Environmental research group Ocearch says it has successfully identified the first ever known birthing site for great white sharks along the North Atlantic coast, fulfilling the primary objective of their most recent expedition off the shores of Long Island.
The nursery site, located in an area known as the Long Island Bight, which stretches from Cape May in the south to the far tip of Montauk, is the most significant discovery that Ocearch has ever made, according to CBS News. Founded by TV star Chris Fischer, the group has been tagging white sharks for years, allowing both the scientific community and the general public access to unprecedented data on the predators and their movements. The goal of this expedition off Long Island was somewhat different, however, representing the next phase in the group’s mission, as Fischer noted.
“It’s kind of like step two in the science. When we started this work back in 2012, 2013… the real question was where are these sharks in the North Atlantic giving birth? Because that’s where they’re most vulnerable.”
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 16, 2016
Understanding where and how white sharks give birth will not only dramatically expand researchers’ insight toward a surprisingly little-known species but may also help lead to the development of better protection policies, which aim to continue helping the sharks to flourish. After marked declines in prior decades, effective management policies have led to a resurgence of the species, which is now a dramatic seasonal presence off the shores of Cape Cod, as the Inquisitr has previously reported.
— George T. Probst (@GeorgeProbst) August 16, 2016
Veterinary pathologist Harley Newton, who has studied white sharks for 16 years and works with the Wildlife Conservation Society, noted that the population found off Long Island is unique. The earliest stages of the white sharks’ life cycle haven’t been deeply studied by researchers, as predictable access to the species has been exceedingly difficult to come by. Despite a public fascination with great white sharks, the animals’ nomadic and solitary nature has made studying them an unusually challenging task, leaving the actual facts regarding them scant.
— Conrad Salvador (@explicitmemory) August 25, 2016
All that has changed in recent years, however. With a population boom of seals off Cape Cod, great white sharks have migrated there in droves, giving scientists unprecedented access. The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a non-profit that works with the state of Massachusetts, is now in the third year of a study documenting the region’s transient shark population. Ocearch, meanwhile, has been tagging sharks for most of this decade, performing muscle biopsies and taking blood samples during their expeditions as well, as Fox News notes. The group aims to have each shark they tag on and off their lift within 15 minutes, and so far, their track record has been one of staggering success.
— Brooke Kanani (@BrookeKanani) August 22, 2016
Over the course of the last week, Fischer and his crew have tagged and released nine great white shark pups. Each of those animals is now outfitted with a transponder that alerts researchers when its fin breaks the surface, and already five of the animals have made their continued presence in the area known.
Fischer rejects accusations that Ocearch’s tagging practices may be hurtful to the sharks, pointing out that researchers need to track a small number of them for the benefit of the entire species.
“Look, if we thought we were hurting these animals, we wouldn’t do what we were doing. We don’t learn unless we let them go in good shape.”
— OCEARCH (@OCEARCH) August 15, 2016
In the meantime, the nine sharks that Ocearch have tagged so far are expected to remain in the region until they reach 20 years of age, giving science and the public an unprecedented look into an unexpected home for great whites.