Shark Conservation and Research

Sharks play a vital role in keeping the ocean healthy and in balance. Yet their populations are threatened by overfishing and the increased demand in some parts of the world for shark fins. In addition, sharks grow slowly, reach sexual maturity late and reproduce in small numbers. These biological factors mean shark populations do not recover quickly when their numbers are depleted.

The Aquariums are collaborating with other major aquariums and conservation leaders on research initiatives to support shark populations in the wild.


Spot A Shark USA

Your Photos Help Identify and protect endangered sharks

Spot A Shark USA is a citizen-science program that engages anyone who spends time on the water in sand tiger shark research along the Atlantic coast. Divers, snorkelers, and others are asked to photograph encounters with sand tiger sharks and post their images to the Spot A Shark USA website. Scientists then use unique spot patterns visible along the sides of the photographed sharks to identify individual animals. Identifying individual sand tiger sharks helps track shark movement and behavior over time. It also determines which coastal habitats sand tiger sharks use during their lives. This information is used by Spot A Shark USA researchers, as well as international partners, to facilitate management decisions aimed towards conserving sand tiger sharks, which are critically endangered in several parts of the world. 


Tagging Sand Tiger Sharks

Filling in knowledge gaps critical for Conservation

Significant knowledge gaps critical for the conservation of sand tiger sharks exist. The sand tiger shark tagging project will provide much needed information about the species. One of the goals is to document habitat use by mature females, how they are using North Carolina shipwrecks as essential habitats and to help identify pupping grounds. Madeline Marens, an Aquarist at North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and graduate student at University of North Carolina Wilmington, started the project as part of her master’s program. She is working with advisors from Delaware State University and the University of Rhode Island. 

The project is supported and funded by the North Carolina Aquariums, North Carolina Aquarium Society, Florida Aquarium, Tennessee Aquarium, Georgia Aquarium, Minnesota Zoo Foundation, and South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation (SEZARC). The project also supports Sand Tiger Shark Alliance’s larger program which uses acoustic telemetry data to better understand the migration patterns and habitat usage of sand tiger sharks in the western North Atlantic.

Acoustic receiver that picks up information from sand tiger sharks that have been tagged


Receiver attached to floats Receiver and floats at the U352 wreck off the North Carolina coast During the tagging process, a the Aquarium team  gets ultrasound images from the mature females

A sand tiger shark swims past  an acoustic receiver located at the Caribsea, a shipwreck located off the coast of North Carolina. The receiver will pick up valuable information from tagged sand tiger sharks.
Video by Olympus Dive Center in Morehead City, NC.


Sand Tiger Shark Behavior Study

evaluations of ManMade habitat Use, social interactions, and reproductive behavior

The North Carolina Aquariums are partners in a sand tiger shark behavior study aimed to determine how food, social interactions, crowd size, light cycle and other environmental factors affect shark behavior. The results will have implications for breeding efforts and overall wellness for sharks in professional care. The proposed work is to take place at large ocean habitats in five to seven  Association of Zoos and Aquariums or SEZARC member facilities in the southeast United States.  The goals of the study are to determine how sand tiger sharks use their aquarium habitat space, characterize swim patterns and social interactions with other fish in the habitat, and determine how, where and when reproduction occurs. Currently research studies are being conducted at all three North Carolina Aquariums. The data collection application being used to record the animal behaviors is called ZooMonitor, developed by Lincoln Park Zoo. It allows the recorded animal behavior to be visualized and to export the data for analysis.

Protocol for collecting information during survey

Protocol for...

Heat map showing areas where the sharks are commonly found in the Living Shipwreck habitat at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores Michael Mann collecting pilot data at NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores summer 2017 Sand Tiger Shark photo by Craig Davies Sand Tiger Shark by Scott Taylor Sand Tiger Shark in the Living Shipwreck habitat at NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores photo by Scott Taylor

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