Sarasota scientists hope to crack mystery of sharks

Scientists from Sarasota conduct groundbreaking shark research

OCEARCH photo

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Scientists from the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota recently returned from a shark expedition in and around the Atlantic Ocean.

The work they did should help protect those animals – while also protecting humans from diseases.

OCEARCH photo
OCEARCH photo

For three weeks off the coast of Florida and Georgia, scientists from around the country, including those from Sarasota, worked with OCEARCH, a non-profit that researches great white sharks. They captured and released sharks after tagging them. This will allow the sharks to be tracked.

These kings of the deep are full of mysteries waiting to be unlocked. “There’s always a lot we don’t know because every time we learn something it triggers five more questions,” Dr. Robert Hueter with Mote Marine said.

The scientists caught tiger sharks, sand tiger sharks and blacknose sharks. Once they brought each animal on board, the clock started.

“It is sort of like a pit crew,” Hueter said. “If we do our jobs right, the sharks are very comfortable. They’re very placid … Everybody worries about those teeth. It’s that tail; if they flop their tail then somebody could get hurt. So we make sure the animal is comfortable. We make sure that people are safe.”

They team had just 15 minutes with each shark to run a battery of tests and safely tag the creatures – before releasing them.

How sharks can help humans

There’s a lot humans can gain from learning about sharks. “Sharks are naturally resistant to bacterial infection and they heal very rapidly,” Hueter said.

Dr. Kim Ritchie took skin samples and isolated strains of bacteria. ‘The ocean is a vast medicine cabinet that hasn’t been investigated,” Ritchie said.

Doctors are seeing more cases of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, so these shark scientists hope their work can lead to new, more powerful medicine.

The team also hopes to find out why sharks rarely get cancer.

Research will also benefit sharks

This work is also meant to help sharks. The tags attached by the scientists can last five years and will help these researchers track the animals’ movements.

“That will help us understand how to manage fisheries and protect these species,” Hueter said.

Later this summer, Mote scientists plan to tag sharks off the coast of New England. Next year they’re planning to tag sharks off the coast of Cuba.

Here’s a list of the sharks that were tagged with satellite trackers during this expedition:

  • Georgia, an 8’5″ female tiger shark
  • Viper, a 7’7″ male tiger shark
  • A.B., 9’8″ male tiger shark
  • Duval, 8′ male tiger shark

Track these sharks and others here.

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