International research team tracks threatened oceanic whitetip sharks

Oceanic whitetip sharks are considered by many to be a poster-child for shark conservation. Once one of the most abundant species of pelagic sharks on Earth, unregulated overfishing throughout their global range had led to a precipitous decline in their population. In some parts of their range, the species has declined in population by more than 70% in the last few decades. Scientists haven’t been able to find them in significant numbers for many years. One of the few remaining known aggregation sites is Cat Island in the Bahamas, and that’s where an international team of researchers just went to find these animals.

An oceanic whitetip shark is fitted with a satellite tag. Photo credit: Dr. Lance Jordan, Microwave Telemetry, inc.

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State of the Field: Satellite tagging sharks

Modern shark researchers have access to a variety of high-tech tools. Acoustic tags with noises specific to each individual shark signal a receiver (or network of receivers) every time the shark passes nearby. Some tags have three-dimensional accelerometers, allowing researchers to study the small scale movement patterns and behaviors of sharks. Others, which are placed in the stomach, measure pH before, during, and after digestion. The most advanced technology on the market, however, is undoubtedly the satellite tag.

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