Sharks are among some of the most threatened fishes in the world’s oceans
As a group, face possibly the largest global population declines in modern history. These declines have been caused by the chronic overfishing of some species, driven by the demand the high value fins. Many species of shark are considered apex predators, and are thought to be of critical importance in maintaining equilibrium in marine ecosystems through the regulation of the distribution and abundance of species at lower trophic levels. Consequently, the widespread overexploitation of some shark species is thought to have far-reaching consequences for entire food webs, threatening the stability of these sensitive ecosystems.
The Shark Research and Conservation Program (SRCP) was established in 2006 to increase the capacity for conservation based elasmobranch science in The Bahamas, and the greater Caribbean region. The SRCP has a unique opportunity to study a diverse assemblage of shark species due to our close proximity to multiple ecosystems which are home to wide variety of elasmobranch species. Furthermore, a ban on commercial longline fishing the early 1990s, and a complete moratorium on commercial shark fisheries in 2011 created one of the largest shark sanctuaries in the world. This allows the SRCP to focus on many different elasmobranch resources, ultimately promoting their effective management on a regional and global scale. At present, the SRCP conducts research in every major marine ecosystem found in The Bahamas and the greater Caribbean region.
Current research projects include:
Deep Water Baited Underwater Video Surveys- The focus of this research is to assess the diversity, distribution and abundance of deep water fauna using ‘The Medusa’ – a specialized deepwater baited video camera capable of reaching depths of up to 2,000m (6,600ft) – For video please clickhere.
Historical Elasmobranch Abundance– Fisheries independent surveys from the 1970’s being recreated in order to determine 30 year shifts in the composition of elasmobranch assemblages in The Bahamas.
The Costs of Capture– Commercial longline fisheries are the single largest capture method for elasmobranchs in the world, and the SRCP has several projects that focus on the physiological, behavioral and energetic costs of capture to the individual. This project is run in collaboration with the New England Aquarium research department.
Oceanic Whitetip Shark Ecology– Thought to be one of the most overexploited species in the western Atlantic, this wide ranging, highly migratory species is very poorly understood. In collaboration with Microwave Telemetry and Stony Brook University we are examining the spatiotemporal movement patterns of this species, and identifying the biological imperatives which drive them. – For video please click here.
Caribbean Reef Shark Ecology– This species is arguable the most ecologically and economically important species in the greater Caribbean region, yet its fundamental ecology is very poorly understood. The SRCP employs a number of techniques to elucidate the ecology of this species including temporally and spatially structured longline and baited video surveys, mark recapture studies and both acoustic and satellite telemetry.
Nurse Shark Mating Aggregations– The waters and creeks of Cape Eleuthera are home to large numbers of nurse sharks that form several summertime mating aggregations. Over the last four years this project has assessed the size and duration of these aggregations, in addition to assessing the site fidelity of females.
Bull Shark Ecology– This species is a common visitor to the Bahamas in the winter months but rarely seen in the summer. Using satellite technology, we aim to discern broad spatial and temporal patterns of habitat use and seasonal residency in The Bahamas.
Rare Species Baited Video Surveys– Baited Remote Underwater Video Surveys (BRUVs) are a widespread and effective rapid assessment tool. This project increases soak times to multiple hours over multiple days in order quantify the abundance of rarer species.
In the past, we have also focused on:
Bioenergetics– Understanding the daily energy budgets of sharks can assist in understanding their ecological role. This project aims to quantify daily energy budget of juvenile lemon sharks, and to assess the energetic costs of capture. This project is run in collaboration with the New England Aquarium research department.
The Immunological Response of Elasmobranchs to Chronic Stress– This study has a multifaceted approach in exploring potential causes of elasmobranch post-release mortality as well as the physiological effects of ocean acidification on the yellow stingray, Urobatis jamaicensis. This project is run in collaboration with the New England Aquarium research department.
The Importance of Shallow Water Production in Deep Water Ecosystems– This project aims to assess the importance of coastal benthic insular primary production for deep-water carbon flow within the north east Exuma Sound trench community.
Collaboration & Support
Our research is conducted in collaboration with the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA); Microwave Telemetry Inc.; Florida State University, Coastal and Marine Laboratory; New England Aquarium; Stony Brook University, Institute for Ocean Conservation Science; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; University of Exeter; and Newcastle University.