Bimini ’14

Project type: Shark tagging expedition
Date: January, February and March 2014
Location: Bimini, Bahamas
Project target: To place acoustic and satellite tags on great hammerhead sharks seasonally present in Bimini, take biopsy samples of great hammerhead and bullsharks.
Lead scientist: Dr. Tristan Guttridge
Tagging team: William Winram & Fred Buyle, assisted by Lukas Mueller
Participants: fourteen from age 9 to 50

In the months of January, February and March our team embarked on their first land based expedition to the crystal clear waters of Bimini, Bahamas. This was a collaboration between the Bimini Biological Field Station – Shark lab, Save Our Seas Foundation and The Watermen Project.

We tagged Great Hammerhead Sharks and took muscle samples of both Great Hammerheads and Bull Sharks. In total we placed 17 acoustic tags and 2 Pop-Up Satellite Tags. We took 2 biopsy samples of Great Hammerheads and 7 of Bull Sharks. The study of Dr. Tristan Guttridge and his colleagues aims at finding out whether the Great Hammerheads only migrate around the islands of Bimini or set out for a longer migratory route once they disappear in March/April . The PSAT tags are programed to be released soon, fingers crossed they transmit the data and provide us with the first insights.

Despite our sampling and tagging efforts we try to engage young individuals and people from the general public in the research process. This time around our team was joined by 8 participants over the course of our expeditions. Amongst the participants were Zaki (11), Malik (15), Andrei (9) and Sasha (13). They got to witness shark research first-hand and learn all about the local shark species. When coming along with our Technical Team to tag and sample sharks at sea they joined in the water and experienced Great Hammerheads, Carribean Reef Sharks and Nurse Sharks in their natural habitat. As well they learned all about our tagging approach from the different kinds of tags to breathhold diving and how acoustic receivers are used to pick up the sharks signal. They listened to talks given by scientists from Bimini Field Station and learned how science can help protect these species that are so valuable to the ocean’s health.

Below you can see some of the encounters our young Watermen had with the majestic Great Hammerheads of Bimini. (photos courtesy of Fred Buyle, William Winram and 60 Pound Bullet Photography)

We are looking forward to continuing further scientific research projects offering our skills to place tags and sample sharks non-invasively, efficiently and cost effectively. The data of the ongoing studies will be summed up in a final report on our site, as well we will keep you updated on any publications resulting from our collaboration with Bimini Shark Lab. Thanks to anybody who participated in the expedition and therefore helped fund the research. As well we’d like to thank Katy & Grant from Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center for cooperating with us at the tagging site and supporting the research.

Great hammer shark with an acoustic tag passing by receiver - photo Fred Buyle

Great hammer shark with an acoustic tag passing by receiver – photo Fred Buyle

This photo shows the most important components of acoustic tagging & tracking in shark research. The acoustic tag & the acoustic receiver. The tag emits an acoustic signal in a set time interval which can be picked up by the acoustic receiver once the sharks is within a range of 500m. Every couple of months the researchers download the data from the receivers that are located around the study hotspots to see when the sharks were in what locations.

Fred Buyle tagging a great hammerhead shark - photo William Winram

Fred Buyle tagging a great hammerhead shark – photo William Winram

Fred Buyle tagging a Great Hammerhead during freediving. Although it looks easy this approach takes long experience and excellent freediving & spearfishing skills. The animal needs to be approached so it is not scared away or is irritated by the divers movement. Only if the animal is totally relaxed and our divers have enough time to place the shot at a perfect angle like this, they fire the gun placing the tag right below the dorsal fin.

Placement of the tag in thick muscle tissue at the base of the dorsal fin - photo Fred Buyle

Placement of the tag in thick muscle tissue at the base of the dorsal fin – photo Fred Buyle

The muscle tissue is very thick in this area and the dart of the tag penetrates that tissue a couple of centimeters deep. Most sharks swim off, but return shortly after being tagged, sometimes within minutes. Some don’t return for a couple of days. Eventually the dart & tag are grown out of the tissue.

11-year old Zaki about to do his first shark dive - photo Lukas Mueller

11-year old Zaki about to do his first shark dive – photo Lukas Mueller

Zaki only 5min before his first dive with Reef Sharks. The look on his face says it all.

Bryan Keller at the shark lab showing the ropes to Zaki for lemon shark research - photo Lukas Mueller

Bryan Keller at the shark lab showing the ropes to Zaki for lemon shark research – photo Lukas Mueller

Shark Scientist Bryant from the Bimini Shark Lab showing Zaki & Malik how to handle a Lemon Shark for various scientific measurements.

Zaki in the company of his dad and a great hammerhead shark - photo William Winram

Zaki in the company of his dad and a great hammerhead shark – photo William Winram

Zaki diving with his father Samir. This family will surely spread the word about shark research & conservation and help to protect these animals as shark advocates.

Aliwal Shoal ’12

Project type: Expedition
Dates: February 19-28 & May 23-31, 2012
Location: Aliwal Shoal, South Africa
Base: Mark & Gail Addison, Blue Wilderness, Durban
Project target: DNA sampling from black tip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus)
Lead scientist: Jessica Escobar-Porras PhD (c)
DND sampling team: Fred Buyle & William Winram
Sea life: abundant

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Carcharhinus limbatus

Jessica Escobar-Porras’ research involves an examination of the relationship between population structures and reproductive strategies present in sharks inhabiting temperate and subtropical waters. She hopes to make inferences based on the variance between ovoviparous, oviparous and viviparous shark populations. The three species that are being used in her study are ragged-tooth, black tip and catsharks. THE WATERMEN PROJECT participated in the study of the black tip sharks.

Fred Buyle and William Winram conducted DNA sample collection on a breath-hold using non-lethal biopsy guns.

Fred Buyle as he is about to take a DNA sample from a black tip shark - Photo William Winram

Fred Buyle as he is about to take a DNA sample from a black tip shark – Photo William Winram

Jessica Escobar-Porras says: “An interesting element of this research project is the level of international involvement from various stakeholders in the exploration of an innovative conservation strategy. In addition, information obtained from field trips involves the use of free diving techniques – essentially, divers do not use any breathing apparatus or cages popularly associated with shark diving.”

Escobar-Porras, who hails from Medellin in Colombia, says she chose to study in South Africa because of its amazing biodiversity. She came to South Africa to learn techniques and obtain specialist knowledge in a country very fortunate in terms of its shark population and hopes to set up her own institute for marine studies and conservation in Colombia, in partnership with her South African colleagues.

Along its mission for the scientist, THE WATERMEN PROJECT team always takes the time to take photographs so as to establish a catalogue of the individuals which are studied.

Fred Buyle taking a photograph of a sampled black tip shark - Photo William Winram

Fred Buyle taking a photograph of a sampled black tip shark – Photo William Winram