White Shark Tagging by Dr. Domeier: Timeline and Video

This video shows a male white shark as it was observed by researchers in October 2009 and again in October 2010 near the Farallon Islands and within Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS).

On October 29, 2009, 12 days after the shark was filmed, it was captured in the sanctuary by Dr. Michael Domeier of the Marine Conservation Science Institute, who attached a Smart Position or Temperature (SPOT) transmitting tag to the shark's dorsal fin. A permit issued by the sanctuary (GFNMS-2009-004), allowed Dr. Domeier to attract the shark. The California Department of Fish and Game issued a separate permit (CDFG #801130-01) that allowed the shark to be captured and tagged. The National Marine Fisheries Service gave a permit to use whale blubber from a dead, beached whale as bait.

Dr. Domeier's team attached a piece of whale blubber to a 13-inch steel alloy hook to attract and capture the shark. The shark was hooked and tired so it could be brought on deck safely. As it was being guided onto an underwater platform, the shark bit a seven-inch hard-plastic buoy that had been attached to the hook and line. The platform with the shark was raised out of the water.

While seawater was flushed through the shark's gills, the crew removed the buoy from the shark's mouth. A member of the research team reached through the gill slits to remove the top portion of the hook consisting of the eye and the leader so the hook would deteriorate and be more easily expelled. Most of the hook could not be removed and was left in the shark. While the research team attempted to remove the buoy, the shark was tagged and measured. The tag would allow the research team and santuary to monitor the status and migrating patterns of the shark, which is still alive. Genetic and sperm samples were collected. It was then released after spending about 19 minutes on the platform. A sanctuary observer was on the boat when this occurred.

After learning that the shark had been hooked in the throat, the sanctuary superintendent suspended the permit. Dr. Domeier and his research team met with the superintendent and sanctuary staff to review video of the tagging. As a result of this review, the sanctuary superintendent required Dr. Domeier to modify his baiting techniques to ensure that future sharks could not swallow the hook and to ensure easier removal of the hook from the mouth. The modifications included removing the barb and repositioning the baited hook so observers could maintain visual contact of the shark just prior to it taking the hook in its mouth. Dr. Domeier was also required to use larger buoys to prevent the sharks from swallowing them. With these modifications, a second white shark was captured, tagged and released without incident on November 2, 2009.

Biologists from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the Southwest Regional Sustainable Fisheries Division were consulted in summer 2010 to conduct an independent review of the status of both sharks that were captured in October and November 2009. Their evaluation was posted to the GFNMS website on September 20, 2010 and can be viewed here.

In May 2010, Dr. Domeier applied for a renewal of his research permit and the sanctuary superintendent determined that an environmental assessment would be prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act to evaluate whether the proposed research project would result in significant environmental effects. On September 30, 2010, a draft environmental assessment was published in the Federal Register and disseminated for public review and comment. The public comment period closed on October 15, 2010.

On October 12, 2010, another team of researchers studying white sharks around the Farallon Islands filmed the shark nearly one year after the 2009 tagging event and 360 days after the same team had initially filmed the shark. The video shows open wounds above the shark's right gill slits and along the right side of the jaws. The shark's lower jaw also remained open wider than is typically seen in other white sharks.

A sanctuary observer was aboard the boat when the video was taken in 2010 and asked if it could be shared with sanctuary staff for consideration in the assessment of this overall tagging project. Consultations were conducted with staff from the NMFS Southwest Region and with CDFG research permit review staff. Additional consultations were then conducted with experts in the fields of electronic tagging of sharks, as well as shark pathology, stress physiology, bioenergetics and husbandry. The results of this analysis will be contained in a revised draft environmental assessment that will be reissued for public comment in the spring of 2011. In general, the experts do not believe that the hooking and capture of the shark in 2009 caused the injuries that are shown in the video segment from 2010. However, it is not known at this time whether the hooking and capture might have been indirectly related to the injuries.