WICKFORD, R.I. (WPRI) — University of Rhode Island (URI) researchers on a mission to tag mako sharks in Rhode Island waters got a surprise from its notorious cousin.
Just six miles off the coast, a juvenile great white shark swam around their boat as the team waited to catch a mako. URI Biological Sciences Professor Brad Wetherbee takes students out on around 20 shark-tagging trips each year and said this was the first time he saw a white shark on one of those trips.
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The shark seemed curious as it circled the boat, then swam off.
Wetherbee and his students study mako shark movements, using satellite technology and cameras strapped to the dorsal fin. When the tag’s antenna breaches the surface, it communicates the location of the shark to a satellite, according to URI Graduate Student Julian Garrison.
The mako shark is known as the fastest shark in the ocean.
The team brings the sharks they catch onto the Hope F. Hudner, a URI research vessel.
“Bring them on board, we put a hose in their mouth and pump water across their gills to aeriate their gills and try and do everything very quickly,” Wetherbee explained.
The team must complete their task assessing and tagging the shark within five to eight minutes to ensure the animal’s safety. They have tagged and released more than 130 makos with satellite transmitters, according to Wetherbee. That information aids conserving a population that is struggling.
The National Marine Fisheries Service implemented a shortfin mako shark retention ban on July 5 because of the species’ dangerously low population levels.
“It’s important for me to make a positive contribution towards sharks,” Wetherbee added. “I’ve been studying sharks for a long time. They’re misunderstood, they don’t have very good reputation.”
The 12 News crew took a deep dive into the world of sharks. Watch our 12 on 12 Digital Original here.