General lab research:

Relatively little is known about how sharks affect the ecosystems within the Northern California Coastal Current and broader Pacific Northwest. The Big Fish Lab studies the movements, foraging ecology, dynamics, energetics, and behaviors of large fish, particularly sharks, off the coasts of Northern California, Oregon and Washington. Additionally, we work with local communities to better understand the interactions that these animals have with important local fisheries, cultures, and economies.

As part of our research, we use a variety of techniques and scientific methods to elucidate the roles of these animals, including field sampling, wet lab experiments, stable isotopes, stomach content analysis, and modeling. Additionally, we use a variety of technologies to gather data, including camera, satellite, and acoustic tags and receivers.

While much of our work focuses on the Pacific Northwest, we work throughout the world’s oceans. So, below are just a few of our projects - keep an eye on our Social Media (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook) to learn more about these and our other ongoing projects.

Current Projects:

Broadnose Sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus):

The broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) is a large (up to ~3 m and 107 kg) and abundant apex predator in the coastal marine ecosystems of the northern California Current System (located from northern California to British Columbia). In some locations, sevengills are known to forage on fish, sharks, and marine mammals, but little is known about their ecological and trophic role north of central California. Despite significant efforts to understand the productivity of NCCS systems, the role of sevengills in this region has largely been overlooked—especially in relation to economically important fisheries (e.g., salmon, halibut, and crab) and imperiled species (e.g., federally-listed green sturgeon). This project investigates the movement and foraging ecology of this coastal top predator. The ultimate aim of this research is to incorporate shark predators into population and ecosystem models that help with regional fisheries management.

Additionally, through this project we are working with indigenous communities to integrate Western Sciences and Indigenous knowledge of marine trophic dynamics. This program brings together art, science and cultural and experiential context to more holistically represent our scientific, cultural and economic understanding and relationship to coastal ecosystems.

Questions? Contact Jessica Schulte

Salmon shark (Lamna ditropis):

The Northeast Pacific Ocean (NEP) is a highly productive region that supports numerous ecologically and economically important marine organisms. Among these are several different salmon stocks, some of which are declining in numbers, age, weight, and length despite active conservation strategies. These declines have resulted in impacts on commercial and recreational fishery economies, and generated resounding ecosystem effects. Recent evidence suggests predation may be an important mechanism for low salmon survival. However, while there has been research on the impacts of other predators (marine mammals and birds), little has been done to assess the role of salmon sharks on managed species and marine systems as a whole in the NEP.

To assess the effect of this species on salmon and other commercially-valuable prey species, this project is designed to obtain a better understanding of salmon shark foraging ecology, habitat use, and population scope. To do so, we are combining multiple methods (stable isotope analysis, stomach content analysis) to determine what prey items, and how much, the salmon sharks are eating. We will also be tagging a subsample of sharks with biologgers and animal-borne cameras that will allow us to observe predation events and calculate energetic requirements for individual salmon sharks. Finally, we will use satellite tag and catch data to estimate the scope of the NEP salmon shark population. We will then model salmon shark space use to determine how frequently their seasonal movements overlap with high salmon abundance. Taken together, these analyses should provide a more comprehensive understanding of the role of salmon sharks in ecosystems throughout the NEP. We will be sharing this information widely, both to the scientific community and those who are dependent on species that are likely affected by salmon sharks, such as salmon.

Questions Contact Alex McInturf

Salmon sharks are widely ranging throughout the North Pacific, and can be captured and tagged to study their diet and movement patterns. 

Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus):

Basking sharks are the world’s second largest fish and one of three planktivorous (i.e. plankton-eating) shark species. They are highly mobile, capable of traversing entire ocean basins. However, they are also known to gather in coastal “hotspots”, or aggregation areas, at certain times of year. Hotspots have been observed in the Northeast Atlantic, such as in Ireland, Scotland, and the broader UK, as well as along the eastern and western coasts of North America. Most often, basking sharks are observed feeding and exhibiting coordinated swimming behaviors (i.e. schooling, shoaling, and parallel swimming) at the surface in these locations. Unfortunately, these behaviors rendered them easy targets for fisheries through the mid-twentieth century, and the species does not appear to have recovered from fishing pressures. Basking sharks were classified as globally endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2019. 

A variety of protective measures, such as the establishment of Marine Protected Areas, have been proposed for basking sharks, particularly in locations such as Ireland. However, there remains uncertainty about the purpose of these hotspots and whether they will continue to form in the same locations in the future. In this study, we will address a theory that has long been proposed regarding hotspot formation. Our aim is to determine if basking sharks demonstrate evidence of sociality, suggesting that individuals might be driven to locations in part because they are occupied by members of the same species. To do so, we will use VMT “chat tags” to determine whether sharks are consistently interacting with specific individuals. This could indicate that hotspots are important for social learning or mating opportunities.

Questions Contact Alex McInturf

Basking sharks are known to exhibit coordinated swimming behavior, as shown in this picture, when in hotspot locations (Image: Irish Basking Shark Group).

White shark (Carcharodon carcharias):

White sharks are one of the most recognizable predators on the planet. Given their wide public appeal and importance in marine food webs, significant research has been done to study White shark population globally. In partnership with Stanford University and University of California, Santa Cruz we have been studying White shark in Central California for >20 years. While this work continues, we are expanding our current research to look at the unstudied role that White sharks play in the marine ecosystems of the PNW and the influences of climate and population growth.

Questions Contact Taylor Chapple

Biologging tags, like this orange one here, can provide insights into shark physiology, movements and behaviors.

Electrosensory systems and renewable energy:

Elasmobranchs use electroreceptors to detect bioelectric fields of prey during foraging and likely use them to indirectly detect geomagnetic field (GMF) cues during navigation. The subsea high voltage cables from offshore renewable energy (ORE) infrastructure emit electromagnetic field (EMF) noise that can alter the bioelectric and geomagnetic landscape, which may impair electrically and magnetically mediated behaviors, such as foraging and navigation, in marine wildlife. In Partnership with Oregon Sea Grant, using Longnose skates and Dungeness crab we are developing controlled laboratory validated protocols to fill our knowledge gaps on the acute and cumulative impacts that EMF noise has on the sensory biology, behavioral ecology, movement, and distribution of multiple EMF sensitive species.

Questions Contact Kyle Newton

Previous Projects

Marine Protected Areas:

We work within a large international consortium of scientists as part of the Bertarelli Program in Marine Science in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), one of the world’s largest no-take Marine Protected Areas (MPA). In BIOT we maintain an array of acoustic listening receivers and about 400 acoustically tagged animals to understand shark movements within the MPA and its connectivity to the greater western Indian Ocean. We also develop and deploy cutting edge technologies to describe the trophic and ecological interactions of top predators at remote atoll communities and pelagic habitats. We are also experimenting with new techniques using these technologies for protection, monitoring, enforcement and management of remote MPAs.

Questions Contact Taylor Chapple

I track the movements of sharks and other fishes, including this 5.2m male whale shark, around the British Indian Ocean Territory and the greater Western Indian Ocean.

Whale Sharks :