Sandbar, dusky and tiger sharks are among dozens of shark species living in the coastal waters off the U.S. East Coast. Little is known about many of the species, but a survey begun nearly 25 years ago is helping scientists and fishery resource managers to monitor shark populations and their role in marine ecosystems.
NOAA scientists from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) lab in Narragansett, R.I., recently conducted their ninth coastal shark survey from Florida to Delaware. The survey, conducted every two to three years, is the longest survey independent of the fishing industry of large coastal sharks in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean.
Using commercial Florida-style longline fishing methods to standardize results from survey to survey, researchers caught 1,675 sharks from 19 different species and tagged 1,352 individuals during the 2009 survey in April and May. Most of the animals caught and tagged were sandbar sharks, a common species in the western Atlantic. Longline fishing is a type of fishing that uses a long or main line with baited hooks spaced out at certain intervals along the line.
"During the survey, we often catch 19 or more species, many of which are highly migratory, and we still have a lot to learn about them," said Nancy Kohler, who heads the Apex Predators Program at the Narragansett Lab and has been on every survey. "We do not know how large certain species are when they mature, for example. It is important that we obtain basic biological information from the fish we catch so that we can learn as much as possible about their life histories, or the changes that the animals undergo from birth to death."
Researchers record the length, sex and location of each animal caught before the fish is tagged and released. The sharks can range from 1 foot to 15 feet; they are not weighed. Any dead fish are carefully dissected at sea, with researchers looking for parasites, collecting DNA and blood samples, and obt
|Contact: Shelley Dawicki|
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service