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The North Carolina Aquariums and an internationally recognized shark research group are partnering in a new effort to better understand sand tiger shark populations in North Carolina.

The collaboration begins with a week-long expedition to tag mature female sand tiger sharks in waters off southeastern North Carolina in June. A team of scientists led by the N.C. Aquariums will join a crew from OCEARCH, a non-profit organization known for tracking white sharks and other apex predators, on their 126-foot vessel to tag sand tiger sharks and collect scientific data. In addition to tagging, members of the science team from Adventure Aquarium, Florida Aquarium, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Georgia Aquarium and the South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation will gather data for a variety of related studies.

“The goal of this research is to better understand the migration patterns and critical habitats of sand tiger sharks in North Carolina,” said Peggy Sloan, aquarium director, N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. “There is very little known about this species in our waters. Yet, these animals are so important to the health of our ocean.”

Sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) are found in the western Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Maine to Argentina. They are known to congregate near the many shipwrecks along N.C. Little is known about their migration and breeding patterns and they have one of the lowest reproduction rates of all sharks.

Tagging mature female sharks will help researchers better understand what habitat may be critical for migration, mating, and giving birth. Sharks will be tracked initially for two years.

OCEARCH founder and expedition leader Chris Fischer will give a special presentation on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 11 a.m. in the UNCW’s Lumina Theater (Fisher Student Theater). Fischer will talk about the research expedition, the first for OCEARCH in N.C. He will highlight key factors for success, including a multi-disciplined data-driven approach, inclusion, collaboration and most importantly – the means to engage future generations of scientists.

Shark populations globally are in critical decline. Scientists estimate the loss of as many as 200,000 sharks a day, largely from overfishing and habitat loss. Without these apex predators, animal populations can become out of balance threatening ecosystems and economies.

In 2015, the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s SAFE: Saving Animals from Extinction identified sharks as a critical animal to focus the collective conservation efforts of the AZA’s 230 accredited members and restore healthy populations in the wild.

The research and expedition is made possible through additional support from, Florida Aquarium, SeaWorld, Tennessee Aquarium, Delaware State University,  Minnesota Zoo, N.C. Aquarium Society, Save Our Seas, University of North Carolina-Wilmington, University of Rhode Island, Carolina Beach Surf Shop, Carolina Beach Dive Adventures and Georgia Aquarium.

The OCEARCH team has experience finding and safely working with sharks, as well as collecting scientific data from them with minimal impact. Two of the white sharks previously tagged by OCEARCH, Mary Lee and Katherine, are frequent visitors to the North Carolina coast. The acoustic  tags used in the N.C. Aquarium study differ from the tags used on the white sharks and will not be tracked on OCEARCH’s Global Shark Tracker. 


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