Beneath the Waves: Diving Deep for Shark and Ocean Conservation

Sharks have long suffered from an image problem. Chalk it up to sensationalized media coverage and the movie JAWS for giving sharks their bad rep. With their sharp teeth, dark eyes and lightning-fast movements, it’s too easy for media outlets and Hollywood to paint them as some sort of terrifying, mindless killer.

But you know what’s a million times scarier than a world with these sharp-toothed predators swimming in it? A world in which they’re not.

As one of the ocean’s most important apex predators, sharks play a vital role in keeping our ocean’s ecosystems balanced and healthy. Without sharks around to promote biodiversity, our beloved ocean could suffer from devastating consequences.

That’s why we’re partnering with Beneath the Waves (BTW), a research-based nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a sustainable future for sharks and their habitats. With their groundbreaking research and innovative tools, Beneath the Waves is on a mission to protect and restore our oceans—one shark at a time. 


Beneath the Waves and Southern Tide


Turning the Tide with Policy-Relevant Scientific Research

Knowledge can be a powerful catalyst for change, and that’s exactly what Beneath the Waves hopes to spread through their cutting-edge research, collaborations, and expeditions. Founded by leading marine biologist Dr. Austin Gallagher, Beneath the Waves, has steadily grown into an impactful and diverse team of multidisciplinary scientists and entrepreneurs all working towards the same goal: To create the oceans we want through policy-relevant scientific research and collaboration.

And by all accounts, they’re making serious headway.

As of 2020, the BTW team has proudly accomplished the following:

  • Informed the protections and trade regulations of 8 shark species on various global treaties and listings
  • Assisted with the creation of over 500,000 sq. km of protected areas in the Atlantic Ocean, and counting
  • Worked with numerous Caribbean nations to strengthen and expand existing protected area networks
  • Produced 60 peer-reviewed published papers and reports
  • Collaborated with international campaigns to promote deep-sea conservation
  • Completed 27 large-scale research expeditions
  • Initiated the first long-term study of shark sanctuaries
  • Launched the first-ever shark conservation research experience for hotel guests at the Grand Isle Resort and Spa in the Bahamas
  • Exposed 200 middle school and high school students to marine research
  • Supported the careers of dozens of future marine biologists

Beneath the Waves has achieved all of this by taking an innovative and collaborative approach to science and shark conservation. Through strategic partnerships and emerging tools, they’ve expanded their research efforts tenfold over the last decade.

In fact, their diversified programs and collaborations have already produced research that has helped shape conservation efforts around the world. Not only have they made science-backed recommendations for sustainable management to the Bahamas Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), they also provided policy-shaping data to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty to ensure cooperation between governments. In 2019, CITES voted to give mako sharks more protection from trade—a huge victory for BTW and conservationists across the globe!

Beneath the Waves Initiatives

Despite their incredible progress, the Beneath the Waves team knows that the work is far from over. Unfortunately, there is still a lot that we don’t know about sharks. 

And with pressing issues such as warming, overfishing, acidification and plastic waste all threatening our shark populations (which are already dwindling at an alarming rate), scientific research on these elusive creatures has never been more timely or relevant. To find out more about sharks and their habitats, Beneath the Waves has launched several programs and initiatives in the hopes of advancing shark conservation efforts. 


Beneath the Waves underwater submarine


Open Ocean Conservation

In their ongoing effort to study sharks in the open ocean, Beneath the Waves regularly tags a wide variety of shark species before releasing them back into the wild. Although there are many different types of tags that scientists use to monitor sharks, Beneath the Waves primarily uses two different tagging devices: satellite and acoustic.

Satellite Tagging: This tagging method involves tagging the sharks with satellite tracking devices. A transmission signal is sent each time the shark’s dorsal fin breaks the surface of the water, which then becomes valuable data that Beneath the Waves (in partnership with Oceana) uses to monitor the shark’s migratory routes. This, in turn, helps BTW protect sharks by identifying where they are most vulnerable to fishing threats. The BTW team can then create a strategy to put in place for better conservation management.

Acoustic Tagging: This tagging method is being utilized by the Beneath the Waves team in the Bahamas—specifically, the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary, where scientists are trying to learn more about the benefit of sanctuaries for sharks. BTW inserts an acoustic tracking device into the body of a shark, which then emits a unique frequency associated with that shark. BTW then deploys an acoustic receiver at the bottom of the ocean, which records data anytime the shark gets within a certain distance of the tracker. This data tells scientists how and when sharks are using the sanctuary, which can help us inform other marine sanctuaries from around the world.

Shark Sanctuary Initiative 

According to Beneath the Waves, roughly one-third of shark species are facing the threat of extinction. As a response, some governments around the world have set up shark sanctuaries to protect their rapidly-shrinking shark populations.

The Bahamas Shark Sanctuary has become a key area of focus for Beneath the Waves. In 2018, they launched a long-term initiative to better understand how sharks are using the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary and what—if any—benefit it has to different shark species. 

The team is interested in determining which habitats are most important to shark survival, and they have also collected tissue samples that have helped answer questions related to shark diets, longevity and overall health. With this data, scientists can analyze the health of sharks that utilize marine sanctuaries in comparison to those that roam the unprotected seas.

Beneath the Waves on a Boat in the Bahamas


Atlantic Ocean Program

The Caribbean isn’t the only region where Beneath the Waves observes, tags and tracks sharks. The team also takes regular research trips to the northern portions of the Atlantic Ocean, where they gather valuable data that benefits scientists from all across the globe.

On these trips, Beneath the Waves will often study various marine species in addition to sharks. Another useful tool they use to gather data is something called a baited remote underwater video (BRUV), which provides a non-invasive way of spying on sharks in their local habitats.

Notable sharks that Beneath the Waves have studied in the Atlantic include Blue sharks, Porbeagle sharks and Dusky sharks. Mako sharks have also been a key focus of BTW’s research in the past. In 2016, BTW launched a Rhode Island expedition and partnered with Oceana, the Shark Research program at the University of Miami, and Pelagic Expeditions. On their expedition, they were able to fit 16 blue sharks with satellite tags to study habitat use and movement patterns. This information was published in a groundbreaking study in Nature in 2019 which revealed that nearly 25% of all shark habitat is overlapped with the footprint of commercial fishing. 

The data collected on these groundbreaking research trips provide invaluable information for scientists, conservationists, and graduate students to learn more about shark species and the threats they face. In many cases, it can lead to scientific discoveries that shape policy (such as the case with Mako sharks) and make all the difference to conserving sharks and the world beneath the waves.
 

Deep-Sea and Artificial Reef Exploration 

Most shark species are elusive and majestic creatures. Biodiversity in the deep sea is especially shrouded by mystery due to their environment, which is not easily accessible. Beneath the Waves is working to uncover the mystery surrounding deep-sea sharks by using emerging technologies to push the limits of research.

Recently, BTW has been utilizing deep-sea submersibles to descend even deeper into the ocean—and into their understanding of how sharks behave in their environments. These emerging technologies have been made possible due to Beneath the Waves’ impressive partnerships with those who share their passion for ocean conservation. By partnering with Global Sub Dive in late 2019, Beneath the Waves has recently been able to explore the deep sea and reach depths beyond 350 feet below the surface. 

One of the target areas of these deep-sea explorations involves deep-sea corals, which are valuable for their contribution to the healthy diversity of ocean ecosystems. Deep-sea coral reefs provide food, shelter and spawning areas for marine life. Some species are also complex creatures that may hold the key to curing forms of cancer and other diseases. 

With deep-sea submersibles, scientists can uncover rarely explored deep-sea corals and learn more about these so-called “hot spots” for biodiversity. The knowledge we gain from such expeditions can help us better preserve their habitats and uncover an enormous potential for discovery.

Girl on Beneath the Waves Submarine


Partnership with Southern Tide

As a company with a deep affinity for the sea, Southern Tide has a history of partnering with ocean-minded organizations and is proud to stand by such organizations as they work to move the needle in ocean conservation. We’re continuing to promote healthy oceans by partnering with Beneath the Waves and their team as they raise awareness of ocean conservation through immersive research experiences and shark tagging, educational initiatives, and a Beneath the Waves x Southern Tide collection. Stay tuned for more!

Happy Sharks, Healthy Oceans

Healthy oceans need sharks—full stop. Sure, they might have some scary-looking teeth (well, maybe not in the case of whale sharks…), but the thing is, sharks don’t even enjoy the taste of humans. It’s true. We’re far too scrawny for their fat-loving palette. 

It’s about time we turned the tide on the negative image of sharks. Beneath the Waves and other conservation scientists know that sharks are key to the health of our oceans and our planet. That’s why BTW is bridging the divide between scientists, policymakers and the public through collaboration and cutting edge science. And that’s why we, at Southern Tide, are proud to support their ocean conservation efforts.

 

wave drawing