Rhode Island students gain hands-on experience tagging sharks

The trip took the students to sites up to 35 miles offshore, into areas where mako sharks are known to travel.
The trip took the students to sites up to 35 miles offshore, into areas where mako sharks are known to travel. | File photo
University of Rhode Island shark researcher Brad Wetherbee recently took eight students on a two-day shark fishing expedition to capture and tag mako sharks, giving the undergraduates hands-on experience in a migration research project.
 
“I’ve always had some sort of connection with sharks,” Kirsten Fagan, a junior majoring in marine biology who has been working with Wetherbee for two years, said. “Maybe it’s that sharks are misunderstood and I always felt misunderstood, too. Everyone has this fear of them, and while there is some truth to it that they’re dangerous, that’s only if you’re disrespecting them or messing with them.”
   
The trip took Wetherbee and the students to sites up to 35 miles offshore, into areas where mako sharks are known to travel in during summer and fall. Wetherbee hopes data yielded from the tagging will garner insight into the sharks’ populations, their migratory routes and their preferred feeding grounds.
 
“There is a big difference between learning things while sitting in a classroom or in front of a computer and learning by actually experiencing something,” Wetherbee said. “These students got to go out fishing for sharks, see big, beautiful 9-foot sharks right next to the boat, and experience something that they will remember for a long time. There is no substitute for experiences like that.”

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