After reading my last blog on the great white shark, Mary Lee, a good friend and fellow nature lover, Bo Wilson, asked me if the sharks “hurt” when the OCEARCH crew takes bio samples from them with a needle.
Great question. The truth is: we don’t know, although I would dare to guess that it probably hurts them no more than a shot would hurt us. There is so much we don’t know about the ocean’s apex predator, but one research organization, OCEARCH, is taking unprecedented measures to learn more about them.
“The purpose of this research, generally speaking, is to solve the life history puzzle of the great white shark,” OCEARCH founder and expedition leader Chris Fischer said in a recent interview.
OCEARCH, a non-profit organization, supports leading researchers and institutions seeking to attain groundbreaking data. The OCEARCH website lists 49 researchers with whom they’ve worked. Their combined efforts have resulted in the publication of five scientific papers on the biology and life history of great whites.
“We don’t know where and when they feed, breed or give birth,” Fischer said. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like this organization, dedicated to the conservation of sharks, is stopping anytime soon. Public support helps their cause.
On Dec. 9, OCEARCH received a satellite ping from a second great white, Genie, swimming in the same general area in which Mary Lee has been patrolling. Her dorsal fin breached the ocean’s surface near the South Carolina-Georgia border. Like Mary Lee, Genie is a mature female. Genie is smaller, measuring nearly 15 feet in length and weighing 2,292 pounds. As a Department of Natural Resources biologist suggested, they could be following right whales migrating south, hoping to find a stranded whale or a carcass.
There are so many questions. Why are they swimming in such close proximity? What are they actually feeding upon? Why is it so important to study sharks and to worry about their conservation?
Here’s a partial answer to the latter question: Shark populations worldwide are under threat — sharks are being slaughtered at an unsustainable rate, many for a bowl of soup. This unsustainable harvest rate driven by the demand for shark fins, meat and other products puts not only sharks at risk, but also the entire balance of the ocean.
OCEARCH certainly doesn’t limit itself to studying great whites. The organization’s website, OCEARCH.org, documents its work in many areas with some awesome videos. Y’all should really check them out.
Once caught and lifted out of the water, sharks are monitored at all times under expert guidance and maintained on the platform by running water through its mouth and gills. All fieldwork is done according to agreed and approved protocols based primarily on ethical considerations, and overseen by leading scientists and researchers.
Tonight, I’ll be dreaming of Genie and Mary Lee, thanks to the fantastic work of a caring group of people.