Protecting Sharks through the Help of OCEARCH’s Shark Tracker App
written by: Justin Hester
Sharks are in decline worldwide due to a whole range of human fishing activities. There is no debate on global warming or ocean acidification here, the blame lays square on humans. Recently a familiar set of ESPN faces has turned their fish catching machines into shark tagging machines. Traveling the globe the OCEARCH team aims to catch, tag, sample, and safely release sharks in the hopes of learning more about their lives.
Just envision catching a great white shark, bringing it safely out of the water, then tagging and releasing it back to the ocean and you have a pretty clear picture of what this team does. To most this sounds like something from a Hollywood production, but for Chris Fischer and his team, this is just another summer day off the coast of New England. OCEARCH is the latest in Chris’ ocean adventures with his ship the M.V. Ocean that allows his team to roam the worlds OCEANS and now leave a trail of data behind that we can all see on our iphones!
What is OCEARCH
OCEARCH is actually a collaborative effort made by several institutions. You might have heard of the M.V. Ocean from the news before, this 126’ vessel is equipped with a hydraulic lift and a platform for research. Some may remember it from ESPN’s Saturday morning line up. The team back then was catching and mainly releasing fish as they traveled from southern California down the Baja peninsula. They used to launch a smaller boat using the hydraulics much in the same manor they use it to raise sharks for tagging today.
Today, the M.V. Ocean is filled with researchers from different institutions that looking to attain more information about sharks in terms of their biological structure, health, history and migration. Due to the academic nature of the OCEARCH team, they are mainly focused on data gathering and not on profit earning. In fact, if you will have a chance to see the vessel, you will immediately notice that the research platform also holds a sea-laboratory on board.
How they do it?
The people behind the OCEARCH team conduct their research by not only understanding the nature of this species but also protecting it from illegal hunting. Researchers must perform a series of tasks in order to track the sharks. These tasks may sound simple, but they take time, effort and money. The first task includes the process of attracting the shark using bait and chum. After attracting the shark, the next step is to catch it and get it over and onto the large hydraulic deck. Once on the deck, it is tagged and sampled. The tagging process includes the attachment of the SPOT tag on the shark’s dorsal fin. This SPOT tag is powered by a large battery. To save energy once the animal submerged in the water it will not transmit. However, once the shark’s fin is out of the water the SPOT tag will come alive and start functioning, providing pings to the location where the shark is.
What is a Shark Tracker App?
The Shark Tracker App allows anyone to see the movements of the sharks that the Ocearch team has tagged with their SPOT tag. The information that this growing number of tags is feeding to the research team has been very eye openning. They are seeing the sharks go places they didn’t think they went as well as watching them travel long distances in relatively short amounts of time.
This application actually works only when the SPOT tag is not submerged in the water. Within the app, you are able to see in real time what sharks have surfaced lately as well as see the paths that they have most recently travelled. The Shark tracker app which can be viewed on OCEARCH’s site is really interesting, you can know where a specific shark has been and see a bio about it biological details. This exciting application helps in ensuring that the sh
arks stay where they are.
Track A Shark, Its Fun!
Sharks are apex predators have been on earth 3-400 million years roaming the world’s ocean, yet we have sent their numbers spiraling down in just the last century. They need a break and we need to learn more about them to give them that break. The research the extended OCEARCH team is now gathering is a critical step in break. The more we learn about where sharks travel to feed and reproduce, the more we can look at setting up areas off limits to the broad fishing activities that have lead to their decline. The importance of this is immediate as it is unknown what even today’s decline of a top food chain predator will do to other populations in the world’s oceans.
You can download the app here