As an artist, scientist and fisherman, Guy Harvey is combining his three loves these days to help sharks.
One of the country’s most popular wildlife artists, Harvey’s work appears on everything from murals and posters to T-shirts and towels. With a doctorate in marine zoology, Harvey and his Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation have taken on the challenge of protecting sharks by tagging them with transmitters so scientists can track their travels.
“It’s about being responsible and taking the lead and trying to make a difference,” Harvey said. “[Sharks] have been so extensively killed, mainly through commercial long-lining, that their populations have been significantly reduced. They’re slow-growing, long-lived animals.”
Harvey said some states, like Florida, and some countries, such as the Bahamas, have protected sharks by reducing or prohibiting commercial fishing for them. He hopes the data provided by the tags will lead to restrictions on the slaughter of sharks in other parts of the world.
“You’ve got to get the research,” said Harvey during a daytime swordfishing trip out of Islamorada in the Florida Keys. (He and three other anglers each caught and released a swordfish on Catch 22 with Capt. Scott Stanczyk.) “You have to approach management not on a country-by-country basis but on a regional basis.”
Harvey, who lives in the Cayman Islands and who grew up offshore fishing in Jamaica, has helped catch and then tag sharks such as makos and tigers. He was part of a tagging effort for oceanic whitetip sharks in conjunction with a dolphin tournament in Grand Cayman. A $1,500 reward was offered to the first couple of tournament anglers who caught a shark and held it for tagging. Six sharks were held and tagged, and Harvey and his crew caught and tagged four others.
“What was cool was the guys who caught the first two sharks gave the money back so we could buy more tags,” Harvey said. “All of a sudden, we turned around the Caymanians’ attitude toward sharks. Usually they kill sharks and use them for bait.”
The shark tags cost $1,800 each, plus the cost of satellite time to retrieve the data from them. The tags are bolted to a shark’s dorsal fin, then the shark is released. Harvey jumps in the water to swim with the shark until it takes off. The experiences often result in new paintings of sharks.
“He loves it. It’s a combination of fishing, diving and his science background,” said Dr. Mahmood Shivji, the director of Nova Southeastern University’s Guy Harvey Research Institute and Save Our Seas Shark Research Center in Hollywood, Fla. The university has a website –nova.edu/ocean/ghri/tracking – that displays the sharks’ travels. Some of the findings have been enlightening.
“Some are staying around and some are moving,” Harvey said, adding that one shark, a mako nicknamed Bad Guy, traveled from Mexico to Grand Cayman to Jamaica, through the Windward Passage and up the eastern coast of the United States to Maryland, where he joined other makos that were tagged in that area.
Shivji said that Harvey’s efforts have had an impact on shark research. Most scientists are funded through government grants, which have greatly declined. The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which receives private donations as well as proceeds from sales of Harvey goods and lottery tickets bearing his artwork, has helped keep the shark research going.
Shivji added that the importance of the research gets extra attention because of Harvey’s “celebrity status.” And as Harvey said, once you have the research, it becomes easier to make the case for conservation-minded countries to persuade countries that “plunder” shark populations to change their ways.