The Atlantic Shark Institute (ASI) announced Tuesday that they tagged eight great white sharks during the 2021 summer research season, along with research partner O’Seas Conservation Foundation (OCF). This represents the largest number white sharks that have been tagged in this study to date and will aid considerably in filling in some of the missing pieces for this iconic species of shark. In several parts of the world the great white shark is determined to be critically endangered and that makes this research all the more vital.
“The most important part of this research project is the age of these sharks”, shared Jon Dodd, the executive director of the ASI. “All eight we either young-of-the-year (newborns) or were juvenile white sharks, and they simply aren’t easy to find, catch or tag making each one extremely valuable to this study” added Dodd. While more than 300 great white sharks have been tagged over the last decade or so, the vast majority of those sharks have been sub-adult and adult white sharks. As a result, the migration patterns and habits of those sharks, including fine-scale and broad-scale movements, have been revealed more and more during that time. Largely absent from the majority of those tags have been the much younger white sharks, and much about their behavior and habits is still largely unknown.
“Each of these sharks was tagged with an acoustic transmitter that will allow us to follow them for up to 10 years, which is significant for a number of reasons” continued Dodd. “We even had one of the juvenile white sharks we tagged show up several times on our acoustic receivers off Block Island, giving us a sense of how these young sharks might be using that area as well”.
The great white sharks ranged from the largest, a 7’0” female to what researchers believe may be the smallest great white shark ever tagged, a 3’6” female that was just a few weeks old at capture. “We’ve made considerable progress with this study in just two years. This small shark will not only provide valuable data over the next 10 years, but due to its size, may further shed light on the importance of this region to this apex predator,” added Dr. Craig O’Connell, executive director of the OCF.
According to the ASI and OCF there are many goals to this research including pinpointing where white sharks give birth, zeroing in on the nursery areas of these young sharks to make certain they have the protections they need to grow and survive, determining where they go when our waters turn colder, determining how far they stray from the safe confines of shallower waters and why, when they might join older sharks to feed on larger prey items like seals, and much more. One of the least known elements of these white sharks was how long it took them to become sexually mature. It has now been determined that female white sharks don’t sexually mature until they are approximately 30 years of age and that, according to Dodd, is a big part of the numbers problem for these sharks. “It’s almost impossible to understand that these young sharks, that we are tagging here in RI in 2021, won’t be able to replace themselves until 2051.”
“That’s a ludicrous amount of time to survive in an ocean filled with larger predators, long-line fishing operations and other obstacles that make getter to 30 years old, quite a feat in itself.”
Both the ASI and the OCF already can’t wait to get out to kick off the 2022 research season according to Dr. Craig O’Connell. “The value of this study, and this critical research will only grow with each passing season and we are delighted to be partnered with the Atlantic Shark institute on this vitally important work.”
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