July 18 (UPI) -- With the help of next-generation satellite and acoustic technology, marine biologists have identified the migration patterns and hangouts of baby white sharks in the North Atlantic.
Researchers have long suspected that the New York Bight, a seafloor indentation running from New Jersey's Cape May Inlet to Montauk Point on the eastern tip of Long Island, serves as a nursery for newborn and juvenile white sharks. But a nursery must meet three specific criteria: it must host higher densities of young sharks; it must be used year after year, over years; and it must be used as a residency for extended periods.
Until now, scientists have only been able to confirm the New York Bight's adherence to the first two criteria. However, the recent tagging and tracking of 10 baby white sharks showed the large fish spent several months within the confines of the bight.
The findings -- published this week in the journal Scientific Reports -- helped confirm the importance of the southeastern shores of Long Island to young white sharks.
Baby white sharks are vulnerable to predation by larger sharks. Protected, shallow water near shore offers the young sharks refuge from the dangers of the open sea.
The tracking data showed baby white sharks spend time among the North Atlantic nursery ground during late summer and early fall. By the late fall, all off the 10 juvenile sharks had migrated to shelf waters off the coast of the Carolinas. Several of the sharks returned to the New York Bight in the spring.
"It is vital that these baby white sharks reach maturity to ensure a stable and abundant future for this important apex predator," Matt Ajemian, an assistant research professor at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, said in a news release. "The multi-tagging approach that we used provides us with a 4D view of their habitats in space and time that will help us to monitor and manage this critically important species."
Because the battery life on the tracking devices lasts up to 10 years, scientists will continue to track the 10 maturing sharks. As more sharks are tagged, scientists' understanding of the apex predator will improve.
"This important technology will provide us with the opportunity to observe changes in white shark distribution, habitat use, and migration over the life span of this species from infant to large juvenile age classes," said research coordinator Mike McCallister.
The data will also help conservationists target habitat important to the lifecycle of the North Atlantic's white shark population.
"Fisheries and ocean resources managers can use information from our study to better assess the impacts of human activities on these baby white sharks and their habitats," said Ajemian. "While considered less of a potential threat than overfishing, coastal habitat degradation and possible habitat modification from ocean energy development activities also can be assessed with this new information."