Shark expedition to the Saba Bank

Windwardside, Saba 14 July 2019- An international expedition for shark research to the Saba Bank in the Dutch Caribbean is taking place under the leadership of the Dutch Elasmobranch Society (NEV), the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) and the Nature Foundation Sint Maarten (NFSM) from July 15 to 25.

Scientific projects will be carried out during this ten-day expedition with research focused on the shark species that occur in this part of the Caribbean Sea, including tiger sharks, silky sharks, nurse sharks, and Caribbean reef sharks. The overall goal of the research is to gain insight into the role that Saba Bank plays in the life cycle of the species that live here, knowledge that is essential to adequately protect sharks.

“The expedition offers a unique opportunity to conduct new research into the shark community on Saba Bank.” Explained Irene Kingma, expedition leader from the NEV.  “We have brought scientists from six countries together to help solve the big questions we still have about sharks in this unique area and to develop partnerships for future research.”

Space technology for tiger sharks

Tiger shark. Photo by Duncan Brake

During the expedition, tiger sharks will be provided with tags equipped with a completely new satellite technology developed by the European Space Agency (ESA). The space organization has developed an advanced technology that allows the tags to communicate with satellites in space in an innovative way allowing the tags to last much longer and collect much more data than tags currently used.

Preventing by-catch of nurse sharks

NEV and SCF work together with local fishermen to reduce the by-catch of nurse sharks in lobster traps. One essential element to achieve this is insight into the behaviour of sharks in and around the traps. Dr. Robert Nowicki of Mote Marine Lab developed a camera system that can record the behaviour of sharks near the traps for up to a week.

Connectivity between habitats of Caribbean sharks

Between 2015 and 2018, a number of silky sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, and nurse sharks were equipped with an acoustic tag to find out more about how these species utilise the area and the connectivity between different Caribbean habitats. To add to this research Guido Leurs from the University of Groningen will collect samples from Caribbean reef and nurse sharks to analyse diet and age of the sharks. Combined with the knowledge from the tagging program this will offer us much more insight into the role the Saba Bank plays in the life cycle of these sharks.

Stress levels of sharks in captivity

Blood samples will be taken from all sharks caught to determine the level of stress hormones in their systems. Based on this, researchers, can gain insight into how much stress the animals experience when they are examined for the different experiments. This information can be used to make the catch and research process as efficient as possible so that the animals are not adversely affected by the procedures.

Updates on the expedition will be posted daily on the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages of Save Our Sharks (using the hashtag #sabashark2019). Blogs about the expedition will also appear on DuikenInBeeld (in Dutch) and on Southern Fried Science.

Caribbean reef shark. Photo by Guido Leurs/Oceaware