New study aims to track blue sharks off Nova Scotia coast
Published Wednesday, July 31, 2013 9:30PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 31, 2013 10:30PM EDT
A group of Canadian researchers is hoping to shed more light on the mysterious lives of blue sharks by tagging some of them in the Atlantic Ocean off the Nova Scotia coast.
A team from Dalhousie University’s Ocean Tracking Network, including 23 students, set out into the choppy waters near Eastern Passage, N.S. Wednesday morning to look for the sharks.
Two hours into the trip, they caught a juvenile blue shark -- an ideal candidate for the study.
Dalhousie biologist and shark researcher Brendal Davis quickly made a small incision in the shark’s skin to insert an acoustic monitoring device that will allow scientists to track the fish.
Meanwhile, another person ran water over the shark’s gills to keep it alive until it could be released back into the water.
The team is hoping to eventually tag 40 blue sharks as part of the study looking into their migration patterns, feeding and breeding behaviour.
The monitoring devices will remain embedded in the sharks for the duration of their lives.
“We will get about six years of data which will hopefully tell us…where that shark is, what time of the year, for how long it has spent its time there,” Davis said. “And we should hopefully get that pattern for all 40 sharks that we catch over the next six years.”
Even though blue sharks are a common species found off coastlines around the world, little is known about what actually happens during their lifespans.
“What we’re trying to do is get enough information on the movements and behaviours of these animals so we can manage people’s interactions with the sharks,” said Fred Whoriskey, executive director of the Ocean Tracking Network.
Blue sharks are hunted extensively as part of the international shark fin trade. The demand for shark fin soup and other uses could lead to overfishing, putting the species at risk.
Researchers say understanding sharks will lead to a better understanding of the entire ocean ecosystem.
"We will be able to look at their behaviour over time for the next six years to see if fishing activity, if the warming temperatures are affecting their population," Davis said.
The shark study has received $51,000 in funding from an unlikely source: North American oil and gas company Encana.
But researchers say the partnership makes sense. Information gathered about the blue sharks can help companies like Encana decide where and when to explore in the waters off Canadian coastlines.
Operators of sports fishing businesses, who depend on a thriving shark population, applaud Dalhousie University’s efforts to tag and study blue sharks.
“We can put a man on the moon and we can’t tell you where these go to have babies,” Art Gaetan of Blue Shark Charters said.
With a report from CTV’s Atlantic Bureau Chief Todd Battis and CTV Atlantic’s Jayson Baxter