Due to decades of overfishing, many species of large sharks have declined in abundance up to 90% in many parts of the world. Today, over one-third of oceanic shark species are threatened with extinction.
Increases in the application of animal-borne technology and spatial mapping tools have given us the opportunity to monitor sharks and their environments in real time, like never before. To advance the conservation of sharks in the high seas, we are integrating shark tracking with tracking of fishing vessel-based technology.
Sharks are being tagged and tracked in North American waters, using the latest satellite-based technologies, focusing efforts in waters off two key locations: (1) New England, and (2) Florida straits. Efforts so far are focused on blue and tiger sharks – both of which are vulnerable to harvest in the high seas, and are known to travel long distances. Once tagged, animals will be tracked for a period of up to two years by orbiting satellites, sending transmissions every time their dorsal fins break the surface. Data will be used to calculate residency in Exclusive Economic Zones over space (national and international) and time (monthly, seasonally, annually), and will also calculate the overlaps between sharks and fishing activity. This will enable researchers to quantitatively compare animal track metrics with fishing boat track metrics. It is our hope that this data will improve our understanding of where sharks are most vulnerable throughout the year in the high seas. We hope to provide this information to environmental officials charged with managing sharks across various jurisdictions. We launched this program in Fall 2015 and successfully piloted the program in Summer 2016 in Rhode Island, tagging and tracking 16 blue sharks.
Project partners include: Dr. Neil Hammerschlag (University of Miami), Dr. Steven Cooke (Carleton University), Pelagic Expeditions, Oceana, SkyTruth, Google.