Photo: Nurse shark

Photograph by Nick Whitney

About the Project

NGS/Waitt grantee Nick Whitney is using accelerometers to study fine-scale aspects of shark behavior that cannot be observed directly.

Understanding reproductive strategies and mating behavior is crucial for proper management of marine fish species, yet very little is known about the mating systems of most sharks. In the few shark species for which it has been observed, courtship and mating has involved unique postures and movements that are likely to be very different from those involved in typical daily activities. A device that records these postures and movements may therefore allow us to identify courtship and mating behaviors in species for which direct observations are impossible.

To that end, Whitney has tested the ability of three-dimensional acceleration data loggers (ADLs) to identify mating behavior in adult nurse sharks during their mating season in the Florida Keys at the Mote Marine Laboratory.

Whitney and Wes Pratt have been studying nurse sharks together in the Dry Tortugas since 1998. The annual nurse shark mating aggregation in this area has been the basis of a long-term tagging study by Pratt and Jeff Carrier (Albion College) since 1992, and now continues with Whitney and Theo Pratt.

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