Shark Handling Techniques

Hi everyone, my name is Giancarlo Nunes and I’m the Research and Conservation manager for Fundacion Parke Nacional Aruba. I can be considered a jack of all trades for this trip since I’ve been lucky enough to receive training on several of these expeditions. What I mostly do though is assist in getting the shark safely secured to the boat by either handling the head or the tail of the shark.

What is the proper way to restrain a shark for tagging?

Once a shark is hooked to the line, the line is then used to carefully guide the shark to the side of the boat with it’s head facing towards the front of the boat. Another crew member then secures the shark’s tail to the back end of the boat using a rope which is thick enough to hold the shark but also soft enough to not cut the shark’s skin. At this moment the shark is considered secured and the science team can start with data collection. During data collection it is important for the shark handler to continuously assess the shark’s health. One of the most important things during the expedition is to make sure the sharks are strong and healthy so they can be released with no issues.

How do you tag a shark?

Photo credit: Sami Kattan / Beneath the Waves

There are several types of tags being used on this expedition and each one serves a different purpose. All the tags are attached either on the shark’s fin or at the base of the fin. Shark fins are made out of cartilage which is the same material human ears are made of. Tagging a shark can be compared to piercing a person’s ear. The tags don’t affect the shark’s survival much like earrings don’t affect a person’s daily activities.

What type of tags are used?
There are many types of shark tags and each have a different purpose. For this expedition we will be using the following three types.
1. Floy tags are used as an external visual marker for researchers and fishermen to know if a shark as been tagged for research purposes. Floy tags are shaped like uncooked spaghetti which is why they are also called spaghetti tags. Floy tags contain contact information of the organization which tagged the sharks.
2. PIT tags are small chips which are inserted under the skin via a needle at the base of the fin and can not be removed as easily as a Floy tag. Each PIT tag has a unique code which can be read using a portable scanner.
PIT tagging a shark is comparable to chipping a pet animal for identification purposes.
3. Satellite tags are work via GPS and are attached to the top of the shark’s fin. A signal is sent to orbital satellites whenever a tagged shark’s fin breaches the water’s surface which allows us to track it’s location. Knowing where sharks go allow us to discover areas important to their survival such feeding and breeding habitats.

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Article published in the Special Edition BioNews: Tiger Shark Expedition

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