News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy
About Claudia Friess
Claudia is the fisheries scientist for Ocean Conservancy's Fish Conservation program and lives in Austin, Texas. Born and raised in a small town in Germany, Claudia has been passionate about the ocean and particularly sharks since she was 10 years old, which eventually led her to pursue a master's degree in marine biology. When she isn't thinking about fish, Claudia can be found riding her bicycle or volunteering at the Austin Yellow Bike Project, hiking with her dog or pursuing the next big adventure.
Tiger shark photo: Matthew Potenski, 2011 photo contest
Many species of sharks and rays around the world are in trouble, and current events in Australia remind us of that. The government of Western Australia is presently implementing a controversial “shark cull” policy in response to recent highly publicized shark attacks near Western Australian beaches. The policy consists of deploying baited hooks about a mile off of various Western Australian beaches, aimed specifically at catching large sharks. Any shark larger than 10 feet is viewed as a threat to public safety and is to be “humanely” killed; the main targets of the cull are tiger sharks, bull sharks and great white sharks. Great white sharks are a protected species in Australia, and state authorities were given a special exemption from Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to be able to kill them. The shark cull is a pilot program. If it were to continue after the April 30 trial period ends, there would have to be a full environmental act assessment.
A scientist measures a juvenile tiger shark during a population survey. Photo: Claudia Friess / Ocean Conservancy
More than 70 species of shark occur in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic coast. Of those, we catch over a dozen large and small coastal species during the bottom longline population survey I’m participating in with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Here are five of the species we commonly spot:
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark This small shark is the most commonly caught species during our survey because it is ubiquitous in this region. In the right depths, it is not uncommon for us to catch around 50 of these small sharks per set of 100 hooks.
Population status: Due to their abundance in the western North Atlantic, their population status is not considered to be of great concern. Apart from humans, Atlantic sharpnose sharks also have other, larger sharks to fear as predators.
Hammerhead shark caught for a population survey. Photo: Claudia Friess / Ocean Conservancy
While most people out on the water are trying to avoid sharks, I’m on a boat that’s looking for them. We’re trying to find out which shark species are doing well and which ones are in trouble.
The answer: it’s complicated. But one important piece of evidence is the information collected on scientific surveys of population abundance, like the one I’m on right now.
It’s my third year as a volunteer on the science crew with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I am currently on the NOAA ship OREGON II, a 170-foot research vessel with its home port in Pascagoula, Miss.
This is the first leg of the annual shark and red snapper bottom longline survey. The survey is conducted in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico from South Texas to the Florida Keys and along the East Coast up to Cape Hatteras, N.C. That’s a total of four legs lasting two weeks each.