On September 4, Ocearch 'Shark Wranglers' will head out to capture and tag great white sharks off the coast of Massachusetts, under the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) permit issued by NOAA. DMF and NOAA have failed to answer the question, “what are the actionable conservation goals of the project here?”
The white shark is already a protected species in the United States. Dr. Greg Skomal of the DMF has already been successfully tagging and tracking white sharks using minimally invasive methods working with local boat captains.
A Boston Herald article mentions Ocearch and DMF interest in collecting bacteria samples to create an antibiotic for shark bites and conducting stress physiology tests. This data was just collected in South Africa. Furthermore, a simple Google search will show antibiotics to treat infection from shark bites already exist and NOAA’s own guidelines on 'how to maximize shark survivability' during catch and release clearly state; “reduce fight times, long fight times put stress on the fish.” The Ocearch fishermen intentionally exhaust the shark through long fight times on the end of the line so that the shark is more manageable when it is hauled out of water.
Many researchers are speaking out against the invasive and unnecessary methods used by Ocearch to collect data on great white sharks when other methods are available. In light of knowingly putting a protected species in harms way, collecting duplicate or unnecessary data, having alternate research methods available, and not having an actionable/enforceable conservation goal in place, the DMF should remove Ocearch from its permit.
This decision to allow the Shark Wranglers to begin filming their reality TV program in waters off Cape Cod was made without input from residents or informing the general public of the possible dangers their methods pose to great white sharks, a protected species.
I support the DMF’s current use of acoustic and Pop-up Satellite Archival Tags (PSAT) which are minimally invasive, collect valuable data, and work to help keep the public safe by informing beach goers when receivers pick up acoustically tagged sharks in the area. I would like to assist in raising public awareness and funding for the continuation of this type of research.
Chris Fischer, as part of the “Shark Wranglers” show, uses Smart Position Only Tags (SPOT). The SPOT tagging method is the most invasive tagging method used on great whites. It requires the capture of each great white shark via large hook and line, reeling it in through a long battle, purposefully exhausting the shark, and then hauling it out of the water onto a platform where holes are drilled through the dorsal fin in order to attach a satellite tag. The shark remains out of water for up to 15 minutes while the tag is attached, blood is taken, and a sperm sample, if applicable. The compromised shark is then released back into the water.
Risks to great white sharks using the Shark Wranglers’ capture and tagging method include:
•Mortality- In their last filming location, South Africa, the Shark Wranglers’ permit was temporarily suspended when a surfer was attacked and killed just days after the crew began chumming in local waters. While the Shark Wranglers could not be tied to the surfer attack, the government review hearing revealed that one great white shark had died as a result of the capture process during the filming of the show.
•Organ and vessel rupture- The distended stomach of the large sharks is clearly evident in the Shark Wranglers TV show when the sharks are elevated on the platform and the large animal bears its own weight as it is exposed to full gravity out of water. Additional threats to pregnant females cannot be excluded.
•Permanent dorsal fin damage- A study has shown that within 12 months of deployment, SPOT tag fouling can occur and after 24 months of deployment permanent damage to the dorsal fin occurred (Oliver J.D. et al, Effects of Smart Position Only (SPOT) Tag Deployment on White Sharks Carcharodon carcharias in South Africa, 2011).
•Stress- Reduced individual fitness, reproductive success, and longevity as a result of the capture and release process and SPOT tagging method cannot be excluded.
With regard to the Shark Wranglers’ method, Dr. Dirk Schmidt, South African shark expert and author, explains, “The great white shark population is too unknown and too sensitive to lose even a small percentage of animals. The gain of the data collection does not outweigh the potential risk on the overall population.”
Chris Fischer’s background revolves around sport fishing. The Shark Wrangler show spotlights the thrill of catching the protected great white shark. The Ocearch vessel operates under the veil of “shark conservation” but creating high TV ratings is most certainly a goal when filming for a reality show. Controversy has surrounded the show as it has traveled to sensitive great white habitats across the globe.
The increased presence of great white sharks off Cape Cod is the byproduct of successful conservation efforts that have allowed the gray seal population to grow. Shark sightings on the Cape have attracted worldwide media attention. With the world’s attention, I ask that the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries reconsider the decision to support the Shark Wranglers show and solicit public comment on the matter. The safety of the great white shark, a protected species, should come before reality television sensationalism.