Right now in The Bahamas, Blue Ocean Fellow, Dr. Demian Chapman is hunting sharks—for their own good. Chapman’s team is catching, tagging and releasing oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus).
The oceanic whitetip—not a mellow species, by the way–is one of the 5 shark species that got increased protection in March of this year in Bangkok at the world conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES. Around 200 countries are members of this global wildlife treaty. Every four years they meet to discuss proposals to place threatened and endangered animals and plants on lists that restrict their trade across national boundaries.
Oceanic whitetip sharks, along with scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrma lewini), great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran), smooth hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zigaena) and the porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus) were put on a CITES list that will mean much closer attention to the their catch and trade.
Improved conservation requires both better understanding and action. Right now, though action on sharks is overdue, we still need better understanding of the sharks themselves and fishing patterns.
Demain and his crew are fitting the sharks with high-tech tags that store the shark’s location via signals from GPS satellites, then pop off and send their information to scientists. They’re called pop-off satellite archival tags (PSATs). The immediate goal: to track the sharks and learn their migratory patterns. Where do they go? Who fishes there? How long are they inside and outside protected waters? This will help scientists and conservation workers assess and conserve oceanic whitetip populations.
Stay tuned for more dispatches from The Bahamas!