A baby white shark was caught off Long Island on Friday and given a big task — help researchers find out where the young predators hang out.
The 4-footer was the first baby white to be tagged in the North Atlantic, by Ocearch, the nonprofit that goes around the world studying sharks and is on a two-week expedition to learn if the Island’s waters are home to juvenile ones.
“This is a real step forward for the ocean right here, probably the most historic fish we’ve ever caught,” Ocearch founder Chris Fischer said on the research vessel in a video posted on the group’s Facebook page.
Sharks keep the fish population in check and eat the sick ones, but their breeding habits, early years and travels are still a mystery. Boaters and fishermen have long seen sharks in local waters, but how the big fish coexist in New York City’s shipping lanes and with human activity are not clear.
Fischer named the female shark Montauk in honor of mariners’ history, calling the East End fishing hot spot a “special, special” place whose people had made him feel welcome.
The baby white arrived at sunset a week after the ship had set out, a weight off researchers whose goal was to nab at least one juvenile white shark. As a shark scouting boat led it to the research vessel, equipped with a lift, the baby white did not fight.
Brett McBride, co-captain of the Ocearch vessel, was on the scouting boat and had been expecting another type of species when the fish swam by.
“When that thing went under the boat, I was like I think we got a baby white on us,” he said on the video.
A 47-minute video of the adventure showed eight or more people at times swarmed around the little predator, taking a tissue sample, measurements and attaching a tag to her fin. A blanket was put over her head. A hose put inside her mouth kept her gills wet, and when all the data-gathering was over, she took her time letting go of the hose.
“That was crazy, right?” Fischer said afterward as clapping erupted to wish Montauk well.
The great whites are not threatened with extinction but the species’ survival hangs on the fishing industry, pollution and policies aimed at stopping the shark fin trade.
Montauk will be added to the group’s Global Shark Tracker, which allows people to see the pinged locations of each shark.
“Together we wait for the first ping,” Fischer said. “We’ve got to learn where the baby sharks go so we can make more big sharks and lots of fish for our grandchildren. Today was a big leap forward for that in the North Atlantic Ocean.”