Tagging wild animals is no walk in the park. Tracking their unpredictable location and developing and executing a plan to capture them is difficult. More times than not, expeditions result in failure after failure. Yet despite all this, a group of motivated researchers are making history by successfully tagging the first ever great white shark pup in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Results of the Mission
Researchers with OCEARCH, a nonprofit organization that conducts research on large apex predators, including great white sharks, carried out this impressive scientific feat. The mission was to capture and tag a baby great white shark – an accomplishment never before done in the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, only one other great white shark pup had been tagged ever worldwide.
OCEARCH finally achieved the goal of their expedition, reeling in a 50 pound, 4-foot-6-inch long female. They named her Montauk, in honor of the nearby town at the tip of Long Island. Just the next day, the team was able to tag another pup, this time a male they named Hudson, weighing just over 66 pounds and measuring at 5-foot-1-inch. Both Montauk and Hudson are happily swimming up and down the Long Island coast where they were captured, leaving an enticing trail of data. The end of the expedition boasted a total of nine great white pup tags.
Unhealed umbilical scars on some of the captured and tagged babies reveal that they most likely were born in the latest birthing season. The crew was experiencing baby great whites almost as small as they come! The team took blood and tissue samples from each pup, which will allow researchers to analyze whether any of the nine are relatives of other adult sharks in the area, or even related to each other. Along with these samples, each pup was fitted with a tracker, which allows researchers to follow their location as they mature.
The Location of Pups
This discovery off the coast of Long Island may have clued scientists into one of the locations in the North Atlantic Ocean where great white shark females give birth. They believe the coast off of Long Island could potentially be a nursery. The OCEARCH team is not alone in this thinking – sightings of juvenile sharks in this location are commonly reported. Females also tend to visit these waters in the summer, during the time when birthing season is believed to be. The shallow waters around New York may just be the perfect nursery. In this location, the babies are protected from other predators during their most critical years of development. Using data from current fin tags on sharks that OCEARCH has tagged, it appears as though adult females move up and down the east coast.
Why Tag Pups?
Researchers have been able to learn a lot about adult great white sharks over the years; however, the pups have remained fairly elusive. Tagging pups would allow researchers to gain information on their movements and locations, as well as learn about how they grow. It is important for those wanting to conserve these apex marine predators to understand where they spend the early years of their life.
Some may dispute the tags all together, arguing that the process of tagging causes the animals stress or pain. Chris Fischer, OCEARCH expedition leader comments on the issue, saying, “If we thought we were hurting these animals, we wouldn’t do what we were doing. We don’t learn if we don’t let them go in good shape. The fact of the matter is that we have to get some tracking devices on a handful of these animals so we can help them all thrive.”
The hope is to get trackers on more great white pups in the future to better understand their species and conserve one of the marine world’s most misunderstood animals.
Cover photo, shark with team, close up of tracker, shark being released: http://gothamist.com/2016/08/21/photos_these_baby_great_white_shark.php#photo-6