In an ambitious and highly collaborative project, a Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher hopes to tag large sharks in the Gulf of Mexico to learn more about their movement patterns and feeding habits.
Dr. David Wells, assistant professor of marine biology on the Texas A&M-Galveston campus, and his graduate students will spend the next 20 days attaching satellite tags to sharks in order to record the minute-by-minute movements of each tagged shark.
Although there are dozens of types of sharks in the Gulf, Wells and his research team will focus on three: the scalloped hammerhead, tiger and shortfin mako shark due to the large data gaps for these economically important species.
“There are still a lot of things we don’t know about sharks in the Gulf,” Wells explains.
“This includes their general movement patterns and how these patterns are linked to oceanographic features along with an integration of their feeding habitats which likely plays a large role on overall movement.”
“Our research will try to determine where these sharks tend to move, and why they are doing so by integrating both environmental/oceanographic and feeding information to the dataset. Each tagged shark will have a sensor on it that will relay back critical data we need to study them, including their location and preferred temperature and depth preferences.”
Wells says the team expects to tag at least 20-30 sharks on the trip, which lasts until Oct. 30. He adds he would like to get as large as sample base as possible, perhaps as many as 50.
The team will travel in several areas of the Gulf, such as near Corpus Christi and Brownsville, and will eventually move near the upper Texas coast and go as far east as the New Orleans area.
Most of the tagging will be done in waters at least 100 miles from the coast.
Other research groups involved in the project are the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, the Mote Marine Lab and the University of North Florida.
Wells said it could take up to two years to complete the project and analyze the data.
The project is funded by OCEARCH, an organization devoted to studying marine life, and the team will travel on its research vessel, the M/V OCEARCH.
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