Better understanding Sharks
Article and Photos by Jack Borowiak
Mossel Bay, South Africa
The phone alarms buzzed before the crack of dawn. As the sun rose over the bay, the team of researchers boarded the boat to begin the the day’s tasks. There was a feeling of peacefulness and stillness brought by flat water, no wind, and few people. The team’s mission was clear, collect valuable data on sharks to better understand and care for them.
At 8 am the “chum trip” boat named Mako set off on the open water. Once the team found a promising spot they dropped anchor and began to lure the sharks in with two methods. The first was the “chum”; a water substance mixed with tuna that gets poured in attract the sharks. The second method is a tuna fish head tied to a rope that gets thrown in the water. The tuna head has no hook in order to not harm the shark.
The first shark of the day was spotted and the boat suddenly came to life. With one person on data collection, another on GoPro video, two more perched on the spotting deck, and another at the crows nest luring the shark towards the boat with tuna head.
“Shark underneath engine, moving towards port side. Now going towards bow.”
This Great White was shark number one on the data sheet as people began to take observations about its physical characteristics. As the shark approached the boat and became more visible, the researchers focused observations on the pectoral and dorsal fins. The shark had three red slashes on one side probably caused from another marine predator or in some cases human activity such as a boat propellor. In order to minimize stress on a shark when identifying it, the team draws them closer to the boat and takes a photo of their fin, which is unique to the individual. There was no need to take the shark out of the water.
At times there were multiple sharks circling the boat at once. It was controlled chaos in the water that required the research team to focus on the task at hand; to collect accurate data on as many sharks as possible.
The morning of research was only the beginning as the boat went out again in the afternoon. Additional trips out to sea happened all month long on an average of five days a week. The more sharks they saw and recorded data for, the better understanding the team had for them.