There's an old saying that goes: "All Dogs go to Heaven." We're now wondering if that also applies to sharks.
"St. Mary's," a young shortfin mako shark that was caught and tagged last year by researchers at NSU's Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI,) has died. The shark's satellite tag "pings" are now being tracked on land in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. And, as well all know, sharks don't do well out of the water.
This shark was a great ambassador for NSU and the Guy Harvey Research Institute. Shark fishing isn't illegal and unfortunately these things happen. That's why GHRI researchers continue to ask fisherman to employ a "release or return" policy for sharks that are caught wearing satellite tracking tags.
St. Mary's, so named by students at St. Mary's Central Catholic School in Martins Ferry, Ohio, gave researchers a great deal of data in the time since he was tagged. The shark was tagged a year ago off of Ocean City, MD (358 days, to be exact.) And in that time, this shark certainly showed what travel is all about. It is unknown at this time what, if any, memorial service is planned at the school.
The shark logged more than 9,200 miles throughout the Atlantic Ocean -- his travels took him from the chilly waters off Nova Scotia to the warm, inviting ocean near Venezuela to the clear waters of Puerto Rico. He was on his way back to the waters where he was tagged a year ago, and was about to join a host of other shortfin makos that are also gathering in nearby waters following their year-long journeys.
But, alas, "St. Mary's" didn't make that reunion.
This week researchers from NSU's GHRI and the University of Rhode Island are back off Ocean City, MD catching, tagging and releasing shortfin makos. Researchers have a special interest in understanding mako shark migratory behavior because this information is essential for proper fisheries management of this internationally roving species.
The loss of tagged fish and the data they were providing is a concern for researchers, who not only lose the animal and important information it was transmitting or collecting but the equipment, which in some cases can cost up to $4,000 per tag. One oceanographic research team in South Florida, for example, has lost seven satellite transmitter tagged sharks to fishing in the last two years, representing more than 20 percent of the sharks they were tracking.
"We're asking fishermen, who catch a tagged animal to do one of two things -- if it's alive and healthy, please release the animal as quickly as possible so it can continue its travels and provide important scientific data," said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., NSU professor and director of NSU's GHRI and NSU's Save our Seas Shark Center. "If it is dead, please retrieve the tag and return it if possible."
Each tag has a serial number and the manufacturer's contact information. Fishermen are asked to get in touch with the manufacturer and provide information on where and when the fish was caught. This information will be conveyed to GHRI researchers, who will contact the fishermen to make arrangements for the return of the tag and the reward.
NSU's GHRI is currently tracking dozens of sharks as well as marlins and sailfish. The public can follow their movements in near real-time, courtesy of an interactive website (www.ghritracking.org). The website is an educational outreach component of the institute's quest to study shark and billfish long-distance migration patterns, with the ultimate goal being to better understand and protect them, as some species are threatened or endangered.
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