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Local researchers are tracking sharks to help learn about and preserve the species

Mote researchers went out last month on a mission to catch and tag sharks, so they can track their behaviors.

SARASOTA, Fla. — What began as a marketing campaign for a cable channel is now an annual phenomenon. We're talking about 'Shark Week' happening later this month! 

Whether it's a natural curiosity about these animals that have existed for more than 400 million years, or it's a fear you feel every time you enjoy a dip in our Tampa Bay waters, sharks have captivated America's attention. 

The folks at Mote Marine Aquarium have been researching sharks in our area for more than 70 years. Each season, the researchers go out and survey the sharks in our Gulf waters to track the latest trends. 

Demian Chapman is the Director of the Sharks and Rays Conservation Program at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. He loves tracking sharks.

"It's addictive. One of the first things I do when I check my phone in the morning is go and look at where these sharks are."  

There are two, in particular, he enjoys watching. Same breed, same size, and tagged in the same area, but... "One is an adventurer and one is a homebody, so it's interesting why the difference."

Mote researchers went out last month on a mission to catch and tag sharks, so they can track their behaviors.

"Here at Mote, we host researchers from all over the world who want to learn these techniques. We want to share ideas and share our passion for saving these animals."  

And that shared research is vital to the survival of this ancient species. 

"As it stands right now, about one-third of species of shark and their relatives, the rays... are threatened with extinction. And we could lose species within our lifetime."

Chapman says the US leads the world in shark conservation because of good management from the federal government, the fishing industry, scientists, and the public's celebration of the shark.

"So thankfully that translates to a lot of will and a lot of public pressure to make sure we fish them in a responsible and sustainable way and protect the species that need protecting."

The Gulf of Mexico has about 50 different species of shark. Some are more common in this area than others. But remember, they aren't just out in the Gulf, they do come up into the bays. The shallow waters in the bay can make for good hunting ground. 

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