North Carolina

Where do sharks give birth off East Coast? The answers may change your vacation plans

A plan by scientists to put transmitters inside the uteruses of pregnant sharks could soon change where and when beach lovers choose to swim off the East Coast, including the Carolinas.

The trackers, called Birth-Tags, are expected to provide new information on where some of the largest, most mobile species of Atlantic sharks give birth along the coast.

This includes makos, tigers and great whites, says researcher James Sulikowski, of the Sulikowski Shark and Fish Research Lab in Maine.

“Both North Carolina and South Carolina are important nursery grounds for coastal sharks,” Sulikowski said in an interview with The Charlotte Observer. ”We hope to (clarify) the nursery grounds for highly mobile sharks that may give birth in areas not previously known.”

The data will not only reveal “critical habitats” where large sharks are migrating offshore to give birth, but the time it’s most likely — information that could prove critical in preventing risky human-shark interactions.

The Sulikowski lab, part of the University of New England, will start testing the tags in tiger sharks next week in the Bahamas, working with researchers from the Hammerschlag Research Lab and University of Miami.

Once placed in the uterus, the Birth-Tags will stay inactive until they pop out with the newly born pups, Sulikowski said. The tags will then begin transmitting location signals to satellites, he said.

Important revelations from the data are expected as early as this spring.

Sulikowski unveiled the plan Thursday on Facebook, to a combination of praise and a disbelief.

Shark experts, including the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, lauded the research, while some animal lovers wondered about the potential impact on sharks and their pups.

“I think you guys have gone way too far with this idea,” posted Eric Zsolczai of St. Augustine, Florida, on Facebook.

“What if this gets stuck...or hurts the baby sharks...or leaks battery stuff? I can’t even believe I’m having to think about this. I feel bad for the shark that’s going to get this ‘science’.”

Commenter Melissa Michaelson likened the trackers to “a massive IUD.”

“As a woman, I cant help but cringe,” she wrote.

Sulikowski notes the tags have been used on land mammals with no issues. A waterproof version of the tag was two years in development with Lotek Wireless, he says. The research is supported with grants from the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation, the UNE Office of Sponsored Research and the Amherst Machine Company.

News of the project comes nine months after a report revealed bull sharks have begun colonizing North Carolina’s coastal estuaries as part of their nursing habitat.

Experts say ocean warming is causing the shift, and warn it will have a “potentially strong impact on humans,” reported The Charlotte Observer in April. The study was done by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, Simon Fraser University and East Carolina University, the Observer reported.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.