First-Ever Tagging of Rare Deep-Sea Shark Marks Major Scientific Milestone & Unlocks Ocean Conservation Opportunities

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OceanX, The Moore Bahamas Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society and Bloomberg Philanthropies' Vibrant Oceans Initiative’s “One Big Wave” Mission to the Bahamas and Haiti Sets Stage for Groundbreaking Discoveries

Scientists from nine marine conservation, exploration and research organizations today announced the completion of a successful three-week research and media mission to study bluntnose sixgill sharks and oceanic whitetip sharks in protected and unprotected waters of the Wider Caribbean. Mission scientists successfully placed satellite tags on both shark species, marking the first time a bluntnose sixgill shark has ever been tagged at depth in its natural habitat. This and other results of the mission will provide scientists with critical data necessary to protect the ocean’s apex predators throughout their lifecycle. Science and conservation partners in the mission included OceanX, Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), Florida State University, Florida Museum of Natural History, Florida International University (FIU), New England Aquarium, University of North Florida, Microwave Telemetry and the Haiti Ocean Project (HOP). Photo & video assets from the mission are available for download at http://bit.ly/OXMOneBigWave [Credit: OceanX / One Big Wave].

“Our mission successfully tagged the bluntnose sixgill and oceanic whitetip sharks, and the critical data from these tags will enable us to better understand these sharks and inform the protections necessary to ensure their survival and repopulation,” said Vincent Pieribone, Vice Chairman, OceanX. “We’re thrilled to have partnered with the local scientists and conservation groups in the Caribbean working to protect endangered shark species and support their efforts with our exploration and research capabilities.”

The mission aboard OceanX’s research vessel Alucia, from June 25th through July 17th, is a partnership between OceanX, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative, the Moore Bahamas Foundation, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), to create “One Big Wave” of global ocean exploration and protection.

“The success of this mission is due in large part to incredible cross-sectoral coordination among business leaders, philanthropists, marine biologists, ocean conservationists, and others,” said Antha Williams, Head of Environmental Programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “In light of the growing challenge of climate change – and its inextricable connection to our oceans – missions like these are critical to understanding how we can best protect marine ecosystems and the people that depend on them. Through the work of OceanX, we’re seeing the immense and undeniable benefits of cross-sectoral partnerships, and we are proud to partner in this work.”

In 1993, the Bahamas banned commercial longlining of sharks, and in 2011 it built on this critical conservation effort with a ban of shark fishing and trade in shark products throughout all 630,000 square kilometers of Bahamian waters. Establishing this Bahamian Shark Sanctuary was a milestone that firmly positioned the country as a world leader in shark conservation, research and tourism, benefitting multiple shark species, including the bluntnose sixgill and oceanic whitetip.

The bluntnose sixgill, a large, deep-sea predator, has never before been studied entirely in its natural habitat. Until now, research on these animals has only occurred when they have been captured and pulled to the surface, where subsequent behavior patterns are altered post-captivity. OceanX’s deep-sea submersibles allowed scientists on this mission to plunge 520 meters into the deep waters of the Exuma Sound and successfully attach a satellite tag to the bluntnose sixgill shark at depth for the first time ever. The tracking device will allow scientists to study the movement patterns and natural behavior of this shark species and shed light on the impact of accidental capture on its lifecycle. It also will provide crucial information about the movement of these animals in the coming months that will inform national and international management plans for deep-sea species. This expedition’s successful tagging of a deep-sea animal at depth marks a significant leap in technological innovation, as deep-sea ecologists will now have the ability to better understand the least known parts of our oceans and the creatures that inhabit them.

“Deep-sea sharks like the bluntnose sixgill are among the least studied vertebrates in the world, yet are increasingly captured in commercial fisheries. Understanding what happens to these animals after capture and release is vital if we hope to conserve their populations, but to do that we need to have an understanding of their natural behavior in their natural environment,” said Dr. Edward Brooks, Chief Executive Officer, Cape Eleuthera Institute. “After finally achieving success, we’re hopeful that this mission and the methods that we’ve developed will pave the way for the future study of deep-sea sharks and their behaviors at-depth.”

Oceanic whitetips (OWTs) are critically endangered due to overfishing, and the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary is one of the last places in the world to find them in any appreciable numbers. Scientists on the mission successfully tagged 11 OWTs, and collected 100+ samples of environmental DNA for biodiversity analyses. They also collected 150+ tissue and blood samples for hormonal, electrolyte and stable isotope analyses to assess health levels of the species. Data from the tracking devices and the laboratory analyses based on field collection will ultimately uncover new knowledge about OWTs and connect this research to a wider effort in the tropical western Atlantic to protect this species throughout its lifecycle.

In addition to OWTs, scientists successfully placed satellite tags on two silky sharks, a CITES Appendix II species that has experienced dramatic global declines, enabling the first long-term tracking study of this species in the Atlantic.

This groundbreaking mission has reaffirmed the urgency of scientific investigation into shark conservation, especially understanding the dynamics of OWT populations and their movements from protected waters in the Bahamas to unprotected and overfished waters of Haiti. It also underscored the need for future international collaborations on shark research between Haiti, the Bahamas and the United States.

“Sharks are legally protected in the waters of the Bahamas, but that alone won’t safeguard the survival of severely depleted, and highly migratory species such as oceanic whitetip sharks as they leave these safe waters to feed, grow and reproduce,” said Luke Warwick, Associate Director, Sharks and Rays Program, Wildlife Conservation Society. “With research from this mission, we will work with local groups and fishers on the ground in Haiti, and use that science to reduce the number of juvenile sharks being killed in fisheries – an approach WCS uses to protect sharks and rays globally.”

“The OceanX research mission provides us with a unique opportunity to build upon years of shark research in the Bahamas and drive conservation outcomes more broadly,” said Trevor Bacon, Marine Program Manager, The Moore Bahamas Foundation. “In the coming months our hope is to identify critical geographies for oceanic whitetips in all life stages, in the effort to protect one of the ocean’s most threatened and iconic species. The key will be leveraging this data to increase official and local community support for improved education, effective protection and sustainable fisheries management.”

“Our Haitian waters are home to the future generations of the oceanic whitetip shark, and it’s our responsibility to do what we can to protect and safeguard these important and valuable sharks,” said Jamie Aquino, President/Founder, Haiti Ocean Project. “Building upon our grassroots efforts to work with local fishermen and youth with regards to shark education, we realize it will take a bigger effort including additional research and management practices, as well as more organizations involved, to truly help us save this species. The OceanX research expedition was a major step in that direction, and we are excited about what the future holds now for our juvenile oceanic white tip shark population!”

For media inquiries regarding the mission, contact Kaitlin Stewart Hollander at kaitlin@thetascgroup.com. Photo & video assets from the mission are available for download at http://bit.ly/OXMOneBigWave [Credit: OceanX / One Big Wave].

About OceanX
OceanX is a mission to explore the ocean and bring it back to the world through captivating media. Uniting leading media, science and philanthropy partners, OceanX utilizes next-generation technology, fearless science, compelling storytelling and immersive experiences to educate, inspire and connect the world with the ocean and build a global community deeply engaged with understanding, enjoying and protecting our oceans. OceanX is an initiative of Dalio Philanthropies, which furthers the diverse philanthropic interests of Dalio family members. For more information, visit http://www.oceanx.org and follow OceanX on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

About Wildlife Conservation Society
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org. Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: +1 (347) 840-1242.

About The Moore Bahamas Foundation
The Moore Bahamas Foundation (MBF), the Bahamas affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation, founded by Louis Bacon in 1992, supports organizations committed to protecting marine resources and advancing marine conservation. Working with partners including Oceans 5, Shark Conservation Fund and The Bahamas National Trust, our focus includes establishing and managing marine protected areas, and advancing conservation policy and protections for sharks, conch, coral and other critically threatened marine species.

About Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative:
As climate change increasingly threatens key ocean ecosystems, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative is working around the world to advance evidence-based conservation practices and implement data-driven policies to protect our oceans and the 3 billion people that depend on them. Launched in 2014, Bloomberg’s Vibrant Oceans Initiative currently operates with partners Rare, Oceana, Global Fishing Watch, and the Wildlife Conservation Society in 10 countries that are top fishing nations – Australia, the Bahamas, Chile, Fiji, French Polynesia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Tanzania, Peru and the United States – to win science-based policies, protect priority coral reefs least vulnerable to climate change, and increase transparency through the adoption of national fishing data platforms.

About Cape Eleuthera Institute
The Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) is a world-class research and education facility that works to enhance conservation initiatives and economic prosperity at local, regional, and global scales through research, education, and outreach. CEI was founded in 2006 to administer The Island School’s research program with study areas related to tropical ecology, marine biology, and sustainability. Its innovative campus models “green” technologies that promote energy independence and systems that transform waste into resources including the largest solar array in the Bahamas as well as the nation's first Bio-Digester. CEI also hosts visiting educational programs and field courses for students from Pre-K to PhD. Through collaboration and partnerships with university scientists, conservation organizations, NGO's and government officials, CEI contributes to national dialogue and policy-making efforts. CEI communicates research in order to inform marine and terrestrial resource management policies and encourage sustainable development initiatives in the Bahamas and similar coastal communities around the world.

About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit http://www.whoi.edu.

About Haiti Ocean Project
Haiti Ocean Project is non-profit marine conservation organization based in the small fishing village of Petite Riviere de Nippes, focused on educating youth, fishermen and their Haitian communities about their marine environment. Established in 2007, the primary mission is to protect local marine mammal, shark, sea turtle and stingray populations through marine education, community awareness, marine research public policy and ecotourism.

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Kaitlin Stewart Hollander