MORGAN CITY, LA (WAFB) - There are more than 350 species of sharks in the world. At least 24 of them swim in the offshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but scientists said
they are in grave danger.
A team of researchers recently embarked on the first-ever shark exploration in the Gulf of Mexico to track their movement and survival. An underwater camera captured everything from sharks to the smallest fish circling hundreds of oil rig platforms.
For ten years, Chris Fischer, a former commercial fisherman, has been on a mission to research shark migration and give scientists the information they need to help conserve their habitats.
"If we lose our sharks, there will be no fish. To manage our sharks back, we need to understand where they mate and give birth," Fischer said.
Fischer, the founder of Ocearch, leads a crew of fishermen, scientists and photographers on expeditions around the world. Their home is a crab boat that has been converted into a mega ship to track sharks.
The real work, perhaps, is done off of a pair of smaller boats. A diver helps locate the shark. The crew uses a hand line to hook it. A large hydraulic platform is submerged underwater, the shark is dragged onto it and is lifted back onto the vessel.
"They are often times the size of a small minivan. They could be 18 feet long and 10 feet around. It's really humbling to stand next to them. Sometimes it's like you're standing next to a dinosaur almost," Fischer said.
Fischer said in just 15 minutes, scientists on board are able to do 12 research projects on the shark, tag it, and release it.
Louisiana Caterpillar (CAT) funds the research and maintains the engines on board. Darrell Samuels, Business Development Director, said sometimes CAT workers get in on the action.
"They just think it is the most exciting and interesting thing that they have ever done," Samuels said.
The removal of a CAT flag marks the end of the 23rd expedition for Ocearch and a long lists of firsts.
"We captured seven sharks, tagged four of them. It's the first time in history," Fischer said. "The first ultrasound of a sandbar shark with a blood sample, which will create a new baseline for science, and an understanding of how all of these rigs need to be turned into reefs, because they are the future abundance of the Gulf of Mexico."
Scientists are now able to keep tabs on the marine life through technology and share it with the rest of the world.
Anyone who wants to track any of the tagged sharks can do so online or on their smart phone by clicking HERE.