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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, November 14, 2004

Shark caught after journey of 3,100 miles

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Researchers may not be any closer to stopping tiger sharks from attacking people, but they have a new tasty bit of data for consumption:

A tiger shark last tagged in Hawai'i a year ago has been caught by a fisherman in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, about 30 miles east of La Paz near the island of Cerralbu.

Total distance: 3,100 miles.

"This is the world's record so far of migration documented for a tiger shark," said Kim Holland, a research professor of marine biology and head of the Shark Research Group at the University of Hawai'i's Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology based at Coconut Island.

"We've known that tiger sharks can move long distances, but this is the first documented example of this in the Pacific and by far the farthest record."

The longest migration of a tiger shark tracked before this new record was 1,984 miles by a tiger released in the Atlantic off New England and recaptured in the Caribbean, said Holland.

"The significance of this is just another reminder of how interconnected everything is in nature and how what happens in one part of the ocean affects something in another. And it points out the amazing capabilities of sharks and fishes in general."

Although tiger sharks have earned a great deal of notoriety recently because of four devastating attacks and one death in the past year, they remain a mystery.

And this new information raises as many new questions as it answers, said Holland, because tiger sharks are hard to catch and hard to study. Much about them is still unknown, including what their migratory range is, if they have specific "pupping grounds," and whether their lives begin in Hawai'i waters or much farther afield.

"We don't know if they're born in 60 feet of water or 600 feet of water — not like hammerheads, which come into the bay (at Coconut Island) to have their young," said Holland. "So this is a big deal because we know so little overall about tiger sharks."

Holland said that from other recaptures, researchers do know that tiger sharks move up and down the Hawaiian archipelago, but "how many of them jump off and keep on going, we don't know."

The researchers catch and tag sharks off the reef runway at Sand Island in a continuing attempt to understand their range, speed of growth, how often they come back to Hawaiian waters, and other data critical to understanding them better.

"There are sharks there, lots of them," said Holland.

The shark caught off the Sea of Cortez was a female, about 10 years old. It had been caught twice previously in local waters — the first time on July 2, 2002, and the second on Sept. 3, 2003.

Her name? No. 283.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.