Texas A&M Galveston Shark Tagging Project Could Reveal Key Secrets

Shark populations can fluctuate widely, and largely depend upon a number of factors including fishing pressure.  A Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher hopes his project can help provide additional information on how fishing activities impact sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.

David Wells, associate professor of marine biology, and his team are working with local recreational fishermen by catching and tagging blacktip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico in order to learn more about their movement patterns along with their condition and survival when caught and released by recreational fishers.  The project is a three-year effort sponsored by NOAA that will cover the entire northern Gulf, from Texas to the Florida coast.

"Blacktip sharks are one of the most common species found in the Gulf," Wells explains.  He notes that blacktip sharks are one of the most economically important shark species in commercial and recreational fisheries throughout the Gulf.

"There's still a lot of information we don't know about sharks and their daily movements and how they handle the stress of being caught, so we hope this tagging project can answer some important questions," he says.

While there are plenty of sharks out there, it is estimated that over 100 million per year are caught in commercial and recreational fisheries, and numbers of some species of sharks are declining.

"The blacktip shark is of particular interest because it's one of the most popular sport fish that anglers target," Wells adds.

"The tags we place on blacktip sharks will tell us about their movements and post-release survival rates, while the blood we extract will inform us of their stress levels. The information we collect should add significantly to the body of knowledge we have about sharks in the Gulf and will likely be used directly by NOAA scientists to help inform management."

Several Texas A&M University at Galveston students and staff are assisting on the project, among them Dr. John Mohan, a post-doctoral researcher who is leading project tasks including the fieldwork, data analysis and dissemination of the results.

Additional research by Wells and his team can be found on the Wells Fisheries Lab website.