Tiger Shark Sinks its Teeth into Scientific Study

What’s happening in this video?

In this video, a tiger shark investigates and eventually bites an underwater hydrophone that our team set up in the Bahamas to study tiger shark movements. This is part of a larger collaborative research project underway on the behavior and ecology of tiger sharks in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean.

How it works?

These hydrophones, termed “acoustic receivers”, are essentially underwater devices that “listen” for and record acoustic signals emitted from transmitters that are attached to the study animals.

When the animal swims within several hundred meters of the receiver, the device records the presence of the transmitter tag (i.e. the animal) and the time of the detection. To be effective, scientists usually place a series of these receivers, called an array, in strategic locations to detect their study species. Thus, these acoustic tracking tools can provide detailed information on animal movement patterns.

To retrieve the data recorded by the receivers, scientists then have to usually recover and download the data, although new tools allow this to be done wireless and by other means. This differs from satellite tracking, where transmitters send recorded data from tagged animals to orbiting satellites. You can learn about satellite tracking here.

In our tiger shark study, the transmitters we use are very small (only 16 mm, image 1 below), especially when compared to the size of the huge tiger sharks (up to 4 m+). We carefully implant the transmitters inside the shark’s abdomen. To do this, we make a small incision with a scalpel through the shark’s abdominal wall, insert the tag and quickly stitch it back up (Image 2 below). The shark is released and the incision fully heals within days. The transmitters we use have enough battery to transmit for nearly 5 years.

Acoustic Transmitter (Vemco V16).  These transmitters are implanted inside the tiger sharks studied. They hydrophones deployed listen for and record sharks that swim by affixed with these transmitters
Image 1: Acoustic Transmitter (Vemco V16). These transmitters are implanted inside the tiger sharks studied. A quarter is shown next to the transmitter to give an idea of transmitter size.  They hydrophones deployed listen for and record sharks that swim by tagged with these transmitters
Tiger shark interacting with a diver at Tiger Beach. The abdomen of the shark shows stitches at the incision site where the transmitter was implanted. Photo: Lupo Dion
Tiger shark interacting with a diver at Tiger Beach. The abdomen of the shark shows stitches at the incision site where the transmitter was implanted. Photo: Lupo Dion

The great thing about this type of animal tracking technology is that the receivers can detect and record any animal carrying a transmitter, even if from another study and species. For example, our tiger sharks have been detected by receivers in the Bahamas set up to study Bonefish as well as receivers in Florida set up to study lionfish. Likewise, our Tiger Beach array has recorded lemon sharks from Florida and Great Hammerheads from Bimini, Bahamas. This provides a unique opportunity to collaborate, share and obtain data that otherwise could not be available in a single study.

Electronic tagging and tracking of marine animals described above provides invaluable data that can support the conservation of marine species. The Ocean Tracking Network (OTN) is a global partnership that helps support the implantation of acoustic tracking projects around the globe. This includes providing acoustic receivers, expertise as well as a platform for data sharing and collaboration. The mission of OTN is to support sustainable management of valued aquatic species through these efforts.

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Research Associate Professor at the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science Dedicated to advancing marine conservation through research, education and outreach Views my Own