Capt. Jason Halvorsen and the rest of his crew aboard 43-meter M/Y Marcato joined forces with Beneath The Waves (BTW) and The International SeaKeepers Society for a week of shark tagging in The Bahamas.
Over the course of five days in Nassau, the group managed to tag 30 sharks, representing six different species. Each shark was captured, rolled onto their backs, surgically implanted with an electronic tracker, then sutured up. Once a shark is on its back, “it goes catatonic,” says Halvorsen. “Then they’re these big, calm creatures.” The surgeries were completed on the side of the tender and ranged from only six to 10 minutes from the time they got the shark restrained. But don’t worry, nobody was hurt in the mission — Halvorsen says the surgical pain is the equivalent of an ear piercing.
Halvorsen explains that this initiative isn’t about extending the lives of these sharks; it’s about learning more about them “so that ultimately, the more you know about what they eat, where they go, and their habits, the more you can figure out ways to protect them,” he says. His crew aboard Marcato said that “it took away a lot of the fear that we attach to [sharks]. To see one up close gave us the chance to see the beauty and grace of the animal.”
The implanted trackers send out a ping every 30 or 60 seconds; then, every six months, divers go down to get the tracker and download the information they contain. Various organizations share that information in one big database.
Marine biologist Dr. Austin Gallagher, chief scientist and CEO of BTW, formed the nonprofit in 2014 and has actively been researching sharks since. “Sharks are actually one of the biggest environmental issues that nobody’s ever heard of,” Gallagher says. “The loss of sharks from ecosystems around the world is truly one of the greatest environmental crises of our time. Sharks are the top predators in the oceans.” Gallagher adds that they’re essential to ocean health. As sharks are being overfished, Gallagher and BTW work to advance global shark conservation with cutting-edge science integrating new technologies and scientific theories. They’re working to learn what a day and what a year in the life of a protected shark looks like. “We might be able to learn something really exciting for helping save these animals from extinction,” he says.
Tony Gilbert, yacht specialist for SeaKeepers — whose mission is to promote oceanographic research, conservation, and educational outreach — says the expedition was a smash hit. “Tagging sharks for tracking purposes and collecting samples and data of each shark helps us learn more about the particular sharks we encountered,” he says. Gilbert says tagging and releasing 30 sharks in just five days was surprising even to the experts themselves. It “speaks to the effectiveness of shark sanctuaries such as The Bahamas.”
“We often take it for granted that half of the air we breathe, that oxygen, is coming from the ocean. It’s coming from plants in the ocean, believe it or not,” says Dr. Gallagher. “So, our survival as humans is dependent on the survival of the oceans. At Beneath The Waves, we’ve chosen to focus our efforts on the top predator in the ocean, which kinda keeps everything balanced.”
Capt. Halvorsen says that shark conservation should be of particular interest and significance to crew. “I think crew will be really interested in [shark tagging] because we all know that yachts burn a lot of fuel and make a lot of waste, so I think it’s always fun to see yachts that are trying to give back.” Halvorsen adds that since a lot of crew makes their life on the water, they are a bit more aware of the oceans.
Dr. Gallagher praised Capt. Halvorsen and said that he thinks there will be more of these types of projects together in the future. Gallagher also sings his praises of Marcato’s owner and crew for their part in making the expedition happen. “Having a vessel and a crew really takes a lot of the burden off the scientists from a logistic perspective,” he says. “It allows us to focus on the science, which is what we’re really good at, and when we can have that help, it really allows us to collect more information, speeds up the process of creating that knowledge, and it’s also pretty fun.” He was also grateful to the International SeaKeeper Society, who he says is an amazing organization that exists to help broker these partnerships.
To help facilitate a scientific shark expedition with Beneath The Waves, contact Chief Scientist Dr. Austin Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org. www.beneaththewaves.org