Last winter Flagship embarked on a special mission. We were fortunate enough to join the crew of the Ocearch research vessel in the North Atlantic to catch, study, and tag one of natures most powerful creatures, the Atlantic White Shark!
(cue 'Jaws' theme)
'Shark Trackers', which made its series premier last week on Travel Channel, documents the dedicated and skilled team of mariners, scientists, and anglers that are doing everything they can to study, protect, and raise awareness of these amazing animals. It also explores the region of the world that the expedition takes place.
Now, the Ocearch team has been on dozens of expeditions in the past, studying all sorts of sharks, but this particular expedition was centered around the Atlantic White Shark, and our journey took us into Jaws country (about 30 miles off the coast of Nantucket). Pictured here is the 'mothership' Ocearch, and trailing behind is the Contender, who's primary goal is to actually hook the shark and 'walk' it back to the Ocearch. Since the Contender is so much smaller, faster, and more agile, it makes sense to let her and her crew handle the delicate process of safely catching and guiding the shark to the Ocearch.
If the shape of the Ocearch looks familiar on the horizon, it might be because before being redesigned to be a state-of-the-art research vessel, it was featured on the popular Discovery Channel show Deadliest Catch. Pictured here is what the crew fondly refers to as 'The Ocho', named for its 8 tightly packed racks where the film and science crews slept. Before it was The Ocho, it was a crab storage tank.
Without a doubt the most notable modification made the ship is this hydraulic submergible deck which was built using the existing crab pot crane system. When a shark is hooked by the Contender and her crew, they then 'walk' the shark from the location it was caught to this deck which is waiting, submerged in a about 4 feet of water off the side of the mothership.
Once the shark has been safely walked onto the deck, it is lifted out of the water. This is important because before this technology the only way to secure a shark for long enough to conduct the tests required lots of tightly pulled ropes and no doubt some discomfort for the shark. This way the shark is resting safely on the deck with water pumped through its gills and a wet towel placed over its eyes. This is a way to calm the shark by not depriving it of some of the things its used to underwater, but of course there is always some inherent danger when dealing with these huge animals.
Then the science teams jump into action. Taking measurements, blood, scale, blood, and parasite samples, and most importantly tagging the sharks. This allows scientists (and even the general public!) to track the movements of the sharks once they are released. So little is known about the Atlantic White Shark, particularly about their migration and mating patterns, so tagging the sharks is an invaluable step towards learning when and where the animals spend their time.
The science teams have this routine down to almost the second, Within 12 minutes of the shark leaving the water, they've placed all the tags and collected all the data and samples needed, and they (and us!) vacate the deck before it starts heading back down into the water to release the shark. The towel and water hose are removed and the anglers step back in to handle the safe release of the shark.