We joined the Tagging of Pelagic Predators (TOPP) team as they conducted research on white sharks in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of California.
The waters around the Farallon Islands, Año Nuevo Island, Tomales Bay, and Point Reyes National Seashore are some of the most important known sites for seasonal aggregations of adult and sub-adult northeastern Pacific White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) and these sites provide critical feeding areas for the population during their annual migration. In order to achieve the goal of protection and conservation of the White Shark population, GFNMS may issue a permit for some activities otherwise prohibited, provided the Superintendent finds that the activities meet the criteria described in sanctuary regulations (15 C.F.R. Sections 922.83 and 922.133).
Since 2009, when GFNMS White Shark regulations took effect, research permits have typically involved attracting White Sharks for tagging and photo identification purposes to provide information about their life history and ecology, such as migration patterns, genetic isolation, site loyalty, environmental factors affecting abundance and success, and population structure, such as sex-ratios, local population estimates, and trends.
Since 2009, two research organizations have received sanctuary permits:
- The Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP), led by Dr. Barbara Block of Stanford University, received a 2-year sanctuary permit in 2009 to place acoustic receivers, attract White Sharks, obtain biopsy samples, and deploy satellite (PAT) tags, acoustic tags, and stomach tags. The TOPP group received 1-year time extensions on the permit in 2011, 2012, and 2013 due to the fact that they did not propose any new research activities.
- Marine Conservation Science Institute (MCSI), led by Dr. Michael Domeier, received a 1-year sanctuary permit in 2009 to attract White Sharks, obtain biopsy and blood samples, and deploy satellite (SPOT) tags.
These two scientific groups used different types of tags: TOPP's tags (acoustic and PAT) are mainly used to yield shorter term (~ one year) data to track localized movements and abundance estimates. The other (SPOT) tag is intended to transmit real-time data over several years, which would span more than one reproductive season and potentially reveal the location of the Farallon White Sharks' pupping nurser(ies).