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ENC shark survey celebrates 50 years of research

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 7:14 PM EDT
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MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WITN) - This week millions will tune in to watch Shark Week, but a team of researchers here in Eastern North Carolina are celebrating their own type of shark week as they mark 50 years of their shark survey which is one of the longest continuous efforts in the world to study these apex predators.

Every other week for 15 weeks out of the year a crew loads up bright and early on the research vessel Capricorn and sets off. “We do a small trawl to catch bait, we bait 100 hooks and we attach those baited hooks to a long line that stretches almost a mile, it soaks for an hour and then we pull it in to see what we caught,” explained lead scientist on the project Dr. Joel Fodrie.

As the lines are pulled in if a shark is caught the team hands it off to the researchers who quickly work to record some data and take measurements on the animal. “We do want to be really mindful of getting the shark off the hook and back into the water as quickly as possible. Baseline measures are, we get the species two measures of length, we get male/female, we insert a small plastic tag near the sharks dorsal fin,” said Dr. Fodrie.

Depending on the species that are caught they could take a tissue sample and pictures of the shark before it is sent on its way.

This year UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences is marking the 50th year of this shark survey. Dr. Fodrie says looking back over these past five decades it’s impressive to see just how much they’ve learned about these apex predators.

“When the shark survey started there was a lot of interest in just shark biology, just how big a shark might get, when they matured and even their general form was kind of undocumented, a shark was kind of just a shark in the early 70′s,” explained Dr. Fodrie.

The shark survey is now one of the longest-running projects in the world, and Dr. Fodrie says while we’ve come a long way with how much we’ve learned about sharks there is much more work to be done.

“We have this 50 year record of how shark populations are changing or staying the same, an individual shark can live for 20 or 30 years so the only way to understand how the populations are changing is to not do a study that’s 2 or 3 years but to be out here for decades.”

So far UNC researchers have tagged more than 11,000 sharks.

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