Every August, the National Aquarium invites our members and the general public to join us on shark research trips We work with Captain Mark Sampson to collect data from several species of sharks off of our Maryland coastline for a variety of ongoing research projects. Trip participants actively engage in catching the sharks, reeling them in, measuring them once on the boat, and tagging and releasing them. It’s a once-in-a lifetime experience that provides valuable species and population data for several researchers around the country and exciting educational experiences for participants.
Captain Sampson works with several researchers to study the migratory patterns, growth rates, population data and species data of the sharks he catches. Every shark that is brought on board is measured and its sex determined. The data and location is noted and a small piece of dorsal fin is clipped and preserved for DNA analysis. Each shark is also given in injection of oxytetracycline, an antibiotic that stains the vertebrae and provides a baseline for growth data if the shark is ever recaptured. Finally, if the shark is big enough, it is tagged.
This tagging is part of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Cooperative Shark Tagging Program. This program, started in 1962 was developed to provide information on the life histories and migratory patterns of Atlantic sharks. According to NMFS, between 1962-2010, over 221,000 sharks of 52 species have been tagged and more than 13,000 sharks of 33 species have been recaptured. Distances traveled for the 33 species ranged from no movement to 3,997 nautical miles (nm) (blue shark). The longest time at liberty for any shark in the program is 27.8 years (sandbar shark).
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Our team took eight trips with Captain Sampson in August and caught 48 sharks total! The species tagged included sandbar, dusky, spinner, Atlantic sharpnose and smooth dogfish.
It’s obvious to anyone that steps aboard his vessel that Captain Sampson has a great respect for these animals and is passionate about conserving shark populations through research and education! If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, check back with us next Spring for our 2014 shark tagging trip dates.
In the meantime, there are several things you can do right now to protect the sharks off our coast and worldwide. Please make sure you are choosing seafood that caught without harming sharks and do your part to help keep our oceans clean.
Hope to see you on the boat next August!