Electronic Tagging Helps Biologists Study Migratory Habits of Sharks
The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) has placed electronic tags on five great white sharks in waters off Chatham in the last four days.
Working under the direction of DMF Senior Biologist Greg Skomal, harpooner Bill Chaprales, captain of the fishing vessel Ezyduzit, placed the electronic tags on the sharks. Skomal, who heads DMF's shark research program, said recognition for the successful tagging effort also goes to spotter pilot George Breen and to Nick Chaprales, the boat's driver. Both the spotter pilot and the boat crew are under contract with DMF.
"The Commonwealth is proud of the efforts of biologist Greg Skomal who works on behalf of the citizens of Massachusetts to further shark research, helping us to understand the behavior of these animals and to act as good stewards of the marine environment," said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles, whose office includes DMF.
After multiple shark sightings off of the coast of Chatham last week, Skomal and other state biologists set out to identify the species of the sharks recently sighted in the waters off Monomoy Island in Chatham. On Saturday, Chaprales placed tags on two sharks. An additional three sharks were tagged today in the waters off Monomoy Island in Chatham. The tags, which use satellite-based technology to record where a shark travels, allow scientists to better understand migratory patterns.
"DFG is fortunate to have an international shark expert like Greg Skomal working with the DMF team to help better understand and track the great white shark," said DFG Commissioner Mary Griffin.
While sharks are not uncommon off the Massachusetts coasts state officials urge the public to use caution.
In 2004, the DMF attempted to electronically tag a great white shark that was stuck in a shallow embankment at Naushon Island off of Cape Cod. While DMF's Skomal was able to place a tag on that shark, the device detached from the animal shortly afterward without acquiring any data.
Many species of fish, including sharks, migrate to New England's coastal and open ocean waters in the summer months. At least a dozen shark species migrate in and out of New England waters annually. In fact, Massachusetts represents the northernmost range for several species of sharks and is an important area for monitoring the health and distribution of shark populations. Although relatively rare in New England, great white sharks, are known to visit local waters, where they are sometimes seen feeding near seal colonies.
The National Marine Fisheries Service Fishery Management Plan for sharks of the Atlantic Ocean recommends that states, "Actively participate in acquiring pertinent information and data" on sharks.
The Massachusetts Shark Research Program (MSRP) was established in 1990 to study the ecology, distribution, and relative abundance of sharks that are subject to recreational fisheries in the Commonwealth. A thorough understanding of these parameters is crucial to the management process and wise utilization of these resources. In addition to fieldwork, the project also provides public education and technical information on the biology, management, and use of sharks. DMF biologists conduct cooperative research with other world-renowned shark researchers to provide local expertise and biological samples for these highly migratory predators.
Today's great white shark tagging follows May's publication in the peer-reviewed journal Current Biology of Skomal's research on the migratory patterns of basking sharks. Using similar tagging technology, Skomal and his team documented remarkable migratory habits of these large sharks, identifying previously unknown winter habitat - a discovery that has implications for the species' conservation. (Click here for press release on DMF's basking shark research.)
DMF's shark research program is one of eight marine fisheries research programs funded through DMF's Recreational Marine Fisheries program. The shark research program is beneficiary of several federal grants.