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New Study Sheds Light on Migratory Behavior of Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

Feb 21, 2013 06:54 AM EST
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whitetip shark
Preparing an oceanic whitetip shark for release after being fitted with a pop-up satellite archival tag.
(Photo : Stony Brook University/ Phil Sokol)

A new study sheds light on the migratory behavior of oceanic whitetip sharks, which researchers believe would help in making better conservation efforts to protect the species.

Oceanic whitetip sharks are elusive as they spend more time out in the open ocean. A team of researchers have found that these sharks make long-distance travels and regularly cross international boundaries.

For their study, the research team tagged one male and 10 female mature oceanic whitetip sharks off Cat Island in the Bahamas in May 2011. The tags recorded depth, temperature, and location for varying intervals up to 245 days. Later, the tags detached automatically and sent the data to the satellites, reports LiveScience.

All the tags, except one that belonged to the male shark, reported data. Based on the information, researchers found that three of the sharks tracked for more than 31 days stayed within or very near the Bahamas Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) during the entire tracking period. Another five sharks made long-distance movements outside of the Bahamas' jurisdiction, with one shark traveling as far as Bermuda.

Overall, an average of 68 percent of the sharks spent their time around the Bahamas. All the female sharks that migrated returned to the Bahamas, providing the first evidence of return-migration in this species.

In addition, researchers also found that the sharks that spent more time in Bahamian waters were located near the ocean's surface and made deep dives of around 3,280 feet (1,000 meters).

The long-distance travels made by the sharks urges the need for all fishing nations to work together and protect them, said the researchers. Fishing is banned in the Bahamas and its surrounding waters. But other countries do not have such bans.

"If we want to continue to see these animals in our oceans, fishing nations will have to work together to protect this species, and monitoring of trade and enforcement measures will need to be coordinated on an international level," study author Demian Chapman, a marine biologist at Stony Brook University, said in a statement.

The findings of the study are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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