Students join shark tagging expedition to learn about shark migrations

URI student Kevin Anderson reels in a blue shark as other students look on during a shark research expedition off the coast of Rhode Island. Photo by Joel Silva

KINGSTON, R.I. – September 16, 2016 – Eight University of Rhode Island students participated in two days of shark fishing far off the Rhode Island coast this month to capture and tag mako sharks to gain insight into the animals’ migration.

The students traveled aboard the charter boat Snappa with URI shark researcher Brad Wetherbee to sites between 18 and 35 miles offshore where the sharks are known to spend time in summer and fall.

“There is a big difference between learning things while sitting in a classroom or in front of a computer and learning by actually experiencing something,” said Wetherbee. “These students got to go out fishing for sharks, see big, beautiful 9-foot sharks right next to the boat, and experience something that they will remember for a long time.  There is no substitute for experiences like that.”

Wetherbee’s research is aimed at learning about the health of mako shark populations, the migratory routes they travel, and the locations of their preferred feeding grounds. Makos, which he calls the “fighter jets” of the shark world for their speedy swimming abilities, are difficult to manage because they travel through the waters of dozens of countries, thereby requiring significant international cooperation to protect them from overfishing.

Using conventional fishing rods baited with tuna, the URI students caught and helped tag two blue sharks, each about 200 pounds. Although they were unsuccessful at catching their target species, the students said the experience cemented their desire to pursue careers in the marine environment.

Kevin Anderson, a senior marine biology major from Albany, N.Y., reeled in the first shark, a process that took about 20 minutes and just about every ounce of his energy…[Read more]