What’s in Our Waters?: Researching sharks off the coast

Researching sharks off our coast

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WTOC) - Imagining a day at the beach may be a little difficult right now, but soon, our waters will be full of people enjoying the coast, from Tybee to Hilton Head and everywhere in between.

The off-season is a great time to learn more about our marine life. OCEARCH is an organization dedicated to doing just that. The group helps scientists collect previously unattainable data in the ocean, specifically, tagging sharks and following their journey all over the world.

After a successful few weeks out on the open water, OCEARCH is wrapping up its 34th expedition. WTOC joined them on their final days to find out why the Lowcountry is so important to their mission.

“The few sharks we’ve captured down here have been some of the most important data sets in opening up the whole North Atlantic white shark puzzle,” said Chris Fischer, Founder, OCEARCH.

Fischer calls the group’s second expedition in our area in three years a huge success.

“Anytime we come into the Southeast United States in the wintertime on expedition, even just one shark is a success down here for us,” he said.

Dr. Bryan Franks, Chief Scientist for this particular expedition, explains what exactly they can do with the data from the tagged sharks.

“We’ll be able to follow their movements at least for the next five years; give us a good idea of their migratory patterns, when they’re here in our region, what they’re doing,” Dr. Franks said.

“We’ll learn a tremendous amount about not just ecology, but the biology, reproductive cycle, when they’re mating.”

On this trip, the OCEARCH crew tagged three white sharks. They include Brunswick - an eight-foot white shark named for the people of Brunswick, Helena - a 12-foot female caught near St. Helena Island, and lastly - Miss May, a 10-foot great white female 40 miles off the coast of Mayport, near Jacksonville, FL.

None of this would have been possible without the shark that was tagged two years ago off of Hilton Head Island.

“Hilton has been a critical shark for our understanding here in the North Atlantic.”

“Tagging Hilton was very important, and that critical piece of the puzzle because Hilton didn’t go to Massachusetts - he went to Canada.”

According to Fischer, studying the sharks is crucial to protecting marine life for generations to come.

“They are the balance keeper, the top of the foot chain,” he said.

“The path to a lot of fish for our kids goes through the large sharks - particularly the white sharks, because it prevents the second tier predators from running amok and wiping out all the fish.”

Scientists say the data from these tagged sharks is invaluable. You can follow them to find out what’s in our waters.

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