Razor isn’t the only shark representing NSU, have you heard about Andy?
In 2014, “Andy,” a tiger shark, was tagged in Bermuda by scientists at NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI). The team was led by Director Mahmood Shivji. Four years later, Andy, who was named after documentary producer Andrew Smith, has become the longest tracked tiger shark on record.
The program started nine years ago in 2009 when the development of tiger shark deaths due to fisheries bycatch and the shark finning industry increased. A 2013 report in the Journal of Marine Policy stated that 100 million sharks are killed by humans every year.
According to the GHRI website, an essential requirement for fisheries management and conservation efforts of this species or conservation of any shark species is to have a clear understanding of its migratory patterns, their use of the environment and by identifying areas of critical habitat. The main goal of the GHRI program is to understand tiger shark movement and behavior in more detail, as well as aid in conservation efforts by using tracking methods which provide researchers with critical data.
Matthew Johnston, author of the GHRI shark tracking website and associate professor in the department of biological sciences, explained the motivations of the research done in GHRI.
“Sharks are being persecuted and heavily targeted right now with the bycatch and shark finning trade,” said Johnston. “Most of these sharks we don’t know much about, and this program aims to learn pivotal information about these sharks by tracking their migrations and using that data to follow patterns of where they migrate during the year.”
Sharks tagged by GHRI provide a database of information which is used by the researchers to gain more knowledge into the lives of sharks.Andy and other sharks have shown significant data pointing to direct migration roots as it relates to weather patterns.
In the winter, Andy tends to stay near the islands like the Bahamas where the waters are warmer. When the summer months hit, he travels North to follow the warmer temperatures.
Another migration pattern that scientists have discovered through this data is that for a period of time, these sharks tend to stay in the middle of the Atlantic. However, scientists are still trying to understand why.
“This seems to be a pattern, we aren’t sure what they are doing [out in the middle of the Atlantic] but it seems to have something to do with food or maybe even breeding,” said Johnston.
These battery-powered trackers, donated by sponsors, are placed on the shark’s dorsal fin. These transmitters are off underwater and turn on when the shark surfaces. They transmit the signal to a satellite which is when GPS technologies can pinpoint the sharks exact location.
“This shark only surfaces intermittently, so the battery is lasting longer” said Johnston.
This explains why some shark tracking programs can last for a few months or even for years, as in Andy’s case.
In the future, the program hopes to add more species by using their tracking techniques to follow migration routes. Currently, they are tracking over 150 sharks of various species like tigers, makos and oceanic whitetips. GHRI also tracks white Marlins, black Marlins and even sailfish.
The main criteria which researchers are looking for when choosing a species to track is to find one that surfaces frequently to allow for abundant data collection. They also take into account whether the species are targeted by fisheries with bycatch and finning industries. Scientists are looking at other species other than sharks that would benefit from this program.
“We are going to continue tagging sharks and looking into the differences between males and females, juveniles and adults, and how they react to temperature and water features,” said Johnston.
These tracking techniques are not only used to track migration habits but hope in the future to understand how climate change and warming oceans can affect species like sharks in the coming years. By collecting data from various different species over a period of time, they hope to analyze these effects on species migration.
“We want to [use these methods to] understand how warming oceans can change the habitat of these animals. Now, we are trying to establish the baselines of their migration habits. That’s one area of research they we are trying to go into the future,” said Johnston.
Andy’s most recent transmission on Jan. 29, placed him 300 miles off the coast of the British Virgin Islands. To follow Andy and the work of the GHRI, visit the shark tracking at cnso.nova.edu/sharktracking/.