First things first: If you swim in the bay, no need to worry about sharks. None of the experts we spoke to could remember a single instance of someone getting bitten. And you can rest easy about Great Whites too; they don’t seem to have a taste for Bay waters. For more on this, see the Aquarium’s Chris Spaulding’s blog post.
The San Francisco Bay is much more of a mystery to scientists than I, at least, had realized. Why? It’s simply too hard to peer into. There’s no point in scuba diving. The bay is thick with sediment, much of it a legacy of gold mining explosions in the Delta. So if you want to know what’s swimming around in those murky waters, you have to go fishing.
At first glance, this struck me as both laborious and tough on the animals – catch and release may spare lives, but not without putting a lot of stress on whatever’s on the other end of the line. But when you think about how heavily we humans use the bay – sewage leaks, oil spills, urban runoff, coastal development — it becomes clear we have to take a closer look at how its inhabitants are faring. Sharks are at the top of the food chain, which means they’re a great indicator of how everything underneath them is doing.
Of course, tagging is only worth the effort if you catch enough animals to have meaningful data – which means this project requires tenacity on the part of Aquarium researchers. For updates (as well as info on what to do if you catch a tagged shark) check out the Aquarium’s website. Also, here’s the radio piece we did on the same project.