When you think of sharks in New England, you may picture Great Whites off of Cape Cod. But a shark researcher at the University of New England is putting Maine on the map, shedding new light on a little-known species in the Gulf of Maine.
Dr. James Sulikowski has been tagging and tracking Porbeagle sharks. They are smaller than Great Whites, and are harder to catch and study.
"We call it the phantom shark, because it is so under-studied," said Dr. Sulikowski.
He is the only researcher in the world doing this type of work, and it has caught the attention of the Discovery Channel. The network will be featuring his research in its upcoming “Shark Week.”
"This area, in the Gulf of Maine, appears to be a nursery ground," said Sulikowski. "It’s a place that they have to grow up, and live. We think this area might be vital to their survival."
Sulikowski said his tags allow him to track Porbeagles in real time. The data shows the sharks staying in the Gulf of Maine year-round.
He said most sharks migrate, but there’s something about the coast of Maine that is attractive to Porbeagles, even in the cold winter.
"We think they can [maintain body temperature] better than most other sharks, so when the water temperature gets cold, they can hang out and stay," he said.
His tracking maps show Porbeagles coming closer to shore than previously expected. He said he has been most surprised to record baby Porbeagles diving deeper than some adult sharks.
Sulikowski said his work will also look at how climate change may be impacting sharks, because the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than most of the world’s oceans.
"We’re really a bathtub," he said. "How these sharks survive in that is important, because they’re part of an ecosystem."