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The Shark Lab:
Shark Research
in the Florida Keys

Project Overview:

The Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation (aka The Shark Lab) is conducting elasmobranch research in the lower Florida Keys, specifically targeting great hammerhead sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks, and smalltooth sawfish (in collaboration with Dr. Dean Grubbs of Florida State University). This area is situated at the convergence of two large marine basins, The Gulf of Mexico and the Western North Atlantic, and research indicates the area is important habitat for these species. The Gulf of Mexico and Florida Keys are projected to continue experiencing significant anthropogenic impacts, including warming water temperatures from climate change. This research, supported by Ocean Mokum, will help to understand habitat use, identify essential habitats across ontogeny, and determine long-term movements for these focal species. The Shark Lab will also use their platform to support several ongoing collaborations and larger research initiatives in the region. The data derived from this research will directly benefit conservation and management of these species through supporting stock management, assess fishery interactions, and estimate the potential effects of climate change in coming decades.

Objectives:

Great hammerhead sharks are listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the IUCN Redlist assessment, indicating a drastic need to understand overall biology and identify essential habitat for the species. Previous research by BBFSF and collaborators showed that the Florida Keys likely serves as an important primary or secondary nursery ground for juvenile great hammerheads. However, the full extent to which juvenile great hammerhead sharks remain in the area across seasons and years, and to where they disperse, is not yet understood. Improving this understanding can be used for fishery management, stock delineation, and overall conservation efforts of the species.

Scalloped hammerheads are currently listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the worldwide IUCN Redlist assessment, with significant information still lacking for the species. The Shark Lab seeks to take advantage of our fishery-independent surveys to also capture and tag large juvenile and adult scalloped hammerhead sharks. They will also collect samples to support investigations of genetic exchange between the Northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Distinct Population Segment (DPS) with the ESA listed Central and Southwest Atlantic DPS. This data will support effective management and stock assessments, which relies upon accurately distinguishing distinct groupings and the intermixing of fishery zones. 

 

Smalltooth sawfish have been protected in Florida since 1992 and fully protected federally in the USA since 2003; however, interactions with recreational and commercial fishing gears still occur. Essential habitats are poorly documented for this species, especially for the adults, and known habitats are afforded little protection. Defining habitats that are critical to different life stages of smalltooth sawfish will enable researchers to better understand the ecology of the species and promote recovery by preserving vulnerable habitats or limiting harmful interactions within these areas. Using an integrated approach and building on prior work, the research team seeks to further study the biology and ecology of smalltooth sawfish in the Florida Keys. Continual long-term movement data is necessary to understand the repeatability of movement patterns, if movements may change over age of animals or environmental conditions, and how this may expand as the species recovers. This information may help managers to establish time-area closures of commercial fisheries in order to decrease bycatch of the species, while limiting negative economic effects on the fisheries.

Methods:

The Shark Lab team will deploy additional Vemco acoustic transmitters in great hammerheads, some of which will be equipped with temperature and accelerometer loggers. These transmitters and data loggers will be informative to determine habitat use, how activity varies across habitats and water temperatures, and how these scale across ontogeny. They will deploy Vemco acoustic receivers strategically in areas believed to be primary movement corridors, or have a high degree of local residency. The acoustic receivers will benefit overall regional cooperative research efforts in the area, by filling current gaps in the coverage of the FACT and Ocean Tracking Networks. The data will be combined with previous BBFSF datasets, as well as datasets of collaborators in the area. 

The Shark Lab:
Scholarships for Teachers

Project Overview:

The Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation (aka The Shark Lab) is conducting elasmobranch research in the lower Florida Keys, specifically targeting great hammerhead sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks, and smalltooth sawfish (in collaboration with Dr. Dean Grubbs of Florida State University). This area is situated at the convergence of two large marine basins, The Gulf of Mexico and the Western North Atlantic, and research indicates the area is important habitat for these species. The Gulf of Mexico and Florida Keys are projected to continue experiencing significant anthropogenic impacts, including warming water temperatures from climate change. This research, supported by Ocean Mokum, will help to understand habitat use, identify essential habitats across ontogeny, and determine long-term movements for these focal species. The Shark Lab will also use their platform to support several ongoing collaborations and larger research initiatives in the region. The data derived from this research will directly benefit conservation and management of these species through supporting stock management, assess fishery interactions, and estimate the potential effects of climate change in coming decades.

Objectives:

Great hammerhead sharks are listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the IUCN Redlist assessment, indicating a drastic need to understand overall biology and identify essential habitat for the species. Previous research by BBFSF and collaborators showed that the Florida Keys likely serves as an important primary or secondary nursery ground for juvenile great hammerheads. However, the full extent to which juvenile great hammerhead sharks remain in the area across seasons and years, and to where they disperse, is not yet understood. Improving this understanding can be used for fishery management, stock delineation, and overall conservation efforts of the species.

Scalloped hammerheads are currently listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the worldwide IUCN Redlist assessment, with significant information still lacking for the species. The Shark Lab seeks to take advantage of our fishery-independent surveys to also capture and tag large juvenile and adult scalloped hammerhead sharks. They will also collect samples to support investigations of genetic exchange between the Northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Distinct Population Segment (DPS) with the ESA listed Central and Southwest Atlantic DPS. This data will support effective management and stock assessments, which relies upon accurately distinguishing distinct groupings and the intermixing of fishery zones. 

 

Smalltooth sawfish have been protected in Florida since 1992 and fully protected federally in the USA since 2003; however, interactions with recreational and commercial fishing gears still occur. Essential habitats are poorly documented for this species, especially for the adults, and known habitats are afforded little protection. Defining habitats that are critical to different life stages of smalltooth sawfish will enable researchers to better understand the ecology of the species and promote recovery by preserving vulnerable habitats or limiting harmful interactions within these areas. Using an integrated approach and building on prior work, the research team seeks to further study the biology and ecology of smalltooth sawfish in the Florida Keys. Continual long-term movement data is necessary to understand the repeatability of movement patterns, if movements may change over age of animals or environmental conditions, and how this may expand as the species recovers. This information may help managers to establish time-area closures of commercial fisheries in order to decrease bycatch of the species, while limiting negative economic effects on the fisheries.

Methods:

The Shark Lab team will deploy additional Vemco acoustic transmitters in great hammerheads, some of which will be equipped with temperature and accelerometer loggers. These transmitters and data loggers will be informative to determine habitat use, how activity varies across habitats and water temperatures, and how these scale across ontogeny. They will deploy Vemco acoustic receivers strategically in areas believed to be primary movement corridors, or have a high degree of local residency. The acoustic receivers will benefit overall regional cooperative research efforts in the area, by filling current gaps in the coverage of the FACT and Ocean Tracking Networks. The data will be combined with previous BBFSF datasets, as well as datasets of collaborators in the area. 

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