OCEARCH unlocks SA shark secrets

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OCEARCH unlocks SA shark secrets

The OCEARCH shark research team, led by Chris Fischer, successfully tagged and released over 40 sharks during their recent expeditions in South African waters, including a 17 foot female – the largest Great White ever tagged in SA. The unprecedented research will prove invaluable for the conservation of sharks and the safety of South African ocean users.

In our June/July edition Leisure Boating did a feature on the OCEARCH/Shark Men research team and their efforts in shark research in South Africa. We highlighted the controversy that surrounded the shark attack on David Lilienfeld in April and the wild accusations that the OCEARCH team had to endure. In the end an investigation into the matter established that the attack could in no way be blamed on the researchers’ small amount of chumming. Chris Fischer and his team conducted the largest shark research expedition in history when they captured, tagged and released over 40 sharks in South Africa during March through May 2012.

Previously documented for the National Geographic show Shark Men, the OCEARCH crew was this time filmed by an Emmy-award winning team for the new documentary series ‘Shark Wranglers’ which premiered on the History Channel on July 1. The science team on the South African expeditions included more than 30 leading SA and international shark researchers from over 16 institutions with the objective of discovering South Africa’s white shark breeding aggregations, birthing sites and feeding areas. “For the first time, we will have the information necessary to affect policy correctly and ensure a bright future for the white sharks of South Africa,” Fischer said.

An important breakthrough was made during tagging when bacteria studies from the sharks’ mouths were sampled and cultured to develop the first shark-bite antibiotic. Fischer is excited about the finding: “This will allow doctors to treat secondary infection from shark bites that have in the past lead to loss of limb and human life.”

Tagging so many sharks enables the team to track a large fraction of the South African white shark population, greatly enhancing public safety. The tag data is sent directly from the satellite company to Cape Town’s Shark Spotters programme, allowing the public full access to shark movement. If you would like to track shark activity, it is as simple as logging on to OCEARCH’s Facebook page or directly to where you can view a map showing the most recent ‘pings’ from shark tags thanks to the Live Global Shark Tracker. A ping will occur whenever a tagged shark’s dorsal fin breaks the water’s surface.

This is astounding never-before-seen technology that will vastly improve the safety of South African water users. Whether you’re a surfer, bodyboarder, jetskier, boater, angler or simply one who loves to go for a dip in the ocean you can now monitor your local beach for shark activity before you head out! Alison Kock, marine scientist and research manager of the South African Shark Spotters programme said: “For the first time, instead of reading about great white sharks in a book, or seeing something in a documentary, people can see the science in action.”

“It’s inevitable that as long as people and sharks continue to share the same space that there will be interactions between the two, but with a greater understanding of shark movements and habits and what drives them, we can enhance water user safety.” Chairman of OCEARCH, expedition team leader and Shark Wranglers TV-host, Chris Fischer has, beside the expeditions to South Africa, led 12 other expeditions since 2007 and covered 250 000 nautical miles to advance science and unlock the many mysteries surrounding white sharks. He has facilitated over $10 million in research, supporting the work of over 50 scientists from over 20 international and regional institutions across the world.

The research that Fischer and his team lay their lives on the line for involves the attracting, catching, tagging and bio-sampling of sharks, each weighing over a ton. The shark is monitored at all times under expert guidance and maintained on a specially designed cradle by water over its gills; and all fieldwork is done according to agreed and approved protocols based primarily on ethical considerations. One of the sharks tagged, named Success, is a colossal 17 ft (over five metres) female and the biggest shark ever tagged in South Africa. One of the other sharks that the team successfully tagged was named Madiba in honour of Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday. You can now track both Success and Madiba along with more than 40 other tagged Great Whites on the Live Global Shark Tracker.

OCEARCH believe in a balanced, science-based approach to rebuild, sustain, and conserve our living marine resources. Fischer had this to say to the South African researchers that assisted in the expedition: “I leave our South African researchers now with a challenge. Pursue your research projects with vigour, and get the data published! You have dedicated yourselves to changing the future of ocean conservation in South Africa and you have a daunting, yet highly rewarding task before you.”

“The results of your work will change the landscape of conservation policy and establish South Africa as a world leader in shark research. South Africa is a country that deserves a bright, healthy future for its people and its treasured ocean resources.” Catch the Shark Wranglers in action every Sunday night on the History Channel or visit OCEARCH’s Facebook page for exciting updates on newly tagged sharks and the thrill of following tagged sharks as they roam our oceans. (Information sourced from OCEARCH)


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