Where is the research expedition taking place?
We are heading to the Gulf Stream! Our team of fishermen and multi-disciplined
scientists will start in Key West, FL and drift the Gulf Stream to Cape Hatteras, NC.
This is OCEARCH’s 32nd expedition, but a first in many ways.
When is the research expedition?
The expedition begins on May 24, 2018 and ends on June 19, 2018. The expedition will
kick off with education and outreach events from May 24-26 in Key West, FL, and
fishing will begin on May 27th. There will also be outreach events at the end of the
expedition, from June 16-19 in Norfolk, VA.
What is the Gulf Stream?
The Gulf Stream is a giant river of seawater connecting the life of the Caribbean, Gulf
of Mexico and North Atlantic. It drifts northward at about 3 knots, providing warm
water, nutrients and numerous habitats for every level of sea life. Many have studied
the Gulf Stream, but few have drifted it on purpose.
Why is OCEARCH heading to the Gulf Stream?
We’re heading to the Gulf Stream to expand our research beyond sharks. In addition to
tagging and sampling sharks for the North Atlantic White Shark Study, our team will
focus on the greater health of the ocean by incorporating oceanography, while
engaging in studies of diverse marine creatures of the North Atlantic.
Why is researching the Gulf Stream important in assessing the overall health of the ocean?
The Gulf Stream is one of the most dynamic oceanographic regimes in the world.
Dynamic oceanography, such as currents and strong gradients such as temperature,
make this region a particularly interesting part of the global ocean for many marine
species. By studying the Gulf Stream, we will be able to chronicle the linkages between
currents and marine species in a way never before possible.
How many researchers are embarking on this expedition?
In total, there are 34 researchers from 25 institutions participating in the expedition;
this is the largest and most collaborative science team we have ever enabled on a
single expedition. We will host 14 researchers, from 8 institutions, aboard the M/V
OCEARCH research vessel as part of our mission to enable data collection by
providing collaborating researchers and institutions unprecedented access to mature
marine animals. There are also 21 other researchers from 16 institutions who will
receive samples from animals caught, allowing them to analyze the results from the
blood, mucus, muscle, parasite, genetic, and other samples collected. Researchers will
use these samples to conduct several studies, including understanding the sharks’
reproductive condition. See our science team bios here.
Which institutions will be collaborating in this expedition?
The expedition will include scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
University of Washington, Mote Marine Laboratory, Jacksonville University, WCS’ New
York Aquarium, Adventure Aquarium, University of Massachusetts, University of North
Florida, Auburn University, College of Charleston, Cape Canaveral Scientific, Georgia
Aquarium, Georgia Southern University, South Eastern Zoological Alliance for
Reproductive Conservation, VithajSafari South Africa, University of Florida,
Southampton High School, Long Island Shark Collaboration, Georgia Institute of
Technology, University of South Carolina Beaufort, Nova Southeastern University,
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, University of
Southern Florida, U.S. Geological Survey, Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research.
What species do you expect to encounter?
The Gulf Stream is home to a diverse group of species, including large pelagic
predatory fish such as billfish, tunas, and wahoo, and migratory animals such as sea
turtles, whales, rays, sharks, dolphins, and seabirds.
What type of studies to you expect to run during this expedition?
This expedition will include new research projects for us, such as “Understanding
Origins, Connectivity, and Protective Development of Lionfish Larvae and Juveniles in
Pelagic Environments” lead by Dr. Robert Nowicki from Mote Marine Laboratory,
“Sargassum Community Assessment of the South Atlantic Bight” lead by David
Kerstetter, Dayna Hunn, and Chris Blanar from Nova Southeastern, and Bryan Franks
from Jacksonville University, and “Understanding the Role of the Florida Current as a
Corridor for Cetaceans” lead by Steve Burton and Wendy Marks from Florida Atlantic
University’s Harbor Branch. Read our science brief here.
What type of oceanographical studies to you expect to perform during this
One oceanographical study we will run is the analysis of ocean structures such as
eddies, fronts and filaments. Previous research has shown that these structures affect
aggregation and abundance of organisms such as phytoplankton, which in turn
influences foraging for species like whale sharks, and movements of several top
predators have been associated with these types of structures. Scientists will collect
measurements to observe these occurrences and link these processes to the
movement of large marine animals. Read our science brief here.
What type of samples will you collect for the oceanographic studies?
Scientists will collect vertical profiles of salinity, temperature, current speed and
direction, chlorophyll-a concentration, colored dissolved organic matter concentration,
and phytoplankton biomass; mesopelagic fish and squid assemblages, diel vertical
migrations of fish, squid, and zooplankton; and surface temperature and salinity data.
This intensive collection of data will provide a physical context into which the marine
megafauna observations collected during the expedition can be placed.
Are you still planning to tag sharks?
Yes! In addition to studying oceanography and other marine species such as lionfish,
we will be tagging and sampling sharks for the North Atlantic White Shark Study.
Can you describe your process for tagging sharks?
Sharks are caught from tenders using handlines and are guided by hand in the water
on and off the lift. After capture, sharks are brought to the submerged platform of the
M/V OCEARCH vessel and the platform is raised. Once the sharks are restrained and
hoses of water have been set to enable the flow of oxygen, they are measured. SPOT
and acoustic tags are attached. The tagging, handling and sampling procedures
employed during the expedition follow the standards of the Institutional Animal Care
and Use Committees (IACUC.org) of each institution, which are made up of scientists
What samples will you collect from the sharks?
Once caught, the sharks will be measured, sexed and tissue, blood, fin clips, and parasites samples are collected. Small fin clips are removed with a pair of scissors; a
muscle sample is removed from the flank with a 8mm biopsy punch and two blood
samples are taken from the caudal vein.
Will the sample collection impact the shark’s health?
While the tagging method, which has been used on sharks and other species for over a
half century may cause some level of brief discomfort, there is no scientific evidence
that it impacts their behavior or survival post-release. In fact, data from the Global
Shark Tracker provides strong evidence that the animals tagged using this method
show long-term survival and long-distance migrations indicative of normal function and
What studies will you run from the shark samples?
Scientists will assess the physiological effects of capture stress in the white shark,
including characterizing post release recovery; assess the reproductive condition,
reproductive cycle, gestation period, and fecundity of white sharks in the Atlantic
Ocean; understand parasite species presence, abundance, and infection sites in white
sharks; perform comparative analysis of DNA sequence variation in the white shark;
study contaminants of emerging concern in white sharks from US Atlantic waters,
including flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, and other anthropogenic pollutants
released into aquatic environments; develop values for trace minerals, vitamins, and
fatty acids for white sharks; and identifying mutualistic interactions between bacteria
and host organisms.
What does the tracking data from the Global Shark Tracker tell us about sharks?
The data allows us to see the range of shark movements in different parts of the world
- their migration patterns - and helps us uncover the areas in need of protection. The
tracking data allows studies such as the examination of fine and broad-scale
movements, habitat use, site fidelity, residency, and feeding behavior of white sharks.
The data we’ve enabled so far, has allowed scientists to figure out the mating and
breeding sites of the species on the west coast of Mexico – Guadalupe Island.
Scientists have also documented the first migration of Great White Sharks to the gulf,
and the mid-Atlantic ridge.
What happens to the data you’ve collected?
The data is shared in an open source environment with collaborating institutions that
utilize it to conduct studies that are eventually published in peer-reviewed scientific
journals. The papers, which can take 2-5 years to publish, are used to assist in policy
How can I follow the expedition?
Follow OCEARCH on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (@OCEARCH), and YouTube for
Expedition Gulf Stream updates.
You can also follow the sharks tagged during Expedition Gulf Stream by accessing the
near-real time, free online Global Shark Tracker or by downloading the Global Shark
Tracker App available for Apple and Android platforms.