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International Research: NOAA Working to Conserve Sharks in our Global Ocean

 

Hungry for Shark Facts?

  1. Sharks are believed to have been on the planet for approximately 400 million years and some can live more than 65 years.

  2. Sharks are top predators that help keep our ocean ecosystem in balance.

  3. Sharks have jelly-filled pores called ampullae of lorenzini, that let them sense electricity, which is helpful for navigation and for finding prey.

  4. Sharks have dermal denticles instead of scales, which protect them and improve water flow for swimming.

  5. There are over 500 species of sharks found in the world's oceans. 

  6. Only about 30 species of sharks have been documented to attack humans. Get the stats

  7. Many sharks use coastal estuaries—bays, lagoons, river mouths—as nursery habitats where they are protected from predators and have an abundant source of food. 

  8. Tagging studies tell us that some sharks can swim across entire oceans—more than 5,000 miles. 

  9. Most sharks give birth to live young, but they do not offer any parental care to their pups. 

  10. Sharks are late to mature, grow slowly, and reproduce in one or two-year cycles, often producing a small number of offspring.

  11. Bonus Fact with Picture: Sharks do not have eyelids, but most have a nictitating membrane that can cover the eye to protect it. Pictured below is a close up of a blue shark's eye. This blue shark was caught, tagged, and released alive during the July 2007 Juvenile Shark Survey off of the Channel Islands.

 



Hammerhead shark tagged during research cruise.
 

Additional Resources


 
 

August 14, 2012

NOAA Fisheries Works with International Partners to Better Understand Shark Behavior

Silently patrolling the ocean depths for the last 400 million years, sharks are some of the oldest creatures on the planet … and some of the most elusive. However, that’s changing a bit now that NOAA scientists are working collaboratively with Uruguay’s fisheries agency to research blue sharks in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean using state-of-the-art tagging techniques and satellite monitoring. In this project, which is partially funded by NOAA Fisheries, scientists from Uruguay and the United States have been working together to tag blue and other pelagic sharks since 2007 to determine their movement patterns and interactions with Atlantic pelagic longline fisheries. Like the global positioning systems (GPS) we have in cars and smart phones, the satellite tags used in the study supply invaluable data on the sharks’ long-distance migratory routes, areas of abundance, and mating or pupping areas. Experts believe that this research could lead to better conservation of sharks, by informing sustainable fishing practices and reducing unnecessary bycatch. 

International Collaboration

Through this international research project and the information it generates, NOAA Fisheries and Uruguay’s fisheries agency hope to better inform the management process under which sharks in the southwestern Atlantic are managed, facilitate more effective enforcement and compliance with the conservation measures already in existence, and provide enhanced understanding that can benefit shark conservation efforts throughout the ocean. For additional information on NOAA Fisheries’ international stewardship and science activities, please visit our International Science page and our Office of International Affairs. To view the tracks of several blue sharks tagged to-date as part of this project, visit the project website.

Unique Life History Characteristics

It’s not unusual for sharks to be the focus of scientific research. As top predators, sharks are often used by scientists as indicators of the ocean’s health. Some sharks, like many other types of fish, are ‘pelagic’ which means they live in the open ocean and all parts of the water column and are also highly migratory, referring to the fact that they swim long distances and move in and out of national and international waters. While the United States has some of the strictest conservation and fisheries management measures in place, enforcing such practices in international waters is a real challenge. For this reason, it is crucial for the United States to work with international partners and conduct research to improve our understanding of fish and the role they play in the marine ecosystem. The current decline in many global shark populations due to unsustainable fishing practices and catch levels, and changes in the ocean environment, could greatly affect ocean ecosystems and biodiversity. 

Pelagic Shark 101

The open ocean is home to many species of pelagic sharks. These species range widely in their diversity and distribution—occurring throughout the ocean.  In common with other shark species, pelagic sharks generally mature late (around 11 years) and can have long life spans, with some species living up to 65 years. After a long gestation period (typically 9 to 18 months) they give live birth to a few well-developed offspring, which typically have a high probability of surviving to adulthood. It is this slow life-history and low population growth rate that render sharks particularly vulnerable to high levels of fishing mortality. Due to their wide distribution across the ocean and its many jurisdictions, pelagic sharks are subject to fishing pressures from many sources—including commercial, recreational and artisanal fisheries. Many shark populations are in decline and being overfished.

Through international cooperation and state-of-the art technology, NOAA Fisheries is conducting joint research with Uruguay’s fisheries agency that is critical to inform international conservation and management decisions for pelagic sharks.

 

Researchers measure a large tiger shark alongside research vessel. 

 

 

Satellite tag applied to bull shark by NOAA researcher.