Tagging sharks with OCEARCH in Port Royal Sound

(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)

PORT ROYAL, SC (WTOC) - This past month, a team of scientists embarked on a journey with the non-profit OCEARCH to explore the waters of the Lowcountry.

The OCEARCH crew tagged four sharks on "Expedition Lowcountry" and they are extremely optimistic that the path of one of those sharks could lead to huge developments in marine research.

"OCEARCH evolved out of a love for recreational fishing as a kid when I was growing up in Kentucky looking for frogs in the woods," said OCEARCH founder, Chris Fisher.

From the woods of Kentucky to the South Carolina coast, Fisher has always had a passion for fishing and marine life. While working on a small vessel several years ago, he decided to turn that passion into a lifelong career.

"They weren't able to study sharks because they were so big, they couldn't get their hands on them to leverage the latest technology to figure out where they are mating and giving birth," Fisher said.

At that point, he realized the importance of shark research and knew there was a void to be filled.

"They're the lion. They are the balance keepers of the ocean. As they go the system goes," Fisher said.

Ten years and 28 expeditions around the world later, OCEARCH has tagged dozens of sharks. This wouldn't have been possible without the help of local scientists like Bryan Frazier. Frazier is with the South Carolina DNR and is the chief scientist for "Expedition Lowcountry".

He explains what happens when they tag a shark.

"Take fin clip for genetics. Muscle biopsies for feeding ecology, ultrasound the shark if it's a mature female to see if she's pregnant," Frazier said.

Although the conditions weren't necessarily ideal, he calls the trip a success.

"It's been a little challenging due to weather. We've gotten two white sharks and two tiger sharks, which was great," Frazier said.

"Super thrilled with Expedition Lowcountry. We thought we would come in maybe hoping we would get one white shark. To capture two white sharks and two tiger sharks for our primary project in the Atlantic, the tiger shark puzzle we're working on with Bryan Frazier, as well as our North Atlantic white shark collaborative," said Fisher.

When a shark is tagged, the team has 15 minutes to get the fish out of the water, on the vessel and back in the water. In such a short amount a time, they can collect a world of data, which then, becomes available to us.

"What's great about OCEARCH Global Shark T racker is people can learn in real time. Scientists are checking it out and learning at the same time the public is," Frazier said.

By tracking Hilton, Savannah, Beaufort and Weimar, scientists have the opportunity to learn a lot about the mating patterns of sharks. This is especially true for Hilton.

"He will be somewhere mating this fall, so where he goes we know to go look for more white sharks," said Fisher. "We just haven't found that second puzzle yet but Hilton could lead us there."

After this, the team will take some much needed time off for some rest. The next stop is Cuba.

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