Nearly two years ago, researchers for Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) tagged a mako shark found off Ocean City, Maryland.
After 600 days, the mako shark, named Hell’s Bay after Hell’s Bay Boatworks, traveled more than 13,000 miles and broke a GHRI record for the shark species in the Atlantic Ocean. The distance is equal to more than halfway around the planet.
The tags are funded by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF), a non-profit organization that conducts scientific research and hosts educational programs aimed at conserving the marine environment. Hell’s Bay Boatworks, a boat manufacturer based in Titusville, Florida, is owned by Capt. Chris Peterson, who sponsored the tag.
“These satellite tags allow us to follow sharks in near-real time,” said Greg Jacoski, executive director of the GHOF. “Understanding where these animals travel and the habitat that they use is the first step to better conserving the species.”
See visuals of the 600-day track of the Hell’s Bay mako.
The shark’s incredible distance in such a short amount of time is due to its genes. Its closest relative is the white shark, but even they do not hold the label as the “cheetahs” of the shark species. They can swim up to 60 mph, the fastest of any shark species.
Mahmood Shivji, a professor at NSU and the director of GHRI, said many tagged mako sharks in the GHRI database have made “some pretty interesting tracks over the years” but Hell’s Bay made history.
In the first year, after the shark was tagged in May 2015, Hell’s Bay traveled north along the Atlantic coast and then back south to the original tag location. In 2016, the shark made its way north and east up to Nova Scotia and just south of Bermuda before returning to near Ocean City by the end of the calendar. But the mako wasn’t finished. In 2017, the shark again traveled north, closer to land, and researchers noticed movements aligning with seasonal patterns. Hell’s Bay spent the winter and early spring months offshore and the rest of the year closer to land.
“Having Hell’s Bay report for as long as he has is fantastic,” Shivji said, “because we’re able to really get a detailed look at mako migration behavior over a good amount of time. He was like the Energizer bunny – he kept going and going and going, and luckily did not get captured like many of our other sharks.”
The GHRI hopes to have more of an impact on mako shark conservation and research their migration patterns and more with more tagging opportunities. A new study reported that 22 percent of makos that have been satellite tagged were caught or killed by fishermen. Shivj said between 70 and 100 million sharks are killed per year — and due to many shark species’ reproductive habits, that could harm their long-term survival.
“That highlights what mako sharks face on a daily basis in their natural habitat,” Shivji said. “It’s something we have to work around, but every time we lose a shark we lose another opportunity to learn about these magnificent animals.”
Visit the websites for more information about the GHOF and GHRI.
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