NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 23 – August 10, 2018
Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1
Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast
Date: August 29, 2018
“Shark On!” was the shout from the first person that sees a shark hooked to the long line that was being hauled up from the floor of the ocean. I heard this phrase often during the first leg of the long line Red Snapper/ shark survey on the NOAA ship Oregon II. We began fishing in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of West Palm Beach, Florida. We traveled north to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and back south to Port Canaveral over 12 days this summer.
During our long line deployments each day, we were able to catch, measure, tag and photograph many sharks, before returning them to the ocean quickly and safely. During these surveys, we caught the species of sharks listed below, in addition to other interesting fish from the ocean. This blog has scientific information about each shark, and photographs taken by myself and other scientists on board the Oregon II. The following information on sharks, in addition to scientific data about hundreds of other marine wildlife can be found online at the NOAA Fisheries site: http://fisheries.noaa.gov.
Great Hammerhead Shark- Sphyrna mokarran Hammerhead sharks are recognized by their long, strange hammer-like heads which are called cephalofoils. Great hammerheads are the largest species of hammerheads, and can grow to a length of 20 feet. The great hammerhead can be distinguished from other hammerheads as they have a much taller dorsal fin than other hammerheads.
When moving through the ocean, they swing their broad heads from side to side and this motion provides them a much wider field of vision than other sharks. It provides them an all around view of their environment as their eyes are far apart at either end of the long hammers. They have only two small blind spots, in front of the snout, and behind the cephalofoil. Their wide heads also have many tiny pores, called ampullae of Lorenzini. They can sense tiny electric currents generated by fish or other prey in distress from far distances.
The great hammerhead are found in tropical and temperate waters worldwide, and inhabiting coastal areas in and around the continental shelf. They usually are solitary swimmers, and they eat prey ranging from crustaceans and squid, to a variety of bony fish, smaller sharks and stingrays. The great hammerhead can bear litters of up to 55 pups every two years.
Nurse Shark- Ginglymostoma cirratum Nurse sharks are bottom dwellers. They spend their life in shallow water, near the sandy bottom, and their orangish- pinkish color and rough skin helps them camouflage them. At night they come out to hunt. Nurse sharks have short, serrated teeth that can eat through crustaceans such as crabs, urchins, shrimp, and lobsters. They also eat fish, squid, and stingrays. They have two feelers, or barbels, which hang from either side of their mouth. They use their barbels to search for prey in the sand. Their average adult size is 7.5- 9 feet in length and they weigh between 160-230 lbs. Adult females reach a larger size than the males at 7- 8.5 feet long and can weigh from 200-267 lbs.
Nurse sharks are common in the coastal tropical waters of the Atlantic and also in the eastern Pacific Ocean. This species is locally very common in shallow waters throughout the Caribbean, south Florida to the Florida Keys. Large juveniles and adults are usually found around deeper reefs and rocky areas at depths of 10-250 feet during the daytime and migrate into shallower waters of less than 70 feet deep after dark.
Juveniles up to 6 feet are generally found around shallow coral reefs, grass flats or mangrove islands in shallow water. They often lie in groups of forty on the ocean floor or under rock ledges. Nurse sharks show a preference for a certain resting site, and will repeatedly go back to to the same caves for shelter or rest after leaving the area to feed.
Tiger Shark- Galeocerdo cuvier Adult Tiger sharks average between 10 -14 feet in length and weigh up to 1,400 lbs. The largest sharks can grow to 20 feet and weigh nearly 2,000 lbs. They mature between 5 and 10 years, and their life span is 30 years or more. Tiger sharks are named for the brown stripes and patches they have on their sides when they are young. As they get older, they stripes eventually fade away.
They will eat almost anything they come across, and have been referred to as the “garbage cans of the sea”. Their habitat ranges from shallow coastal waters when they are young, to deep waters over 1,500 feet deep. They swim in shallow waters to hunt lobster, squid, fish, sea turtles, birds, and smaller sharks.
They migrate with the seasons to follow prey and to give birth to young. They swim in cool waters in the summer, and in fall and winter they migrate to warm tropical waters. Their young grow in eggs inside the mother’s body and after 13 months the sharks hatch. The mother gives birth to a litter of 10 – 80 pups. Their current status is currently Near Threatened.
Sharpnose Shark- Rhizoprionodon terraenovae Atlantic sharpnose sharks are small for sharks and have a streamlined body, and get their name from their long, pointy snout. They are several different shades of gray and have a white underside. Atlantic sharpnose sharks can grow to up to 32 inches in length. Atlantic sharpnose sharks have been observed to live up to 18 years. Females mature at around 2 years old in the Atlantic when they reach approximately 24 inches in length. Atlantic sharpnose sharks are commonly found in the western Atlantic from New Brunswick, Canada, right through the Gulf of Mexico. They are commonly caught in U.S. coastal waters from Virginia around to Texas.
Atlantic sharpnose sharks eat small fish, including menhaden, eels, silversides, wrasses, jacks, toadfish, and filefish. The lower and upper jaws of an Atlantic sharpnose shark have 24 or 25 rows of triangular teeth. Atlantic sharpnose sharks mate annually between mid-May and mid-July in inshore waters, and after mating, they migrate offshore to deeper waters. They also eat worms, shrimp, crabs, and mollusks.
Sandbar Shark- Carcharhinus plumbeus. The most distinctive feature of this stocky, grey shark is its huge pectoral fins, and long dorsal fin that increases its stability while swimming. Females can grow between 6 – 8.5 feet, and males grow up to 6ft. Its body color can vary from a blue to a light brown grey with a pale white underside. The sandbar shark lives in coastal waters, living in water that is 20 to 200 feet deep. Rarely is its large dorsal fin seen above the water’s surface, as the sandbars prefer to remain near the bottom. It commonly lives in harbors, lagoons, muddy and sandy bays, and river mouths, but never moves into freshwater. The sandbar shark lives in warm and tropical waters in various parts of the world including in the Western Atlantic, from Massachusetts down to southern Brazil.
The sandbar shark spends the majority of its time near the ocean floor, where it looks continuously for prey, such as small fish, mollusks, and various crustaceans. Their main diet consists largely of fish. Sandbar sharks give birth to between 1 and 14 pups in each litter. The size of the litter depends on the size of the mother, with large females giving birth to larger litters. Pregnancy is estimated to last between 8- 12 months. Females move near shore to shallow nursery areas to give birth. The females leave coastal areas after giving birth, while the young remain in the nursery grounds until winter, when they move into warmer and deeper water.
Fun Fact- Remoras, or shark suckers, live in tropical oceans around the world. They have a rigid oval- shaped sucker pad on top of their head that it uses to attach itself to sharks and rays. It is symbiotic relationship where both animals gain something from their temporary union. Remoras mouths are at the top front of the body so while attached to a shark’s body, they do their host a favor by nibbling off skin parasites. They can also eat scraps of leftover food the shark leaves behind while they also enjoy a free ride. The shark gains a day at the spa for a body scrub, and can rid itself of parasites in a way it couldn’t have before!
It was certainly an unforgettable experience being able to work with the scientific and fishing team for this shark survey. The opportunity to see and handle these sharks up close for two weeks has informed me of so many interesting things about these wonderful and vital members of the ocean. I can now take this information and share it first hand with students in my classroom, and members of my community. I also want to work to bring a positive awareness to these vital members of the ocean food web so they can thrive well into the future. As an artist, this trip has been invaluable for me, as now I’ve seen the how colorful and varied sharks are and other various anatomy details you just can’t see in books or television. This new awareness will help to make my future paintings more accurate than before.