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SOFO Shark Team: Research Shows Juvenile Great White Sharks Prefer Near Shore Habitats

The findings were published in Frontiers in Marine Science. (Photo: SOFO Shark Program)

As you read this, you are to be forgiven if a certain pulsating movie score keeps running through your head because the topic of the most recent published scientific research study led by Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in collaboration with NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service; OCEARCH; South Fork Natural History Museum (SOFO); and the Wildlife Conservation Society is about what might frighten water enthusiasts the most - great white sharks - in this case the focus is on juvenile great white sharks - maybe leaving one to wonder which is worse, the kids or the adults!

"SOFO Shark Research and Education Program is happy to announce a new published scientific research paper on juvenile great white sharks in New York waters. The study, using cutting edge satellite tag technology, provided a unique look into how young white sharks travel and use their habitats. The study is the first to provide fine-scale analysis of 3D movement behavior in young-of-year and juvenile white sharks in the only confirmed white shark nursery area in the entire North Atlantic Ocean."

Frank Quevedo, SOFO Executive Director, and shark experts Greg Metzter and Dr. Tobey Curtis agree that "Data from the tagging study simultaneously address many questions on the ecology, behavior and conservation of a highly mobile marine predator that have been challenging to explore."

"Altogether, the research suggests young white sharks prefer near shore habitats where they play important ecological roles as apex predators on a variety of species, while also avoiding larger sharks. SOFO continues its collaborative shark research efforts in New York waters to support conservation and education."

Metzger explained the importance of this study now by advising, "Technology has only recently advanced enough to make tracking of ocean-going animals possible. We're using some of the most cutting-edge gadgets to get a deeper understanding of why these juvenile white sharks seem to spend so much time off Long Island. We need this kind of information to better conserve their essential habitats from things like climate change, pollution, and fishing. It is incredible to think each time a tagged shark swims away from one of our boats, the data that comes back may be the first ever collected by science."

Dr. Curtis addressed a surprising discovery of the research, "It's interesting to me how attached these sharks seem to be to the south shore of Long Island, especially off the Hamptons in the summer. Even as pups only four feet long, they're big enough to swim almost anywhere in the ocean. We're trying to find out what makes Long Island so special to them."

The study focused on juvenile great white sharks. (Photo: SOFO Shark Program)

Addressing human's natural fear of sharks, Metzer advised, "Like most sharks found off Long Island, juvenile white sharks mainly eat fish like bunker, bluefish, and skates. They're not interested in people. Our data shows that they spend most of their time more than a mile off the beach, so they're unlikely to frequently encounter swimmers anyway. But even if they do stray close to the beach, they are there chasing their natural prey. Even with all our understanding of their habitat use, most days we end up unsuccessfully catching or even seeing one."

"Results published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science (internal-journal.frontiersin.org) show that the tagged white sharks, all less than five feet long, consistently displayed movements parallel to Long Island's southern shoreline and the New Jersey coast and likely cling to these waters due to their summertime productivity. Horizontal movements ranged from the surf zone to more than 80 miles from shore; however, sharks spent more than 90 percent of their time within 12 miles of Long Island's southern shoreline, which further confirms the importance of this region to baby white sharks."

"These findings are all new and exciting. We learn something new with every tag we deploy. The kind of high-resolution 3D tracking we were able to conduct in this study gives us all kinds of fascinating insights into the behavior of these elusive animals that you just can't get with other methods," exclaimed Dr. Curtis.

The study authors are Rachel Shaw, FAU Harbor Branch; Dr. Tobey H. Curtis, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service; Gregory Metzger, SOFO Shark Research and Education Program; Michael P. McCallister, FAU Harbor Branch; Alisa Newton, Wildlife Conservation Society; G. Christopher Fischer, OCEARCH; and Matthew Ajemian, FAU Harbor Branch.

Funding and support for this important study was provided by the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation; The South Fork Natural History Museum (SOFO); OCEARCH; Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation; Florida Atlantic University Foundation; NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Management Division; Southampton Public Schools; Lotek Wireless; and a number of private donors.

You probably will never watch Shark Week quite the same way again! Quevedo advised, "For more programs related to our shark research efforts, please visit our website at sofo.org or visit the Museum's very popular interactive shark exhibit and learn more about the science, research and life-history of Long Island's many shark species."

Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.

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