Research

The foundation of the Atlantic Shark Institute is to conduct and support high quality shark research to answer the most pressing questions in the interest of sharks and their long term sustainability.

  • Driving elements behind that philosophy include:

    • To be the unifier of the best and most collaborative shark research anywhere in the world

    • To partner with only the highest quality scientists and organizations

    • To leverage the expertise of our Research Advisory Board to make the right funding decisions at the right time

    • To use our scoring and value weighting process to compare various project options

    • To clearly define goals, timeframes, and tangible outcomes for each project

    • To move quickly and decisively when warranted

    • To limit complexity and bureaucracy

    • To be transparent to scientists, supporters, and donors

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Ocean

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

The geographic focus of the Atlantic Shark Institute is the Atlantic Ocean from Canadian waters to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. We also support research in Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, the Azores and the Bay of Fundy.

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Projects

Spinner Shark Study (IUCN Red List Global Status- Vulnerable)

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The Atlantic Shark Institute in collaboration with NOAA/NMFS, RI Department of Environmental Management, MA Division of Marine Fisheries and Florida Atlantic University is studying spinner sharks (Carcharhinus brevipinna) in the New England and New York Region. The study area constitutes the northern range of this species and the project will be an important addition to NOAA/NMFS’ assessment of spinner sharks scheduled to begin in 2024. The study will include fine and broad-scale movement assessments and a wide variety of tagging technologies including M tags, acoustic tags, SPOT tags and PSAT tags. Researchers also plan to conduct tissue sampling, blood sampling, assess stress physiology and post-release behavior, as well as conduct life history assessments of certain individuals. This is a three-year study that will likely be extended and expanded as the project objectives are achieved. 

Blacktip Migration Study (IUCN Red List Global Status- Vulnerable)

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The Atlantic Shark Institute and the Elasmobranch Research Laboratory at Florida Atlantic University are collaborating to study the migration of blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) between the southern waters of Florida and the northern waters of Long Island, NY. For over a decade, Dr. Stephen Kajiura has tagged blacktips and tracked their northward migration. This leg of the blacktips’ journey is well documented, but their return trip to southern waters is not. Now Dr. Kajiura and researchers from the Atlantic Shark Institute are undertaking a tagging effort to equip blacktips in New England and Long Island waters with fin-mounted satellite transmitters. This will document this coastal species’ southern journey to better understand an annual roundtrip migration that spans the waters of nine states. This is a three-year study that will likely be extended and expanded as the project objectives are achieved. 

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Ophthalmic Lesions in Sharks Study

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The Atlantic Shark Institute and veterinary ophthalmologist, Dr. Ken Abrams, are collaborating on a study to investigate the presence of ophthalmic lesions in sharks.  Many species of sharks rely heavily on vision while hunting or foraging, and eye lesions, such as corneal lesions and cataracts that compromise vision, could adversely impact a shark’s ability to orient towards and consume food.  By performing ophthalmic examinations, researchers will study the frequency and severity of eye lesions in New England sharks and develop an enhanced understanding of the comparative ocular anatomy of sharks.  The study will also compare debilitating ocular lesions with body condition, possibly correlating vision loss with decreased ability to hunt prey.  The Atlantic Shark Institute and Dr. Abrams are co-principal investigators (PI) on this study.  The ASI is supplying a research vessel, personnel, and basic equipment to support this multi-year study, while Dr. Abrams will supply the ophthalmic exam equipment to perform a complete eye exam, including slit lamp biomicropscopy, tonometry, and indirect ophthalmoscopy.

Seasonal Movements of White Sharks in RI Waters 

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The Atlantic Shark Institute and the RI Department of Environmental Management (RI DEM) are collaborating on a study on the seasonal movements of white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in RI waters. We are using a combination of methodologies including data retrieved from our collective array of more than 30 acoustic receivers with visual confirmations made from strategic deployments of Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (BRUVs). Those methodologies will allow us to account for both tagged sharks as well as those that cannot be detected in our Shark Array. We are also collaborating with RI’s trap fisherman community who observe and have direct contact with white sharks on an annual basis. Those partners have been supplied with tags that will allow us to tag and track those individuals throughout RI and along the entire east coast. The Atlantic Shark Institute is supplying receivers, BRUVs data, tags and boat support for this study. 

Coastal Shark Tagging Study (Shortfin Mako, Common Thresher and Blue)

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Shark Institute and the RI Department of Environmental Management (RI DEM) are collaborating on this study to tag recreationally-significant pelagic sharks in Southern New England. Shark species of focus include the shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), common thresher (Alopias vulpinus), and blue shark (Prionace glaucoma). The study will use various tag types, including acoustic and Smart Position or Temperature Transmitting (SPOT) tags over the course of this study to better understand these species movement ecology, including seasonal migration patterns, their use of state waters, and the oceanographic habitats they frequent. Data from this work will be made available for improving the science that is used to inform management measures and ensure the species sustainability. 

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White Shark Study - Young-Of-The-Year (YOY) and Juvenile

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The Atlantic Shark Institute and Dr. Greg Skomal from the MA Division of Marine Fisheries are collaborating on this five-year study of juvenile and YOY white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in Southern New England. We will be using a variety of tagging, sampling and animal-borne imaging technologies and methods to quantify the broad and fine-scale movements of these sharks, feeding ecology, behavior as well as stable isotope analysis of tissue samples. The Atlantic Shark Institute is a Principal Investigator (PI) on this study and is supplying direct support with the tags for this study as well as a vessel dedicated to this research. 

Confirming Shark Species and Density at Block Island, RI

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The Atlantic Shark Institute and the RI Department of Environmental Management are collaborating on this five-year study to determine shark species and their density at Block Island, RI. This study will combine video confirmation using Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (BRUVS) with acoustic technology from the ASI Shark Array. BRUVS will be deployed from June through October where hundreds of hours of HD video, each summer, will provide visual confirmation, while our acoustic receivers will detect any tagged shark that visits the area from May through November. This unique combination of technologies will provide a first of its kind confirmation of shark species and their density in the study area.  

The Form and Function of Feeding in Pelagic Sharks

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This study is being led by Dr. Joshua Moyer to document how sharks, including the blue shark (IUCN status: Near Threatened) and mako shark (IUCN status: Endangered), use their jaws and teeth to capture and ingest food. Josh earned his Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University where he published on the anatomy and evolution of shark teeth and jaws. In 2021, Josh completed his PhD at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying the functional morphology and kinematics of feeding in modern sharks. Using high-speed videography of feeding sharks in the field, Josh and the Atlantic Shark Institute will compare the bite kinematics of large, open ocean sharks to those of previously studied shark species with different ecologies, an effort that would not be possible without the generosity of Atlantic Shark Institute volunteers and donors. 

New England White Shark Research Consortium

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The Atlantic Shark Institute is a founding member of newly formed NEWSRC. The Consortium consists of 15 research organizations that are located throughout New England and Canada and are collectively dedicated to further the science and sustainable management of the white shark (Carchardon carcharias) within its northwest range. The Consortium will leverage regional expertise and resources toward addressing research needs which will include life history, population trends, migration, residency, habitat use, reproduction, behavior, feeding ecology, human-shark interactions and much more. Methodologies will be broad and innovative based on the collective expertise of the member organizations. This will be an ongoing study that will have significant benefits to this critically important species of shark. 

White Shark Study - South Carolina  (IUCN Red List Global Status - Vulnerable)

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As part of his study on the movement ecology of white sharks in the North Atlantic, Dr. Greg Skomal of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries is tagging white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) off the coast of South Carolina with the assistance of the Atlantic Shark Institute. Dr. Skomal, who is working with Megan Winton from the University of Massachusetts School for Marine Science and Technology, is using satellite and acoustic tag technology to examine broad and fine-scale movements of white sharks along the eastern seaboard of the US. The Atlantic Shark Institute assists in this study by providing funding to reduce expenses as well as direct assistance in the tagging and collection of scientific data on sharks in the targeted area with Captain Chip Michalove. 

Thresher Shark Study (IUCN Red List Global Status - Vulnerable)

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A team of researchers including Dr. Diego Bernal (University of Massachusetts Dartmouth), Dr. Jeff Kneebone (New England Aquarium Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life), Dr. Lisa Natanson (NOAA Fisheries Apex Predators Program),  and Dr. Greg Skomal (Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries) are collaborating on a project aimed at investigating the spatial ecology and population structure of common thresher sharks (Alopias vulpinus) in the North Atlantic. By combining electronic tagging with fisheries data, the group aims to map the distribution of this species in both space and time, and identify key habitats for each life stage. The Atlantic Shark Institute assists in this study by providing a research vessel to tag and collect scientific data on sharks in the targeted area. 

ASI Shark Array

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In 2019 the Atlantic Shark Institute, in partnership with RI DEM, deployed acoustic receivers in RI. This was the first time this technology had been used in RI waters. The deployment of acoustic receivers capable of recording shark movements is of significant value to scientists studying movement ecology.  These receivers detect and log the presence of sharks tagged by researchers with acoustic transmitters. With each shark getting a unique transmitter code, scientists use these data to determine exactly those species that are present in a specific area and when. This research aids in understanding the residency and migration patterns of sharks . The ASI deploys these receivers in desired locations, retrieves data, and removes the receivers at the end of each season. We are increasing the number of receivers  to 15 in 2022 thanks to generous supporters like you. This will significantly increase the value of these research projects.

Shark Stranding Response Team, New England

There is a small team of shark scientists that respond to the stranding of sharks throughout the Northeast. In the last year, these strandings included mako, porbeagle, great white, blue sharks, and more. The Atlantic Shark Institute is a recognized partner in these efforts to assist these scientists in the retrieval, removal, transportation and assessment of these strandings. This also includes providing assistance during necropsies and more.