Our story begins at the same time and place we left off last year, in the turquoise seas of the Bahamas for shark season. But, this time, we have new main character, the ocean whitetip shark.
Oceanic whitetips are one of the fiercest, yet most critically endangered, animals in the deep ocean. As an apex predator, their survival as a species is crucial to the overall health of our ocean environments. The scientific research team here is trying to better understand the behavior and life histories of these magnificent animals to help protect them from their most feared predators: people.
A year ago, I had the good fortune to spend a week with some of the team’s scientists, puttering around in lush green mangroves and blue-green mosaic waters of the Bahamas, tagging baby lemon sharks and bonnetheads. This year, I left the protection of these mangrove sanctuaries, a natural nursery for baby sharks, and ventured with the team into deeper blue waters off Cat Island in search of very grown-up, very large, very feared, yet very fragile, and VERY endangered oceanic whitetip sharks.
Oceanic whitetips are fast and efficient hunters that are most well known for killing hundreds of shipwrecked sailors during World War II after the USS Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine. The image of the infamous white spot on the tip of their dorsal fin emerging from the blue and slicing through the water floats through tales of the sea. It strikes fear in sailors and boaters alike. Yet, as I’ve come to learn over the past few days, these sharks are also mysterious, gentle, playful curious, and simply beautiful. I even came face to face with one in the water yesterday…but that is for another post.
Our team of scientists embarked on this project 5 years ago, and it has become one of the biggest shark research tagging expeditions ever! Scientists involved in the Bahamian shark research expedition are doing groundbreaking research on multiple shark species throughout the Bahamas, mapping migratory routes and trying to uncover the mysteries of where they give birth and mate. Their research is translating into conservation of these amazing animals worldwide, including listing the oceanic whitetip on CITES, the international treaty regulating trade of endangered animals like elephants and tigers.
This multi-institutional research partnership is a unique one that involves academia, government, non-profit and private industry, all cooperating to promote ocean science and conservation. Project partners include the Moore Charitable Foundation, Microwave Telemetry Inc., Save our Seas Foundation, Cape Eleuthera Institute, NOAA, University of North Florida and Stony Brook University. This year we are vey lucky to have professional adventure photographer and filmmaker, Andy Mann, on board to document the project (instagram @andy_mann, andymann.com, 3stringspro.com).