Sharks start their own amazing race

The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute launched the Guy Harvey Shark Race, in which businesses and individuals can sponsor and name their own shark and watch it online as it races against other tagged sharks.

The race will kick off on April 2, once researchers from GHRI have returned from Mujeres, Mexico, where they will deploy satellite tags on participating Mako sharks. The second leg of the race will begin on June 1 when researchers will tag Oceanic Whitetip sharks in Grand Cayman.

Those who wish to participate will purchase a satellite tracking tag for $5,000, which enables researchers and the public to follow the sharks online in near real-time. The race will last six months and whoever’s shark travels the farthest will win a fishing vacation in the Florida Keys.

The purpose of the race is for scientists to obtain data on the migration patterns of sharks to see how far the sharks travel and how long they stay in certain areas.

Director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute Mahmood Shivji said that the institute wants to study the migration patterns because sharks are in need of better conservation efforts due to overfishing. If the sharks tend to stay in certain areas, researchers can contact the policy makers of those locations to ensure that sharks are not fished.

“Sharks have been overfished around the world and their populations are declining everywhere,” Shivji said. “To protect any animal, you need to understand its history and behavior.”

Between 10 and 12 sharks will be tagged for the race. Shivji said that they chose to use Mako and Whitetip sharks for the race because the institute has been studying the biology of those particular species for the past few years. They also had to tag sharks that would spend a lot of time on the ocean surface.

“The tags that we’re using only work when the sharks break the surface,” he said. “There’s a lot of sharks that don’t break the surface that often, so these types of tags wouldn’t work on them.”

To track the sharks, researchers will attach a satellite tag to the dorsal fin of each shark used in the race. When a shark breaks the surface of the ocean, the satellite will send out information to the researchers in near-real time or at a few hours delay.

Although the tags are bolted onto the shark fins, Shivji said it does not hurt the sharks and that they have to attach the satellite as they do to ensure it doesn’t fall off after a few weeks of being underwater. Mako and Whitetip sharks are known for moving quickly and making deep dives in the water and if the tag isn’t secure, there’s a high chance the data will be lost.

“It would be like piercing your ear or cutting your fingernails, “Shivji said, “There are very few nerve endings in the tissue that makes up the fin.”

The satellites and trips to tag the sharks are expensive and in the past, GHRI received grants to cover expenses. Shivji said that they have gotten to a point where, to really understand the sharks, they have to track between 50 and 100 of them for an extended period of time, which comes at a high cost.

To help pay for the research, the institute wanted to come up with a creative way for the public to be entertained while simultaneously helping GHRI obtain information.

“By adding this element of fun with the element of research and conservation, we thought it would entice more people to get involved,” Shivji said. “It’s a really good way to get the public involved in supporting scientific conservation research.”

All participants will receive a custom Great Shark Race certificate, which features the name of their shark, and limited edition Great Shark Race artwork designed and signed by Guy Harvey. The sponsor of the winning shark will win a fishing trip for two at the Islander Resort in Islamorada, Florida. Sponsors of sharks that have tags that last one year will receive a signed copy of Guy Harvey’s book “Fishes of the Open Ocean.”

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