Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lemon Shark Tagging

What do you do when you can't get out onto the whale sharks, well tagging lemon sharks is a bit of a favourite at the moment.... Intern Susie Lilley tells all.....

After the most awful week of Rain, Thunder and Lightning stopping the whale shark trips everyone had cabin fever….

However, MCSS are not just about the whale sharks, David & Georgia look out for the pointed sharks too. So we all jumped at the chance to help Georgia tag baby Lemon sharks that had been seen in the mangroves at Back Bay in the North of the island.
Being in unprotected water where the likelihood of being captured by local fisherman is very high, the plan was to capture if we could then tag and release them back into a protected area called Baie Ternay Marine Park, one of the few areas within the Seychelles where fishing is not allowed.

So we all set off on the 1hr bus trip across the island to meet up with Chris Mason-Parker from GVI, to lead us to where at least 5 baby sharks had been spotted. Once we arrived we all grabbed the gear and set off into the mangroves to try and capture some, if not all of them.

Carrying the net into the bay, it was rolled out in front of the mangrove area where Georgia & Chris could see the baby sharks swimming around.

The team setting the net on 'Back Beach' ready for the first of the pups

We made a semi-circle to try and stop any escaping and within minutes the call went up that one was caught in the net. After untangling them, very carefully they were transferred into the eske/igloo for transport across to the beach at Baie Ternay. We successfully managed to catch 3 out of the 5 on this occasion but I am sure Georgia will be back to try and catch the rest in the future.

Dr. D., the shark whisperer, gently untangles a lemon shark pup from the net....

So gathering up the net, cameras and all the Interns and the rest of the MCSS team we all headed down to meet with Georgia to support her with her Tagging. This would be her first ‘solo’-tagging tagging venture and she was slightly nervous. But by the time we got there she had already tagged one baby shark and released it and she was about to start work on No. 2. Working on these sharks requires protective gloves and careful handling; even at this size they can do serious damage to your fingers as they have razor sharp teeth and rough sandpaper like skin. So with one hand holding the shark firmly just behind the head and the other holding the tail, we turned the shark upside down. It instantly went into its catatonic state to allow Georgia to do her stuff. Its not as easy as you would think, and it took her a few attempts to cut through the skin.

Now this sounds like it is hurting the shark but these little guys don’t seem to notice, so with the final cut through the belly Georgia slipped the tag inside the sharks cavity space (this would be the equivalent of slipping a beer bottle inside your chest by the way) she makes a couple of professional looking stitches and the little guy is good to go. We measure and sex each shark before releasing him or her back into the safety of the marine park.

Tagged and being measured, ready to go!

Georgia is extremely pleased with the results (see photo!) – a good days work for MCSS.

A very happy Georgia takes one of the tagged pups out to the reef....

Once back at the office Georgia is able to identify the sharks at baby Sharptooth Lemon Sharks, these are currently on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable.

Happy and cruising... one of the tagged lemon shark pups explores Bay Ternay back-reef

However there are currently no conservation measures in place for this species and its current population is decreasing in size. This makes the tagging of these baby sharks even more important and moving them into the Baie Ternay Marine Park will hopefully help them to grow large enough to survive.

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