New UH study tracks the migration of female tiger sharks

Tiger shark (File photo)
Tiger shark (File photo)

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Marine biologists have known for years that tiger sharks give birth in Hawaiian waters during late summer and fall months.

Groundbreaking research tracking the movement of female tiger sharks from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to Hawaii is providing new information.

“It represents an analysis of seven years of movement data from over 100 electronically tagged sharks,” said Dr. Carl Meyer of the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

Dr. Meyer is the co-author of the report.

“What our data suggest is approximately one-third of the mature females from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are participating in this migration each fall,” Dr. Meyer said.

Dr. Meyer says while the population of tiger sharks is unknown, this new information can help better interpret events that we see in Hawaiian waters including the recent shark bites.

“It’s possible that either the migration and/or just the pupping by the mature females may play into that,” Dr. Meyer said.

Dr. Meyer is also leading a two-year study commissioned by the Department of Land and Natural Resources to track tiger shark movements in Hawaii.

He says the timing of this migration from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the tiger shark pupping season are consistent with Hawaiian oral traditions that suggest late summer and fall months, when the wiliwili tree blooms, is a period of increased risk of shark bites.

But he urges people not to leap to the conclusion that this movement of female sharks is directly related to recent shark bites.

“From a strictly scientific perspective, what we don’t have is conclusive proof that either these migrations or the seasonal pupping is actually driving shark bites. It could be other things,” Dr. Meyer said. “The most important thing to remember is that year round the risk of being bitten by a shark is incredibly low,” Dr. Meyer said.

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