Do healthy reefs need sharks? In October 2013, Mike Heithaus, Jeremy Kiszka, Johann Mourier, and Linda Heithaus launched a study of the reef sharks that inhabit the coastal waters of Mo’orea, an island in French Polynesia. Using animal borne (or shark cams) and stationary cameras, the goal of the study is to investigate the feeding and behavior of a variety of reef sharks, especially blacktip reef and sicklefin lemon sharks, and their importance to the health of the reefs. Because Mo’orea offers shark feeding as a tourist attraction at designated sites, one goal of this study is understand how feeding of sharks changes their behavior and their role in the ecosystem.
In the small French Polynesian atoll of Tetiaroa, the lab is exploring how emerging video technologies may offer a solution by providing inexpensive and non-invasive ways to survey sharks in remote, data-poor regions. The lab’s approach uses a combination of underwater and aerial video surveys to study sharks, which are then compared to traditional methods such as longlines and gillnets. By focusing efforts in this relatively small and isolated system, the team will be able to assess the efficacy of these emerging technologies in a system that can be exhaustively sampled. Furthermore, Mike’s team of researchers are exploring ways to improve current optical survey methods, such as full-spherical camera technology and multispectral imaging, which may allow for increased precision and accuracy. By demonstrating the utility of these relatively simple approaches, research from the Heithaus Lab could dramatically increase access to shark sampling methodologies in data-poor regions, and as a result, promote comprehensive shark monitoring that is essential for effective conservation policy at a global scale. Collaborators include the Seeley Family, the University of Washington, the Tetiaroa Society, and CRIOBE.