Studying the behaviour of what is thought to be the oldest vertebrate on the planet has landed Eric Ste-Marie (MSc 2020) a new grant supplement.
A doctoral student in the lab of integrative biology professor Nigel Hussey, Ste-Marie was awarded the the 2022 Fisheries and Oceans Canada Aquatic Science Supplement, valued at $10,000 for one year. He was eligible for this supplement because he holds a three-year Canada Graduate Scholarship – Doctoral program grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).
His NSERC research proposes to study the behaviour of Greenland sharks in the Arctic to get a better idea of their role in the ecosystem.
“Greenland sharks are listed as vulnerable with a declining population largely due to commercial fisheries and the effects of climate change,” Ste-Marie says.
“We want to know how they are interacting with their environment so we can see if there are ways to help, from designing fishing gear that will be less likely to catch them to avoiding fishing at times when they prefer to hunt.”
Ste-Marie says it is important to determine how the fish interact with other species.
“We know, from other research, which looks at stomach content, that they eat everything from fish to seals to whales, but how they acquire food items is where the mystery lies,” he says.
“We are hoping with our tags and our data we can uncover that mystery a little bit.”
Team members catch the sharks in Nunavut as well as off an island called Svalbard, north of Norway. They attach tags with built-in sonar so they can almost see what is in front of the shark as it swims through its environment
“We’re looking at how they interact with other species,” says Ste-Marie.
“We think they scavenge a lot of their meals, but they might be active predators and depending on species and context, we’ll see if we can learn more about those behaviours through tagging data.”
Findings from this project will be incorporated into ecosystem models used in the management of developing fisheries in the North, of which Greenland sharks are frequently a major source of bycatch.
“Given that rising temperatures, sea ice loss, and northward shifts in species’ geographic ranges are continuing to restructure the Arctic marine food web, it is essential that we develop a complete understanding of the feeding ecology of native predators such as Greenland sharks,” Ste-Marie says.
To learn more, check out this DailyNews article about his research into the metabolic rate of Greenland sharks and how that research got him an appearance on a CBC TV show.