze the results from the blood, mucus, muscle, parasite, genetic, fecal, and other samples collected. Scientists will use these samples to conduct several studies, including understanding the visual, thermal, and stress physiology of white sharks.
All white sharks were fitted with a satellite transmitter tag and an acoustic tag. Additionally, a subset of individuals was fitted with pop-up satellite tags that will allow researchers to reconstruct high-resolution three-dimensional movements of the white sharks for the month following deployment. The resulting data will shed light on the interactions between white shark behavior and their physical environment.
“Although we’ve reached our sample size for deploying satellite transmitters, we hope to continue compiling data and conducting additional studies on these sharks over the next several years,” Curtis said. “OCEARCH has boosted our science and given us the capabilities to successfully continue our work.”
During the Montauk Expedition, OCEARCH collaborated with researchers from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, Southampton Schools, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute – Florida Atlantic University, WCS’ New York Aquarium, Georgia Southern University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Stony Brook University, South Fork Natural History Museum, University of South Carolina-Beaufort, Adventure Aquarium, Mote Marine Laboratory, Georgia Aquarium, Mississippi State Aquarium, and University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
The team also satellite-tagged a sandbar and blue shark, acoustically tagged the sandbar and one dusky shark, and sampled two other blue sharks, one dusky shark, and one mako shark.
As the sharks’ fins break the surface, the satellite tag will transmit their locations. “It’s amazing to see most of the sharks – Gurney, Mission, Bruin, Azlyn, JD, Sage, and Laurel Jean are still in the area while Finn and Amagansett are off the coast of New Jersey, said Chris Fischer, OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader. “We are learning so much already.”
On August 5th 2017, OCEARCH returned to New York to embark on our 30th expedition. In 2016, we explored these same waters looking for juvenile white sharks. The successful tagging of nine young-of-the-year (YOY) sharks led to the confirmation that the waters off eastern Long Island are a primary nursery for the white shark. This first year of data has revealed that many of the YOYs, such as Manhattan, stayed in the New York area nursery all summer, then ventured south to the Carolinas and have since returned to their summer nursery.
Our team of scientists has created revolutionary ways to use the technology needed to accommodate the small dorsal fins of YOY white sharks. SPOT satellite-linked tags have been designed to be smaller and safer for the animals, providing surface positions more often to allow us to track movements. Some of the YOY white sharks will be getting pop-up satellite archival tags that will store information on depth, temperature, and light levels to reveal the shark’s activity beneath the surface. The use of these tags will help us understand the relationship these sharks have with their habitats. Scientists can use this information to identify potential human impact and environmental factors that directly affect the young sharks.
Continued research efforts are needed to monitor shark movements, enabling scientists to assist the sharks in this vulnerable early stage of life. It is vital that they reach maturity and drive the species to a stable and abundant future.
“The continued recovery and stability of the North Atlantic white shark population hinges upon our understanding of its nursery habitat in underwater space and time,” said Dr. Matt Ajemian, Assistant Research Professor at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. “Our multi-tagging approach is providing a 4D view of these habitats, which should prove beneficial to managing this critically important apex predator.”
Meet Gurney and Finn, two young-of-the-year great white sharks tagged and released off Montauk, NY by OCEARCH and its collaborative team of multi-disciplined scientists during their second expedition in New York waters.
“We’ve learned a lot about the adult sharks in recent years, but the pups are still a complete mystery,” said Tobey Curtis, lead scientist and Fisheries Manager at NOAA Fisheries. “Tagging these baby white sharks will help us better understand how essential Long Island waters are for their survival.”
Gurney, a 61-pound, 4-foot male white shark, and Finn, a 79-pound, 5-foot male white shark, are the first two white sharks tagged by the team in New York waters. The tags on these young-of-the-year sharks will allow scientists to track their movements up and down the coast for the next several years.
The team, which includes researchers from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Southampton Schools, Florida Atlantic University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Stony Brook University, University of South Carolina-Beaufort, Adventure Aquarium, Mote Marine Laboratory, Georgia Aquarium, Mississippi State Aquarium, and University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, collected blood samples, fin clips, parasites, muscle sample and took measurements of the sharks. Each sample provides baseline data previously unattainable for great white sharks in this initial phase of life.
The team also satellite-tagged a sandbar and blue shark, and acoustically-tagged two blue, one mako, and one dusky shark. The team will be working off Montauk for another seven days.
“The presence of these apex predators is a good sign of the ecological health of our local ocean,” said Tobey Curtis, lead scientist and Fisheries Manager at NOAA Fisheries.
As Finn and Gurney’s fins break the surface, their satellite tags will transmit their location, allowing anyone and everyone to follow their movements by accessing the near-real time, free online Global Shark Tracker or by downloading the Global Shark Tracker App available for Apple and Android platforms.
Since their release, hundreds have already followed Gurney (@Gurney_Shark) and Finn (@GreatWhiteFinn) on Twitter, engaging the public as her migration patterns unfold.
“This is great as we continue to take the steps to reveal the great white shark pupping ground,” said Chris Fischer, OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader. “It’s this kind of scientific data that will help us collectively make more informed decisions about how to protect this incredible species.”
After tagging nine juvenile white sharks in Long Island, New York last August and confirming the white shark nursery for the North Atlantic white shark, OCEARCH and its team of collaborating scientists are joining forces, once again, and returning to those same waters to tag more sharks.
As an organization specializing in tracking sharks while engaging in global conservation outreach and education, OCEARCH will bring its unique shark platform and at-sea research laboratory—the MV OCEARCH—to New York waters for its 30th expedition. The research vessel will host a multi-institutional science team from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Southampton Schools, Florida Atlantic University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Stony Brook University, University of South Carolina-Beaufort, Adventure Aquarium, Mote Marine Laboratory, Georgia Aquarium, Mississippi State Aquarium, and University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
This expedition will mark OCEARCH’s second time in New York waters. The team’s objective is to tag juvenile sharks in the region and to allow the public to follow their migratory patterns in real-time on the Global Shark Tracker. “The waters off Long Island are the only known hotspot for juvenile white sharks in the North Atlantic,” said Tobey Curtis, lead scientist and Fisheries Manager at NOAA Fisheries. “White sharks and other species rely on New York’s productive coastal waters for the first years of their lives. Understanding where, when, and how these sharks use this area can help us better predict how human activities might be impacting them.”
OCEARCH’s mission is to enable data collection by providing collaborating researchers and institutions unprecedented access to mature marine animals. Up to 24 researchers from 20 various institutions will receive biological samples from each animal tagged, allowing them to analyze the results from the blood, mucus, muscle, parasite, genetic, and other samples collected. Scientists will use these samples to conduct several studies, including understanding the sharks’ reproductive condition.
The expedition begins on August 5 and ends on August 24, 2017. The expedition will kick off in Montauk, NY with education and outreach events before heading out to start the research on the water.
All sharks will be fitted with a satellite transmitter tag, PSAT tag, and an acoustic tag. As the sharks’ fins break the surface, the satellite tag will transmit their locations. You can follow the sharks tagged during Expedition New York by accessing the near-real time, free online Global Shark Tracker or by downloading the Global Shark Tracker App available for Apple and Android platforms.