Saving sharks with satellites
About the project

What you need to know

Sharks are the super predators of the ocean. Evolving for over 400 million years, they play a vital role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems. They keep prey populations in check as well as remove the weak and diseased individuals, promoting balance in the oceans. They also add beauty and diversity to our oceans, which attracts divers from all around the world to popular diving sites.

Unfortunately, shark populations are experiencing a period of unprecedented declines to due overfishing, some by as much as 99%. Studies estimate that over 100,000 sharks killed every day, primarily for their fins to make shark fin soup. One third of all pelagic sharks are threatened with extinction. This practice is neither sustainable, nor humane.

Sharks are especially vulnerable due to their inherent life history characteristics of slow growth, late maturation, and slow reproductive rate. The removal of these predators from an ecosystem can negatively impact the food web, altering prey abundance and behaviors such as selection of feeding sites, temporal feeding patterns, diet, spatial habitat use, and patch selection. Currently, one of the highest research priorities for shark conservation is the identification and study of habitats significant to their life history and ecology.

  • The RJ Dunlap Program (RJD) is using advanced satellite technology to investigate the movements of threatened shark species in the Subtropical Atlantic, particularly hammerhead, tiger, and bull sharks.

  • The goal of this work is to understand the migratory routes and residency patterns of these species to help implement policy that will improve protection for these species (i.e. marine reserve design) while simultaneously providing knowledge that will increase safety for recreational ocean users.

Why this matters

We live in a complex and dynamic world, inexorably linked through our oceans, which cover more than 70% of our planet’s surface. And from these oceans, comes the oxygen that sustains us as humans. That oxygen amounts to four of every five breaths we take no matter where we live. The oceans also regulate our climate and sustain us with food.

As top predators, sharks play an integral part in regulating the structure and function of marine ecosystems. Losing sharks from the sea can result in undesirable altered ecosystem states, upsetting the balance in the oceans, on which we depend on.

Using satellite telemetry, we are investigating the movements of the most threatened and vulnerable sharks in the subtropical Atlantic in order to identify ‘hot spots’ for feeding, mating, and pupping. With this knowledge, policy makers will be able to make better informed decisions that support establishing effective protection at these critical sites.

What your money can do

Continued donor support is at the heart of our cutting edge research and outreach activities. While our diligent efforts have produced exciting discoveries over the past seven years, we are only just beginning to unlock the mysteries of sharks that will help save these magnificent, yet threatened species.

Your donations will directly fund the purchase of satellite tags and the satellite time required to receive their transmissions. At a cost of $2,500, each custom designed tag provides information about the shark’s surrounding environment and its GPS location to help track and piece together each shark species’ life history and ecology. These satellite tracks are available for public viewing in near real-time on the RJD website -

We appreciate all contributions. This is your chance to make waves with RJD.

Potential discoveries:

As one of the largest satellite tagging programs on the United States Eastern Seaboard, we have established a solid foundation for researchers seeking to understand how these apex predators move throughout the oceans. We know that they spend the majority of their time in international waters. They exhibit two distinct migratory behaviors: (1) directed, long distance movements; and (2) short, rapid movements focused around specific areas. Future research will hopefully reveal the significance of these types of movement, including how sharks utilize different areas of our ocean for feeding, mating, and giving birth, so that marine protected areas are strategically created.

Once we can ‘triage’ threatened shark species according to their levels of vulnerability to fishing pressure, we can create shark fishing best practice recommendations for the recreational and commercial fishing sectors that promotes sustainable harvest.

Additionally, through continued satellite telemetry research, we hope to deepen our understanding of how both marine predators and prey are likely to respond to ecosystem changes.


Dr. Neil Hammerschlag is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Miami, a joint position between the Rosenstiel School of Atmospheric Science & Leonard & Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science & Policy.

Neil's research centers on the behavioral ecology of marine predators. His current research has two main foci: (1) understanding how predator-prey interactions structure communities, particularly those involving sharks; and (2) determining habitat use and migratory patterns of large coastal sharks using satellite technologies. Other research interests include understanding how toxins biomagnify up the marine food chain. The goal of this research is to advance ocean conservation through science. As part of Dr. Hammerschlag's work, he is also interested in developing and implementing unique outreach and education programs for students, providing them with practical-hands on field and virtual experiences in marine conservation research.

Dr. Hammerschlag is also founder and director of the new RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami. The mission of the Program is to advance ocean conservation and scientific literacy by combining cutting edge research and outreach activities. Neil is also working in collaboration with the National Parks Service to establish a unique virtual distance education project to bring ocean exploration into classrooms via live online interactive wireless communications.

Thursday May 17, 2012

Thank you all so much for your pledges. It was getting a little hairy, but today we passed our goal and are at 114% with 19 days to go. Doesn't it feel great to know that you are making a difference. Thank you again from all of us.

Monday April 30, 2012

Wow, what a fantastic boost we received over the weekend. We are now 64% funded with 36 days left to go.

Coincidentally, Neil, the principal investigator on this project, spotted a boat just three miles from shore slaughtering sharks this weekend. Three miles is the line of jurisdiction for the state of Florida. It's nauseating. On we are doing what we can to educate people about the importance of sharks. The amazing thing is after awhile sharks start becoming cute. They look like they're wearing a perpetual smile. Keep spreading the word.

Thank you to everyone for making this an amazing weekend.

Friday April 27, 2012

Gratitude is the key to riches. I want to thank each of you for your contribution. It's a slow climb up the environmental conservation hill, but we are confident that our supporters will appear. We are almost to the half way mark in our fundraising time line, but we aren't at the half way point financially. We have 39 more days to raise money for a satellite tag. Tracking the sharks is extremely important in saving them from being deleted from our history. With the satellite tags, we are able to see where they spawn, discover their circle of influence, analyze how they respond to stress. Find out more at and share this petridish posting with your friends. Thank you for supporting us.

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This project was successful!
$5 +
An official University of Miami letter of appreciation acknowledging your support. Thank you in advance, every donation counts and makes a difference.
$20 +
An official University of Miami letter of appreciation acknowledging your support and a RJ Dunlap wristband that you can wear proudly to spark conversation about shark conservation.
$50 +
An official University of Miami letter of appreciation acknowledging your support and a hat with the ‘Making Waves’ Hammerhead infinity logo.
$100 +
At this level of support, you are truly making waves. You will receive an official University of Miami letter thanking you for your generosity supporting this important work and you will receive an official RJ Dunlap ‘Making Waves’ t-shirt that you can wear proudly.
$1,000 +
Now it’s getting exciting! Please join us for a day of shark tagging on the iridescent waters of South Florida. Join scientific experts for a day of tagging sharks, taking biopsies, recording scientific data and creating a once in a lifetime experience.
$2,500 +
You are a gold member of the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program. A satellite tag is now fully funded, and you will be able to name its recipient, and track it online. Bring up to 4 friends and family members for an amazing day with our shark tagging team.
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