Shark and Ray Research Projects

Shark populations around the world are in decline due to overexploitation from commercial fishing (both directly targeted and accidentally caught as bycatch) and habitat loss. Conservation of these ecologically and economically important species relies on our ability to accurately monitor their populations through time, as well as space. This information is critical to measuring the progress of current recovery efforts, as well as identifying and prioritizing which species are in greatest need of future conservation measures. Unfortunately, we are currently lacking even the most basic of information for nearly half of all known shark species. This lack of information poses one of the greatest challenges to the future conservation and preservation of sharks and rays.

Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project
The Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project (SBERP) is an international research collaboration led by the Heithaus Lab with the goal of understanding the dynamics of one of the world’s most pristine seagrass ecosystems. In addition, SBERP strives to disseminate the results of the project to a wide audience through documentary films, the project website, curriculum and teacher resources for secondary schools. The lab’s work in Shark Bay provides the most detailed study of the ecological role of sharks in the world and has been used to affect positive policy changes in shark conservation.


Global FinPrint Project
Mike is the co-lead Principal Investigator of the Global FinPrint project. A Paul G. Allen initiative, it unites collaborators around the world to fill a critical information gap about the diminishing numbers of shark and rays on coral reefs. The multi-institutional team conducts surveys of marine life on coral reefs using baited remote underwater video (BRUV). The research will improve our understanding of how these species influence the ecosystems and how humans impact these species and their habitats. Ultimately, the consolidation of this research into a single analysis will aid management and conservation efforts for sharks and rays as well as coral reefs worldwide.

French Polynesia
From Mo’orea to Tetiaroa, Mike and his team are trying to answer the question: Do healthy reefs need sharks? 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. 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. Collaborators include the Seeley Family, the University of Washington, the Tetiaroa Society, and CRIOBE.

Small Scale Fisheries
Overfishing is a huge environmental and socioeconomic problem facing marine ecosystems. It reduces biodiversity and alters ecosystem functioning. Thanks to support from Save Our Seas and collaborators like Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de la Compañía de JesúsParque Nacional Natural Corales de Islas del Rosario y San BernardoReGuaRKap Natirel, and the Environmental Research Institute of Charlotteville, Tobago, Ph.D. student Camila Caceres is sampling artisanal fishers to learn more about the communities that survive along Caribbean coastlines.

Madagascar Whale Sharks
In collaboration with Mada Megafauna, the Marine Megafauna Foundation, the National Center for Oceanographic Research in Madagascar and Les Baleines Rand’eau, Dr. Jeremy Kiszka is studying the population status and residency of whale sharks off Nosy Be, Madagascar. Photographic identification of individuals coupled with satellite tagging will help researchers determine where these sharks are moving and whether or not there is a decline in sightings. The Madagascar Whale Sharks team plans to communicate these results with the local government to establish management regimes.

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