By Shelby Isaacson, Mote Marine
Dr. Bob Hueter, Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory, and scientists from several other institutions are boarding OCEARCH’s research vessel this week for a return expedition to the waters off South Carolina, north Florida and Georgia –Expedition Lowcountry II. This Jan. 15-Feb. 5 trip, the 31st expedition hosted by OCEARCH, aims to expand scientific knowledge about white sharks, popularly known as great white sharks.
“We’re returning to the Lowcountry because our white sharks led us here,” said Chris Fischer, OCEARCH founding chairman and Expedition Leader. Previous data collected shows that OCEARCH’s mature, Lowcountry-tagged white sharks have traveled differing paths from those of OCEARCH’s mature, Cape Cod white sharks. The team is returning to gather data that will assist researchers in understanding if there are differences in habitat use of the Lowcountry vs. the Cape Cod white sharks.
The expedition will begin off Jacksonville, Florida, and gradually move up the coast to South Carolina’s Lowcountry, near Hilton Head Island. An OCEARCH expedition team satellite-tagged "Hilton," its second mature male white shark tracked in the northwest Atlantic, off Hilton Head early last year, and currently he’s pinging off the coast of Jacksonville. In total, the research group has caught, satellite-tagged, and tracked 33 white sharks in the Atlantic since 2012, including five mature sharks. However, the scientists need a larger sample size.
“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,” said Hueter, who serves as OCEARCH’s Chief Science Advisor. “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.”
The team’s goal is to gather data on the biology, ecology, physiology, health and behavior of white sharks in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. They hope to increase the sample size for white shark research, to gain a more complete picture of white shark movements, habitats, life history and conservation challenges in the Atlantic.
“We expect to have similar conditions during this expedition to five years ago, when it was freezing cold and windy, and we caught 'Lydia,' a mature female, close to Mayport near Jacksonville," Hueter said. "She has since been our most prolific data reporter, covering more than 46,000 miles of ocean. This trip, we are looking for more immature and mature sharks to round out our sample size. It would be great to get several more high-reporting sharks like Lydia.”
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 large marine animals. An additional 11 other researchers from 10 institutions 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 and their disease-fighting properties.
The scientists will take measurements, collect multiple biological samples and conduct health assessments of the white sharks briefly raised out of the water on the special hydraulic lift of the M/V OCEARCH.
- 11 a.m. Jan. 23: Hear expedition updates and learn about sharks from Dr. Bob Hueter aboard the M/V OCEARCH. Details:http://www.seatrek.tv/live
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.