Tagging sharks during college is one of my favorite memories from college, so I jumped at the chance to interview one of the current members of the Shark Research and Conservation lab at the University of Miami about tags and why they tag sharks. Alex Anstett is a co-media manager, research intern, and photographer in the lab and answered some questions for me.
First of all, we need to know why we tag sharks. Alex provided me with a great answer for this question and said, “We tag sharks firstly because all of our information from the work-up needs a unique identifier. If others come upon those tags, we can use the information to compare valuable measurements and data that help us learn more about shark biology. Also, with acoustic tags, we can learn a lot about the movement of tagged sharks and how urban environments may be affecting habitat use. Finally, satellite tagged sharks are extremely valuable in finding migration habits, habitat use, and other information that we can collect in real time. We also use shark tagging as a way to involve citizens with science, which has proven to be very valuable in the perception of sharks, and the spread of the love for science.”
There are five types of tags that the Shark Research lab uses in their research and some of them were mentioned above. There are simple plastic tags, called spaghetti and dart, or NOAA, tags that contain contact information for the lab and an ID number for the shark. Spaghetti tags are used with smaller sharks, such as blacktips. Dart tags are used on larger sharks, such as nurse, bull, and hammerhead sharks.
In addition to those tags, they also use acoustic and satellite tags. Acoustic tags can either be placed externally or internally on the animal and send information about the sharks location when they are in the vicinity of an acoustic receiver. The external acoustic tags are used with hammerhead sharks, since it is a quick procedure and these sharks stress quicker than other species. The internal acoustic tags are used with a variety of species, such as bull and tiger sharks.
Satellite tags are placed externally on the shark and send a signal to a satellite about the sharks location whenever the shark comes to the surface. These are used on rarer species, such as great and scalloped hammerheads, tigers, dusky sharks, just to name a few.
I asked Alex what her favorite satellite tag track was and she said from the tiger sharks they tag at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas. A lot of these tracks have shown tiger sharks going from the Bahamas all the way up to near Nova Scotia in Canada and back down again. These tracks have given them a lot of information about potential pupping sites. She also said that tiger sharks were the most exciting to tag, “not only because they’re my favorite, but also because they’re absolutely beautiful and not the most common shark to tag. I’ve been lucky to see juvenile to adult tiger sharks, and it is fascinating how their patterns change with age. We’ve learned so much from tiger sharks and each new one gives us that much more data to learn even more.”
In addition to the tags that the Shark Research and Conservation lab uses, there are many other tags as well. There are different variations on the tags that they use that contain information about other research labs also doing shark research. Alex said that it is always exciting when they encounter a tag from another lab because it can be a way to work with other shark researchers. Different acoustic tags and satellite tags have the same basic principles, but the acoustic tags may ping at different frequencies and the satellite tags might last on the shark for different lengths of time than theirs, which is usually about three years.
I think it’s important for researchers to be able to tell the public what they want them to know about what they do and so I asked Alex what she wanted the general public to know about tagging sharks. She said, “I think the greatest thing to know is that while shark tagging looks fun from the boat (and it is), behind the scenes, data compilation and the research going on are in full swing. There are so many projects and information we are compiling, and although it takes long hours of hard work, we also have so much valuable information we are getting from all of it.” Thank you for answering my questions, Alex, and I can’t wait to see all the information that the lab gets from the multitude of tags that you use.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Wingar. Jessie Wingar is currently the STEM facilitator at Girls Inc of Sarasota County. She graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in Marine Science and Biology in 2015 where she was an intern for the Shark Research and Conservation lab. She looks forward to going back to shark research in the fall to do her masters at Coastal Carolina University.
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