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Harte Research Institute, OCEARCH Team up for Unprecedented Gulf Shark-Tagging Expedition

September 28, 2015

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is teaming up with leading shark-tracking nonprofit OCEARCH to build the most extensive shark-tagging program in the Gulf of Mexico region.

This October, OCEARCH is bringing its unique research vessel, the M/V OCEARCH, to the Gulf for a multi-species study to generate previously unattainable data on critical shark species, including Hammerhead, Tiger and Mako sharks.

“OCEARCH brings amazing capacity that allows us to greatly increase the numbers of sharks tagged in our region,” said Dr. Greg Stunz, HRI Chair for Fisheries and Ocean Health and Director of the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation (CSSC).   “We will have access to a world-class vessel and fishermen to locate and capture the sharks. “Additionally, the OCEARCH vessel is equipped with a lift system that safely lifts the shark from the water giving us unprecedented access to the animal. This method is key for efficiently attaching tags, drawing blood, assessing reproductive status using ultrasound technology, along with a host of other scientific data collection methods that would otherwise be impossible on such a large, powerful, and dangerous animal.”

Divided among three nations — the U.S., Mexico and Cuba — each with different regulations, the Gulf is a large marine ecosystem where policy development and enforcement requires multinational cooperation. Sharks are a highly mobile species that can travel hundreds of miles a day, heedless of international boundaries, and little is currently known about their movements in the Gulf. Research on shark migration will provide scientists with data necessary to understand their movements within this tri-national water body to better affect policy and conserve these key marine predators.

“Sharks, especially the large pelagic species, are difficult to access and this expedition will provide HRI an unprecedented opportunity to better understand where and how they live,” said Dr. Larry McKinney, HRI Executive Director. “We are always looking for how the Gulf of Mexico is connected to the world’s oceans and these sharks are the perfect model to study.”

Additionally, data is needed to understand the interaction between large predators and the oil and gas platforms currently present in the Gulf, and how this relationship compares to natural reefs and other ocean features.

CSSC runs a number of tagging programs to monitor shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico, including passive, acoustic and satellite tagging, and has tagged thousands of sharks to help fill information gaps about their lives in the Gulf. Meanwhile, through its online Global Shark Tracker, OCEARCH has helped millions of adults and children to gain a much closer and comprehensive look at one of the Gulf’s more important indicator species, the challenges sharks face worldwide, and the important information they provide about the Gulf’s biodiversity.  The pairing of these teams makes an ideal collaboration.

The expedition, largely supported by Caterpillar Inc. as part of a socially-innovative, multi-year partnership to impact ocean sustainability, is scheduled to take place Saturday, Oct. 10, through Friday, Oct.  30, beginning in Galveston, Texas, and ending in New Orleans, La. The expedition is also generously supported by HRI's Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation, Texas State Aquarium, Cheniere Energy, Coastal Conservation Association-Texas, Shell Oil and Gas and Orion Drilling.

Anyone and everyone can follow the OCEARCH expedition by accessing the near-real time, free online Global Shark Tracker or by downloading the Global Shark Tracker App available for Apple and Android platforms.

“Creating a global ocean movement that connects the dots between sharks and the health of the ocean, through research expeditions, the Global Shark Tracker and our education program is essential to ensuring an ocean for our kids,” said Chris Fischer, OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader. “Bringing that movement home to the Gulf for the first time is a true inspiration for our organization and team, and our socially innovative partners like Caterpillar, Costa and Harte Research Institute. It's an honor to bring OCEARCH's unique capacity for progress to this amazing body of water and region, and to serve the scientific community that's dedicated to its future.”