Deep-water sharks are slow growing, slow to mature, and have a relatively small number of young, and as a result are extremely vulnerable to human-based disturbances. This, coupled with the migration of commercial fisheries from coastal to deeper waters, has resulted in large population declines in a number of deep-water shark species. Similar to their coastal counterparts, deep-water sharks are assumed to exert important top-down control on deep-sea communities, and, as a result, their behavior plays a particularly important role in influencing healthy ecosystem dynamics.
In order to further understand their ecological role and inform constructive management and policy, it is critical to assess the unique behavioral characteristics of these poorly understood elasmobranchs.
This semester members of the Shark Research and Conservation Program have been working diligently in collaboration with Microwave Telemetry to explore and uncover some of the mysteries behind the behavior of deep-water sharks. This particular study, led by Research Assistant and recent MSc graduate Oliver Shipley, aims to assess the daily vertical behavior of common deep-water sharks in the Exuma Sound via satellite telemetry.
In order to assess movement patterns over a 24-hour cycle, animals are captured via demersal longlines (lines that sit on the ocean floor) and hauled to the surface using an electronic pot-hauler. These movements are assessed by attaching X-satellite tags (Figure 1), (measuring time, temperature, depth, and light) to the dorsal fin of animals deemed large enough to carry the tag without impairing movement. X-tags measure high resolution (every two minutes) data over a 14-day period.
Once tagged, animals are then placed into a newly designed release cage (Figure 2), in order to prevent predation by larger sharks during descent. Once the cage reaches the sea floor, a weighted door opens, enabling the shark to safely swim out. After the two week tracking period, a release mechanism causes the tags to pop off and rise to the surface, transmitting the data to an Argos satellite prior to analysis. Continue reading →
On Friday 18th September, Dr. Owen O’Shea of the Shark Research and Conservation Program along with Shark Program intern Amanda Billotti and Educational Program leaders, Anna Zuke and Lydia Geschiere made the trip to Spanish Wells’ All Ages School to deliver a workshop to 36 students from 11th and 12th grade as well as their teachers. This was the first time that CEI scientists have visited this tiny fishing community off the north coast of Eleuthera to share the exciting work we do here. During the workshop students were given presentations about the evolution ecology and importance of rays and sharks, particularly in Bahamian waters lead by both Dr. Owen O’Shea and Amanda Billotti. One of the main themes touched upon was the importance of these ancient animals as economic resources in The Bahamas; discussing how a living shark or ray is of greater value as a tourism tool, then a dead one at market.
The students then participated in group discussions where they were able to collaborate amongst themselves to demonstrate and share what they had learned. Four key concepts were randomly assigned to each of four groups, and the CEI team mentored a group each, before a student from each team presented their groups responses to the class – these topics included discussing the ecological role of these animals in marine ecosystems and global challenges to the conservation of these animals.
CEI research teams in collaboration with the Educational Program team are striving to increase outreach to other communities on Eleuthera. Each month will see representatives of the Shark Research and Conservation Program travel to a different school to deliver interactive workshops and discussion with students about these most valuable of marine resources.
CEI and team EP aims to continue to promote internship opportunities to Bahamian students, and this was warmly received by all of the students we interacted with last week.
While all visiting groups are special to us here at CEI, certain ones touch our hearts in unique and unexpected ways. Akhepran International Academy, visiting us for the first time from Nassau, was one group that made a big impact in their short time with us.
On Monday August 24, 10 students along with 2 teachers arrived from New Providence and jumped straight into the island school life. They had a jam packed day to orient them to our campus, complete with a sustainable systems tour and awesome day one snorkeling.
The rest of the week had a large emphasis on working with our research teams and discussing the implications of their work on our world. Lloyd Allen, head chaperone and a teacher at Akhepran, has a big vision for his scholars and hoped that in their time here they would see the plethora of career options in sciences and engineering and be inspired to pursue their passions.
Some students have dreams of being engineers. These students really enjoyed learning about our aquaponics system with Michael Bowleg and spoke excitedly about going home and engineering their own aquaponics system at home. Others dream of being marine biologists and, after a morning learning about and dissecting lionfish, want to go back to Nassau and tell everyone they know about this invasive species and get them to eat lionfish instead of more commonly overfished species.
These examples are just the beginning of this group’s studies.
Their curiosity, questions, and positive approach to life made them a joy to spend the week with. By the end of the week many spoke about how their perspectives on the ocean had shifted and they had learned to love the ocean they grew up around even more. One student said, “every time a wave hits against me it’s like a kiss from mother nature” and another admitted that she had fears about the ocean, but that swimming in it and “being one with the fish” showed her she didn’t need to be so afraid.
This was truly a week of growth and inspiration, and even though their trip was cut short by threats of a hurricane, we look forward to this relationship and have hopes to visit their school in Nassau in the future.
Plymouth University and the historical Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom hosted the 2015 Fisheries Society of the British Isles annual conference. This year’s symposium theme was the biology, ecology and conservation of Elasmobranchs (sharks and rays). Dr. Owen O’Shea represented the Cape Eleuthera Institute and The Island School by presenting his work on electrosensory prey discrimination in a local species of round ray – Urobatis jamaicencis. This research was taught during applied scientific research class at The Island School in Spring 2014 and was warmly received by 178 leading shark researchers from across the globe. The plenary speeches were led by a range of well-respected and established scientists such as Greg Cailliet who spoke of advances in the ageing and growth of elasmobranchs, Sonja Fordham who is founder and president of Shark Advocates International spoke of the recent CITES listings and conservations challenges in the political arena and Greg Skomal discussed his work tagging great white sharks.
This work has contributed to the paucity of knowledge surrounding the efficiency at which rays search for food, considering their prey are often concealed beneath the sandy patches amongst reef habitat in which we find them. From this information, we can better understand how these animals are able to forage effectively in term of their energy budgets. This is important because yellow rays compete with other similar fishes for the bounty that lies beneath the sediments, and so maximizing foraging efficiency is critical not to get left behind!
The conference offered an eclectic blend of talks ranging from remote camera systems following great white sharks, to the politics surrounding shark and ray conservations and the challenges faced in protecting many species. It was an honor to be a part of this conference and to not only share the work we do here at CEI, but to learn from our peers about their work, and hopefully forge future relationships and collaborations.
On Friday, August 21st, the Shark Research and Conservation Program at the Cape Eleuthera Institute was once again honored to host and be involved with 22 young Bahamian students from the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) Eleuthera Sea Camp for a full day of research-related activities. Friday capped off a week-long summer camp focused on the Eleuthera’s marine environment, and the relationships that residents of the Bahamas have with that environment.
Firstly, students were introduced to our systems and facilities via a 60-minute walking tour of campus including a visit to our permaculture farm, aquaponics system, wet lab, and biodiesel facility. At each stop, members of the community informed students about sustainable farming practices, biodiesel production, and how we grow fish to not only eat, but that help us grow our lettuce and herbs. Following the campus tour, the students ate a picnic lunch at the Boathouse with members of the Shark Team.
The afternoon was full-on, filled with the CEI shark research team, shark handling demonstrations, and a stingray tagging experience. Research Technician Cameron Raguse kicked things off with a short presentation on shark ecology, explaining their role as a top-predator in the Bahamas and how integral they are to maintaining a stable ecosystem. The students then split into groups alternating between two activities: one with Dr. Owen O’Shea and his team for stingray tagging; and one with University of Illinois graduate student, Ian Bouyoucos demonstrating shark handling and physiology. In each case, the students got an in-depth look at research here at CEI, as well as getting up-close with some often misunderstood animals.
At the end of the day, the group left with a better understanding of elasmobranchs as a whole, and a deeper appreciation for the wildlife right at their doorstep.
Longline fishing is the predominant capture method of sharks in both targeted fisheries and fisheries that incidentally catch sharks. There is a growing body of research determining the immediate physiological responses of sharks to this prolific capture method, but researchers are just beginning to skim the surface on understanding the long-term responses to capture that may influence vital life-history processes such as growth and reproduction. The extent to which sharks allocate energy to recovery from capture away from processes like locomotion, growth, and reproduction is completely unknown and a compelling question toward shark conservation research.
Researchers at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) have recently begun conducting research to determine how much energy (i.e., calories) sharks consume when caught by longline gear relative to the energy consumed during routine, daily activity. This project combines biotelemetry (tracking behavior and activity in wild animals) and respirometry (a method of estimating energy consumption by measuring rates of oxygen consumption) approaches to estimate energy consumption in wild sharks. Specifically, acceleration data-logging tags will be used to characterize routine and exhaustive activity in wild sharks, and respirometry techniques will be employed to quantify the energetic costs of those activities. These data have the potential for conservation and fisheries management application by linking behaviors exhibited during the capture response with adverse physiological outcomes.
University of Illinois M.Sc. student, Ian Bouyoucos – a previous CEI intern – will be heading the field and lab work on site in The Bahamas. This research is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Edd Brooks of the Shark Research and Conservation Program at CEI, and longtime shark program collaborators, Dr. John Mandelman of the New England Aquarium, and Dr. Cory Suski of the University of Illinois.
The Cape Eleuthera Institute‘s Shark Research and Conservation Program recently initiated a novel project that aims to assess the spatial ecology and genetic diversity of three species of stingray in the waters surrounding Southern Eleuthera. It is hoped this research will provide much needed information on how species critical for ecosystem function occupy and share space as well as exploit fragmented seascapes for migrations and dispersal corridors.
Check out this amazing video from our friends at Behind the Mask to learn more about the stingray project!
Please follow this link to find updates on shark research by Florida State University graduate student Brendan Talwar, looking at post-release survivorship of deep sea sharks in Eleuthera, The Bahamas.
Last week The Island School hosted Parents’ Week. The week included an opportunity for parents to tour our campus, view a student art exhibit, parent-teacher meetings, and a day for students to show their families the island of Eleuthera.
52 excited Island School students had the opportunity to present their semester long research projects to their parents, real world scientists from The Cape Eleuthera Institute, and The Island School faculty. Each research group had 10 minutes to present the culmination of their semester’s work including an introduction to their project, their hypotheses, a description of methods employed, results section, and conclusions of findings from their data. In addition, each group answered questions from curious parents and researchers about their topics.
The parents learned about how plastic pollution can end up in a fish’s stomach, exciting new research focused on the deep-sea, the current status of important fisheries species in South Eleuthera and new research focused on the inland pond systems in Eleuthera. Guest commented on how impressed they were with The Island School students’ level of professionalism when presenting and their ability to share in-depth knowledge on their chosen research topic.
OAK Leadership Institute from Cleveland, Ohio joined us the first week of April for an action packed week. The five students and two teachers had the time of their lives exploring Eleuthera and the plethora of marine habitats we are so fortunate to live beside.
One particular highlight for the team was assisting with the stingray ecology research project. They joined the Island School research class out on the Schooner Cays to capture, measure, tag and work up southern stingrays. It was great to see both Island School students and our visiting students working together to support this project.
Most of the students also got a chance to experience camping on a beach for the first time, it was an awesome trip of firsts, exploration and learning.
Big thanks to OAK Leadership for bringing the first group of students down to us, we hope to see OAK return next year!