‘Lions Of The Sea’

Justine Dill

In August 2015, the Long Island Shark Collaboration — a group of friends, scientists, and organizations, including the South Fork Natural History Museum— was the first to deploy a satellite pop-off tag on a young-of-the-year juvenile white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) in the North Atlantic Ocean.

The shark was caught, tagged, and released a few miles south of Shinnecock Inlet. After the shark was released, the tag popped off a few days later off the coast of Maryland, some 240 miles south. This information was groundbreaking to the scientific community, establishing migration data for this species. Once announced publicly, the LISC embarked on the research initiative to continue the work necessary to better understand, protect, and sustain white shark populations along the south shore of Long Island.

The following years, in 2016 and 2017, our tagging efforts were joined by Chris Fischer and his non-profit organization, OCEARCH. The focus of this incredible conservation group is to help scientists collect previously unattainable data in the ocean. It has knowledge and experience in tagging large pelagic sharks and it provided us with the opportunity to continue the goals of the research study. With the two teams working together, we proceeded to tag an additional 20 juvenile white sharks along the south shore.

Thanks to OCEARCH’s support, these additional sharks were tagged with the most advanced tags used by researchers, known as Smart Position and Temperature tags. These tags are primarily designed for use on animals that are commonly found at the ocean’s surface, where regular transmission to a satellite is made possible. When a deployed tag, mounted to a shark’s dorsal fin, breaks the surface of the water, the tag sends a signal that is transmitted to the satellite and back down to Earth, where it’s received by a shark tracker program on OCEARCH’s website.

The technology of these SPOT tags allows scientists to detect immediate location sites of these sharks in real-time. The data retrieved from these hi-tech tags presented facts that these juvenile sharks were staying in this area for days, weeks, months, and even years. This groundbreaking information confirmed the resident data necessary to call the south shore of Long Island a nursery for young-of-the-year juvenile white sharks, making it one of only three known white shark nurseries in the world. The others are in South Africa and Australia. What an amazing discovery in our own backyard!

Fish nursery grounds are vital and extremely delicate environments, which have evolved and exist for the reproduction and juvenile rearing of many species. Juvenile white sharks move along the inshore marine waters and consume mid-sized fish such as bunker, mackerel, striped bass, bluefish, and squid during their developmental years before they grow large enough to venture further offshore and prey on larger marine mammals. Due to the slow growth (20 years to reach reproductive maturity) of white sharks and their vulnerability to human impacts and climate change, these habitats need to be managed properly and protected to sustain a robust marine environment.

In 2018, the South Fork Natural History Museum took on the leadership of this exciting research initiative. Once known as the LISC, it is now the SOFO Shark Research and Education Program. The museum’s mission is to create awareness, educate, and foster appreciation of our natural world. Ecosystems are ruled from the top of the food chain by animals such as wolves, bears, big cats, and sharks. The health of our planet depends on their existence. These white sharks are apex predators, and are truly the “Lions of the Sea!”

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