A Southern California marine biologist's permit to tag great white sharks with long-term tracking devices at the Farallon Islands expired this fall, but federal officials are currently considering granting an extension on the research project.
Dr. Michael Domeier, who captured two great white sharks at the Farallon Islands in the fall of 2009 and fitted them with smart position or temperature transmitting (SPOT) tags before his project was prematurely halted, submitted a permit renewal application in May, according to documents supplied by the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Should the sanctuary renew his permit, Domeier could work in the sanctuary's waters for another four years and capture and tag as many as 11 more sharks.
Domeier, executive director of the Marine Conservation Science Institute in northern San Diego County, has SPOT-tagged at least 20 great white sharks, almost all in Mexican waters. The controversial procedure includes baiting a large hook with mammal flesh, hooking the shark, playing the fish to exhaustion and finally pulling it onto a floating platform, where scientists bolt a permanent transmitter into the fish's dorsal fin. A television crew, working on a National Geographic series called Expedition Great White, has filmed many such procedures conducted by Domeier.
Sean Van Sommeran, founder of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, has tagged dozens of great white sharks by inserting transmitters into the fish with a hand-held lance. He believes such techniques are adequate for gaining insight into the migration patterns and behavior of great whites.
"Domeier's work is redundant to the work we've already done on these sharks," says Van Sommeran, who believes SPOT-tagging may unnecessarily injure great white sharks.
Last fall, a 13-foot-long female at the Farallones swallowed one of Domeier's baited steel hooks and underwent an impromptu hook-removal surgery onboard the scientist's research platform. Although subsequent long-distance movement of the shark, tracked via satellite, indicates it is alive and apparently healthy, the incident, first reported by the Bohemian, spurred criticism of Domeier's work from peers in the marine science community. The mishap quickly led to the revocation of Domeier's permit in November 2009. In the year since, Domeier has SPOT-tagged several great white sharks off the Baja California coast.
According to Mary Jane Shramm of the GFNMS, a decision on whether to grant or reject Domeier's bid to continue his research is still months away. A public comment period on the issue officially closed on Oct. 12 after just 30 people heard about the renewal application, visited the sanctuary's website and expressed written opinions, but Shramm says submitted comments will still be considered. Comments may be sent by email to Carliane.Johnson@noaa.gov or by mail to the Presidio, 991 Marine Drive, San Francisco, CA 94129.