Kickass Expeditionary Shark Research

'A fisherman has many dreams, and from boyhood one of mine was to own a beautiful white ship with sails like wings, and to sail into lonely tropic seas.' - Zane Grey

For the past seven years, I've been following the work of Chris Fischer. As founder of Fischer Productions and host of 'Offshore Adventures' on ESPN2, he was a standout amongst the crowded Sunday morning fishing show fodder, beginning with the series debut in 2002. The program featured plenty of the obligatory money shot fishing sequences, but it was the host and crew's long range travel to exotic locations on a custom built 72' snow white sportfishing yacht, named, 'Go Fisch', that set it apart and made it obvious to me that Fischer was a forward-looking, big thinker.

Now, with more than a dozen successful seasons under his belt, and a couple of Emmys for the mantle, he's taking that experience and leveraging it in a way that I can only describe as completely off-the-charts. Along with a highly skilled crew, the nucleus of which has been with him for years, he's embarked upon on a seven year journey around the world. For this voyage, Fischer swapped out the 72' Elliot Boatworks beauty for 128' crab fishing vessel, the 'Arctic Eagle'. At first glance, it may look like a fleet boat from 'Deadliest Catch', but it's anything but. I've done some writing for publishers of the magazine 'Destination Fish' where I first caught wind of this project. Fellow writer, Sam Eifling, was on board the 'Arctic Eagle' in San Diego and described it this way. 'It’s a ship that has been, and can go, just about anywhere in the world, with enough fuel and supplies to support fishing expeditions of ridiculous ambition'.
photo above: natgeo.com

Reading that, I immediately thought of Zane Grey and his ocean hopping adventures on board his sailing vessel, the 'Fisherman', as detailed in the real-life 1925 epic novel, 'Tales of Fishing Virgin Seas'. That book chronicled what, at the time, would be the first effort of its kind to not only fish every corner of the globe for pretty much anything with fins, but to also take opportunistic steps in documenting everything Grey and his crew would experience in words, drawings, photographs and even motion pictures. Thousands of nautical miles where chopped up, countless fish caught, and far corners explored, but of the highest value gained from that ambitious undertaking, was knowledge about the marine environment and its condition at that time.

Photo: OffShoreAdventures.tv

In that same spirit, but armed with the latest in technology and required financial and logistical support, Fischer and his crew are setting a new precedent by taking expeditionary fishing and marine research to places its never been before. Yes, indeed, they'll also be doing some of the most hellaciously insane diving, exploring and big game fishing any one could possibly fantasize about, but Fischer is also taking full advantage of an opportunity to bring back the goods. When it's all said and done, this expedition will provide a very clear picture of the planet's marine health in this first decade of a new century. Through strategic alliances with the scientific community, and mainstream media outlets, this expedition will give us all the chance to put our fingers on the pulse of Mother, Mother Ocean. One case in point, 'Expedition White Shark', the results of which will air on National Geographic’s Expedition Week, beginning November 15th, 2009.


Promo Above: NationalGeographic.com

I've been following this closely online and watched a few episode segments today with my brother, Brooks. We unanimously declare it to be some of the most amazing, even surreal footage, of one of the most abitious research efforts ever undertaken with these animals. I can't print the words we actually used to describe it because our own hands-on, close up, interactive shark research means this kind of stuff tends to get us a little wound up. Let's just say, that, with a clear objective to support long-term sustainable populations of these animals, it's what we can only refer to as kickass expeditionary shark research.

As a practical matter, the latest in big game angling technique, skill and technology are also required to conduct this elevated level of inquiry into these animals. Unlike lions or elephants in Africa that can be dosed with downers shot from the barrel of a tranquilizer gun or trapped using various methods, these are sharks. Fishing for them with a hook and line has been an accepted method of securing them for legitimate research purposes for decades. It's simply a necessary part of the process with various implements of angling being nothing more than pragmatic tools of the trade. However, if you are an angler with a fondness for larger quarry, then this kind of work will tickle a few more parts than just your scientific fancy.

A successfully tagged and documented male white shark swims off the lift platform.
Photo: NatGeo.com

While there are some that find the 'fishing' aspect of this work outrageous, repulsive and even vulgar, we can see your point. You're entitled, but it's all relative. I go back to the practicality of getting something like this done. There is just no other way to do it. Can it be stressful on the animal? No doubt. But so is mating, migrating, feeding, and surviving everyday life in the wild, at times. Watching these segments, it's clear that every necessary precaution is taken to expedite the procedure as quickly and efficiently as possible. It's as cutting-edge, innovative and professional as it gets with the primary focus being the subject animal's well-being. As for post-release mortality rates on sharks and these great whites, in particular, that case will made soon. As results of these studies by Dr. Michael Domeier and the teamwork of the Arctic Eagle's crew come in, we're optimistic that revealing feedback from tags attached to animals encountered on this campaign will further credit the great white as the supremely adapted predator that it is.

The revolutionary tracking technology utilized boasts extended battery life and satellite capabilities designed to provide up to 6 years of real time data on the movements and habits of this enigmatic species. If successful, it's exactly the kind of information that could go a long way in cracking some of the white shark's most closely guarded secret code.

Fortunately, this team acted on a vision and went through the necessary planning, logistical and financial hurdles, permitting and other red tape that I can only imagine it took to get this done right. We're glad they stuck with it and and we look forward to the data returns and more footage when the episode airs. It's validation for some of the work we've done, and inspiration for a few things we've got up our own sleeves. To the crew of the Arctic Eagle, we think what you're doing is positive and necessary, and its a hell of a lot of fun to watch you prove what can be done when cutting edge science and world class angling and animal wrangling skills come together. Keep on cracking those codes and smooth sailing for whatever lies ahead of you on this adventure of a lifetime.

Supporting Articles and Information Below

View 'Expedition Great White' Episode Segments in Chronological Order:

Supporting Articles and Information:
Monster Hunting in the New Century - by Sean Paxton
Shark Tagging & Documentation Field Guide - by Sean Paxton
Exploiting Wildlife for Its Own Good - by Sean Paxton
Florida Sport Fishing Magaznie Catch & Release Article - by Sean Paxton
The Shark Brothers & Friends Land-Based Shark Tagging Expedition
Destination Fish Article on the Arctic Eagle - by Sam Eifling
OffshoreAdventures.tv
NationalGeographic.com