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Dive Photo Guide


DPGers at Home: Spot a Shark
By Tanya Houppermans, April 22, 2020 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

Editor’s Note: With the global coronavirus pandemic keeping most of us out of the water, we kick off a new series of articles on what you can do with your extra time at home.

A sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) inside the wreck of the Aeolus off the coast of North Carolina

As photographers, there are few things we love more than being in the water capturing footage of the underwater world. But when it comes to sorting and editing those thousands of photos or hundreds of hours of video files… well, not so much. But with travel and diving coming to a temporary standstill, many photographers are taking the time to do just that. And if you’ve ever dived off of the coast of North Carolina, now is the perfect time to go through your sand tiger shark images because we need your photos for Spot A Shark USA!

Spot A Shark USA is a citizen science program that uses images contributed by divers to identify individual sand tiger sharks by the unique spot patterns on each shark, enabling researchers to study larger populations of sand tigers than is practical with traditional tagging methods. Although Spot A Shark USA was launched only two years ago, there are now over 800 sand tigers in the database.

Exciting information about the lives of sand tigers is already being revealed through this program, with preliminary findings published in the journal Ecology early last year that showed six individual sand tigers had returned to the same shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast anywhere from 1 to 72 months apart—we now have a total of 35 sand tigers that have been seen more than once! This information gives us insights into sand tiger habitats and their movement patterns along the North Carolina coast.

Many sand tigers have been sighted on multiple occasions, including this juvenile male who was seen in the Aeolus seven times between May and October 2019

While we’re still unable to answer the big questions—such as where sand tigers mate and give birth, what their migration patterns are, and why they tend to aggregate around shipwrecks—the data is starting to offer some tantalizing clues. For instance, 64% of the sharks in the Spot A Shark USA database are female, and only 10% are male. (For a quarter of them, the sex is unknown.) One possible explanation is that females may be segregating from males to give birth, although more information is needed to test this hypothesis, especially since most photos submitted to Spot A Shark USA are taken during the North Carolina dive season, which usually runs from May through September. Until we have more sand tiger pictures taken during winter months, we can’t yet determine if this behavior of females aggregating together is throughout the year or seasonal. But with each image uploaded by citizen scientists to the Spot A Shark USA website, the closer we are to the answers.

Although researchers aren’t sure why so many of the sand tigers seen in large aggregations during the summer months are female, information gathered from photos submitted to Spot A Shark USA may help to provide answers

So, if you have photos of sand tigers taken anytime over the last 10 years, as long as you know the date and location that the photo was taken, please consider contributing them to add to our knowledge of these amazing sharks. We don’t require magazine-quality images. All photos and even screen grabs from videos are welcome as long as they are:

  • clear enough to show spots/markings on the shark;
  • taken at a right angle (perpendicular) to the shark;
  • show most of the shark’s body, especially between the head and tail;
  • shot with minimal backscatter, which can be confused with spots on the shark;
  • high resolution in JPEG format, but preferably no larger than 2MB;
  • taken without mishandling, illegal handling, or causing harm to the shark.

Photos contributed to Spot A Shark USA should clearly show the markings on the right or left side of each shark

If you would like to donate your sand tiger shark images to Spot A Shark USA, just go to the website at www.spotasharkusa.com and enter some basic information about when and where the photos were taken. If you have more details about your encounter (such as the sex of the shark, unusual behavior observed, etc.), there is room for noting that as well. While you’re visiting, be sure to check out the links to learn more about these fascinating sharks and current conservation efforts underway to protect them.

Although it may not be possible for many of us to dive with sharks right now, even in these challenging circumstances we can still do our part to save them… one photograph at a time.


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