Shark Spotting Citizen-Science Program Launches

Jun 1, 2018

Credit J. McCord / UNC-CSI

Local anglers and divers are needed for a new citizen-scientists project to collect information for shark research and conservation.  

The Spot A Shark USA program starts June 1. People who encounter sand tiger sharks are asked to upload their photos to the online database.  Marine scientists will be able to use the pictures to identify individual sharks and track their movements, said South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation Dr. Avery Paxton. 

“These sharks have spots, that are kind of brown along their side, and what we can do is use those spots kind of like we use a fingerprint in humans to identify the individual shark.”

Sand tiger sharks are listed on the Endangered Species Act as a species of concern.  Paxton said their populations have declined by more than 70 percent over the past several decades. She adds more research is needed to determine the types of habitat they use throughout their live to better protect the species.

"If we know that 'shark A' was on a particular shipwreck, for example, in late May and then she was on another shipwreck in early June, we can track her movement over time. So this information will help us learn more about what homes these sharks are using underwater and about how they're migrating up and down the coast."

In the coming weeks, Paxton said they plan to use remotely operated vehicles to take underwater video of sand tiger sharks in several locations off the North Carolina coast. 

 Video credit: A. Paxton / UNC-IMS