Biologists from Misión Tiburón, a Costa Rica based NGO dedicated to shark conservation, are currently in the second year of a five-year shark population project. Their goal is to study the whitetip reef shark population at Cocos Island in order to understand the sharks' behavior, distribution, and habitat. Last year, they tagged 58 whitetip sharks and reported 33 recaptures. They confirmed that the whitetip is a nocturnal species, and individuals tend to remain near their birthplace. The researchers observed a growth of 1.9 cm/month for the adult whitetips and established that the population size at Chatham Bay is approximately 94 sharks during the day and 408 at night.
Whitetips are typically the first shark species you see at Cocos. They are so abundant, and so ever-present that you might even overlook their importance. It turns out that the whitetip population at Cocos is considered by researchers to be one of the healthiest and most robust shark populations in the world. Andrés López, a marine biologist, and member of Misión Tiburón, believes that the protected population at Cocos can serve as a benchmark for assessing the health of shark populations worldwide.
Misión Tiburón hopes that by monitoring the tagged sharks they will be able to better understand the effects of global warming because the health and success of a coral reef system is directly linked to the health and population of its sharks. For this reason, at each tagging site researchers recorded location coordinates, marking time, depth, temperature, moon phase and salinity levels.
Cocos is a special place, not just because of the sharks that are so abundant, but also because of the opportunities that it has created. The island possesses the ability to serve as an underwater safe house for life. What happens in Cocos should be happening all over this planet. The Misión Tiburón team is returning to Cocos next month to continue its research and we'll be excited to hear what they have found. If you want to volunteer, donate, or just learn more about their research, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.