Earlier this month, a team of scientists from the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life took part in an annual, multi-institutional research expedition to Cat Island, the Bahamas, to study the severely threatened oceanic whitetip shark.

This species of shark was once commonly found throughout most of the world’s oceans; however, whitetips have since experienced drastic population declines that have led to their status of critically endangered in the Northwest Atlantic. In 2011, this project began off Cat Island as a conservation effort to better understand the ecology/biology of this highly imperiled species. Research efforts from this project have since then provided valuable information on the migration and movement patterns, reproductive biology, and genetic structure of whitetip sharks.

an oceanic whitetip shark
Oceanic whitetip shark off Cat Island, the Bahamas | Photo credit: Andy Mann

In this year’s expedition, Dr. John Mandelman (Vice President of the Anderson Cabot Center), Dr. Jeff Kneebone (Associate Scientist), and Ryan Knotek (University of Massachusetts Boston Ph.D. candidate) traveled to the Bahamas to team up with the Cape Eleuthera Institute Shark Research and Conservation Program, University of North Florida Shark Biology Program, Microwave Telemetry, Google Expeditions, the Moore Charitable Foundation, and photographer-videographer Andy Mann.

This year, as a new objective of the project, our Anderson Cabot Center scientists provided the knowledge and expertise to investigate the physiological effects of capture and handling. This information was accompanied by a closer look at the capture and post-release behavior of this species, which was evaluated using accelerometers and satellite tags, respectively. In addition, this project continued gathering information on whitetip shark movement and reproductive status, using cutting-edge tools such as the satellite tags (Microwave Telemetry) and ultrasonography (to determine if an animal is pregnant).

anderson cabot center scientist drawing blood from shark in water
Ryan Knotek (University of Massachusetts Boston Ph.D. candidate) draws blood from an oceanic whitetip shark, while Anderson Cabot Center Vice President Dr. John Mandelman looks on. | Photo credit: Andy Mann

In the two weeks off Cat Island this year, the team successfully sampled 27 sharks. For the Anderson Cabot Center team, blood samples gathered from these sharks will now be analyzed here at the Aquarium to investigate how fishing capture and handling may be influencing stress levels. This type of information can then be used to provide insight on how recreational and/or commercial fishing could be impacting whitetip populations.

anderson cabot center scientists process blood samples
Dr. John Mandelman (Vice President of the Anderson Cabot Center, right) and his student Ryan Knotek (University of Massachusetts Boston Ph.D. candidate) process a blood sample with an i-STAT Handheld Blood Analyzer. | Photo credit: Andy Mann

This was an incredible, collaborative research expedition, and we would like to thank our collaborators for making this possible, along with those who helped conduct the fieldwork: Dr. Edd Brooks, Annabelle Brooks, Dr. James Gelsleichter, Lucy Howey-Jordan, Dr. Lance Jordan, Debbie Abercrombie, Dr. Mark Bond, Maggie Winchester, Brendan Talwar, Oliver Shipley, Chelsea Shields, and Andy Mann. Check back here for more updates and content from the expedition in the coming weeks!

oceanic whitetip shark
Oceanic whitetip sharks feed off Cat Island, the Bahamas. | Photo credit: Andy Mann