Gulf Stream Expedition

 

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 in studies of diverse marine creatures of the North Atlantic.


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.

         

Click to read full science brief.

 

Expedition Team

   

FAQ - Expedition Gulf Stream

 
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 new species will you be researching?
Aside from sharks and oceanographical work, we will research sea turtles, lionfish, and sargassum.
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 expedition?
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 and veterinarians.
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 reproductive cycles. 
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 decisions. 
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.
Who supports the expedition?
SeaWorld, Costa Sunglasses, YETI Coolers, Southern Tide, Contender, and Landry’s support the expedition.
 

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