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First Tiger sharks in history of Galapagos Islands tagged

First Tiger sharks in history of Galapagos Islands tagged, including 4-meter female named Yolanda captured in Canal de Itabaca – 66 fish, 8 species tagged in total


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The Galapagos National Park Directorate, Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth collaborated with OCEARCH to complete its 18th global expedition - conducted in one of the world’s treasured marine resources, the Galapagos Islands. According to OCEARCH collaborating lead scientist and Science Director of TIRN,Dr. Alex Hearn: “We brought together a multidisciplinary team of scientists and the foremost marine megafauna explorers. We made use of the world’s only oceanic research lift platform, which allowed us to handle large sharks with a minimal amount of stress. Our research, which uses methods approved by the IACUC Animal Care Committee while I was a Project Scientist at UC Davis, and by the Galapagos National Park Directorate, accomplished so much in so little time - over 66 individuals and 8 species caught, tagged and released. We have spent years working towards this study - making the leap from a shark movement study to one of the entire pelagic assemblage.”

The first Tiger sharks in the history of the Galapagos Islands were tagged and studied, including a large 4 meter female that was captured in a canal where a Navy diver had been working was concerned with its presence. The shark was named after Yolanda Kakabadse Navarro, aunt of Pablo Navarro, an employee of Caterpillar, the primary sponsor of the expedition and OCEARCH. Yolanda is the current president of the World Wide Fund for Nature International (WWF), the former Minister of Environment for the government of Ecuador and the former president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). She also founded the Fundación Natura in Quito and the Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano. Yolanda has dedicated her life and career to protection and awareness of the environment and environmental issues, not only in Ecuador, but worldwide.

"Tiger sharks are incredibly impressive animals, and I am excited to share my name with one. There have been serious population declines in some areas due to fishing for their fins for shark fin soup, which sadly is still seen as a delicacy in many places,” said Yolanda Kakabadse, President, WWF International. “Tiger sharks undertake incredible journeys, about which we still know remarkably little - so this tagging project will help provide crucial information for conserving these magnificent animals."

Dr. Hearn described the discovery of the Tiger sharks after capturing tagging and releasing 27 other sharks: “Just before the end of our trip, we were approached by a concerned member of the Ecuadorian Navy to ask for help with a large tiger shark that they were frequently encountering whilst doing dive maintenance work. Thanks to this conversation, the Navy gave us permission to attempt to catch and tag the shark. We ended up catching all four of our tagged Tiger sharks at this site. From a perceived threat, these sharks became overnight conservation icons for the Galapagos community, and their movements will be followed simultaneously by the Navy divers, local schoolchildren, the National Park officials who witnessed the tagging, and the scientists involved in the study.”

Watch video of shark tagging: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJ928wOzG2Q&feature=youtu.be

“This is an important project for the management of the Galapagos Marine Reserve because of the immediate scope of migration data on individuals and aggregations of shark species,” said Arturo Izurieta, Director of the Galapagos National Park. "It's a project that has been strengthened in recent years with contributions from conservation partners such as Charles Darwin Foundation, OCEARCH and the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador leading the process of generation of information applied to management."

Hearn was pleased with the breadth of species: “In all 31 sharks were captured, tagged, sampled and released including 4 Tiger, 8 Hammerhead, 9 Silky and 10 Blacktip sharks. A total of 35 bony fishes were captured, tagged, sampled and released including 5 Yellowfin Tuna, 10 Wahoo, 10 Skipjack and 10 Rainbow Runners. This huge sample of open water fish from across the food chain will help us understand how marine protected areas around oceanic islands contribute to the conservation of the open water species assemblage as a whole.”

Swen Lorenz, Executive Director for the Charles Darwin Foundation attributed the success to collaboration and previously unavailable capacity: “The combination of CDF's scientific knowledge and OCEARCH's capacity to capture, handle and release large mature animals resulted in an extremely successful expedition where 100% of the research goals were achieved.” More detail from Swen on the expedition can be found on his blog post “Tagging a Tiger in the World’s Most Pristine Tropical Archipelago”.

Expedition Leader and Founding Chairman for OCEARCH, Chris Fischer commented: “We came here to serve the ocean, Ecuador and its people, the scientists and the Galapagos National Park. I am proud of the endurance and tenacity our team demonstrated. Furthermore, a shark that would have likely been targeted and killed as a nuisance or threat was instead tagged with multiple technologies so public safety officials, local residents and the science team can track it’s movements in near real time. The fear of the unknown is a powerful negative force that we hope to remove by replacing that fear with the facts.”

Dr. Pelayo Salinas de León of the Charles Darwin Foundation summed up the expedition: "Being able to work with Chris and all the OCEARCH team has been a unique experience and has allowed us to achieve all our research goals. Satellite and acoustic tagging the first adult tiger sharks and large Yellow Fin Tunas in the Galapagos Marine Reserve was a lifetime experience and it was only possible thanks to the OCEARCH unique platform. Thanks to this expedition we will be able to track the movements of these apex predators for the next 10 years to come. This research will provide very valuable information to further understanding our knowledge on the ecology of these key species and to inform the Galapagos National Park management plans. Also, we will obtain very accurate data on the regional migratory patterns of these species and this information will be very valuable to promote regional conservation actions through initiatives like the Eastern Tropical Pacific Corridor (http://www.cmar.org)."

David Acuña Marrero of CDF added: “OCEARCH has provided us with the best possible resources in the world to tag sharks: the most experienced and proactive team in shark's handling and tagging, in a boat that performs perfect for this purpose. OCEARCH's platform makes handling and tagging big sharks an ‘easy’ task, as we saw ourselves the last day of the expedition tagging a 4m beautiful tiger shark.”

Heather Marshall of UMass Dartmouth, working to collect blood samples for Dr. Greg Skomal of the MA Marine Fisheries for the study of stress physiology, said: “I was pleased to see, from initial analysis in the field, that stress indicators were not significantly exacerbated throughout the tagging process. Indeed, when the sharks were released, their stress response looked low across the board based on the initial data.”

“We envisage a series of peer reviewed publications arising from this research, including regional analyses of movement patterns of Silky and Tiger sharks using data previously collected on OCEARCH expeditions at Cocos Island, Costa Rica in 2011 and at the Revillagigedos Islands, Mexico in 2010. The science team expects to present its results at relevant international conferences, including the American Elasmobranch Society meeting in 2015”, adds Dr. Hearn.

Enabling local scientists to perform fieldwork is an important part of the OCEARCH mission. The organization is working closely with the Galapagos National Park Directorate, Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) in every step – from planning to execution and data analysis. Ecuador is a member of the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific – a regional agency tasked with developing a regional Plan of Action for Sharks that integrates national plans, with a focus on transboundary species. The research team is part of a regional network (http://www.migramar.org), which has a seat on the CPPS Shark Committee. All relevant results and ensuing recommendations will be presented at meetings of this Committee and used in the development of the regional Plan of Action.

Outreach and education were core components of the expedition. Chris Fischer and the science team spoke at 2 local schools and 2 sharks were named after the schools: Oswaldo Guayasamin and Tomas de Berlanga, so they had their own sharks to follow. Tomas de Berlanga, Bishop of Panama, is credited with discovering Galapagos Islands in 1535. Oswaldo Guayasamin, Ecuador’s most famous painter and sculptor was a voice for the poor and dispossessed in Latin America, and received the UNESCO International Jose Marti Prize after his death in 1999.

The general public is currently following the tagged animals in near real time on the Global Shark Tracker, powered by Cat. The Tracker site is the only one of its kind in the world serving the public, researchers, public safety officials, teachers and students in addition to functioning as the backbone for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educational curriculum. The free STEM education tool, launched in the fall of 2013, is being developed by Landry’s Inc. and hosted at OCEARCH.org. The results of the Galapagos expedition are being integrated into the Tracker and used in the development of further educational material within the STEM curriculum.

OCEARCH brings together professional mariners, world class scientists, and socially responsible companies. The support of Caterpillar Inc. allows OCEARCH to generate previously unattainable data that is in turn shared on the Global Shark Tracker with the world for free - enabling students and the public to learn alongside PhDs. “Caterpillar understands that we all have a role to play when it comes to doing the best for our world, and we’re committed to doing our part,” said Caterpillar Global Brand Marketing Manager Diane Lantz-Rickard. “This is why at Caterpillar, we partnered with OCEARCH as a way to show how our products can help preserve the planet.”

The Global Shark Tracker is a web-based near real time satellite tracking tool for sharks that will eventually be expanded to other species. Films are shared in near real time through the sponsorship of Costa Sunglasses. “We support the OCEARCH mission to replace fear with facts when it comes to learning more about the ocean’s giants,” said Al Perkinson, Vice President of Marketing for Costa Sunglasses. “The more we can understand about how the oceans function, the better equipped we’ll be to help protect them.” Additional sponsorship support is provided by Costa Sunglasses, Yeti Coolers, Contender, Yamaha, SAFE Boats, MUSTAD and Landry’s Inc.

To stay updated on the daily activities, visit www.OCEARCH.org where you can see the daily Expedition Blog, experience the Global Shark Tracker and see all social media links.

ENDS

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