Unlocking the Secrets of Hawaiʻi’s Tiger Sharks: Insights from the PacIOOS Shark Tracking Project

Hawaii is known for its stunning beaches and crystal-clear waters, but it’s also home to one of the ocean’s most captivating (and fearsome) creatures – the tiger shark.

This apex predator is known for its large size, immense strength, and striking appearance, and it plays a vital role in the ocean’s ecosystem.

However, they also pose a risk to humans, so understanding their behavior and movements is important.

That’s where the PacIOOS Shark Tracking Project comes in. This project, led by Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology’s Shark Research Group, aims to track the movements of Hawaii’s tiger sharks using the latest generation of satellite tags.

These satellite tags are attached to the dorsal fin and emit a signal each time the shark’s fin breaks the water’s surface. This allows researchers to track and map their movements in real time.

The project has several goals. First, it aims to collect valuable data on shark behavior and their habitat selection, helping researchers better understand these fascinating creatures.

Second, it’s testing new technologies – a new satellite tag type and a new method of detecting tag transmissions – which could have broader applications in oceanography and weather forecasting.

But tracking the sharks is just the beginning. The tags also record critical oceanographic data, including the sea’s surface temperature, temperature at depth, and oxygen profiles.

This data is available in real time to the databases informing models that predict the ocean’s circulation patterns, helping us better understand the ocean’s complex dynamics.

The project has already yielded some fascinating insights. For example, the study found that tiger sharks preferred living in an insular shelf habitat, which is an area found between the shoreline and shelf break.

It slopes gently to a depth of about 600 feet. This shelf habitat type has various prey for these sharks, and Maui has more of this habitat than the other large Hawaiian Islands together. The shelf habitat around Maui can support resident tiger sharks and those from other areas around Hawaii.

Maui areas frequently visited by tiger sharks include waters near popular ocean tourism and recreation sites. But, despite the presence of larger tiger sharks near popular beaches, the risk of attacks remains very low, which suggests tiger sharks predominantly avoid interacting with people.

The findings from this research helps State of Hawaii officials raise public awareness of the presence of sharks in Hawaii’s coastal waters.

The PacIOOS Shark Tracking Project is an exciting example of how technology can help us better understand the ocean and its inhabitants.

By unlocking the secrets of Hawaii’s tiger sharks, we can gain valuable insights into the ocean’s complex ecosystem and improve our ability to predict and respond to environmental changes.

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