I love sharks and I love to snoop, and because we live in a beautiful and great world ripe with huge amounts of technological innovation and growth, these seemingly unrelated interests of mine have found a convergence. With the help of OCEARCH, I have been keeping tabs on my friend Oscar for a couple months now. OCEARCH.org provides information about the movement of sharks around the world, Oscar the Mako shark being just one of many subjects of study. In collaboration with other partners in oceanographic and marine biology research, OCEARCH pilots research expeditions in order to gather data on shark biology, health, and movement. They do so through a process of tagging. To illustrate the process of tagging which these institutes use to keep track of the sharks, a video is provided on their site.
Shark tagging requires the capture of the animals on a platform structure, wherein they are raised out of water, and are then subject to the process the research team must perform on each shark. Blood samples are taken, sharks are checked for bodily health (including a search for parasites), and finally, a satellite transmitter is drilled onto the each shark’s dorsal fin.
When I first viewed this video, the process seemed invasive and I immediately wondered how the painful process would be justified by this organization. It turns out, I wasn’t the first for whom the footage sparked this question. Chris Fischer, Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader of OCEARCH, has responded to these concerns and uses behaviour sharks exhibit amongst themselves to explain why tagging is not harmful. The drilling process causes no more harm to the sharks than their recreational biting, which happens even in shark mating rituals. Additionally, shark fins lack nerve supply and therefore the process is not painful. Additionally, the drilling seems to have no long-term effects beyond the first couple of hours after release. The tracking data allows for data collection and observance of shark behaviour and trends in movement which can then be used by students, researchers, and educators alike within related studies. Or, people in completely unrelated fields - people like me - might decide to keep tabs on a shark named Oscar for months.