Researcher: Neil Burnie, director of the Bermuda Shark Project, shares with us a normal day at the office. *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Researcher: Neil Burnie, director of the Bermuda Shark Project, shares with us a normal day at the office. *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Creative and intellectual thought was abuzz at this weekend’s TEDxBermuda conference. Professors, lawyers, scientists and activists mixed with artists, musicians and poets in the first conference of its kind on the island. Ted is a non-profit organization that began in 1984 dedicated to “ideas worth spreading”. Ted stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and experts in each field make presentations and answer questions from a live audience which are then broadcast for free on the Internet. Organizer John Narraway told us that he planned to organize a second conference in October and hinted that they could become a regular fixture on the island’s community calendar. Sarah Lagan and Amanda Dale attended the conference and reported on the numerous speakers.

Dr. Neil Burnie, director of The Bermuda Shark Project, spoke about the ‘tiger shark highway’ which runs through the Atlantic via Bermuda, down to the Caribbean.

In the five years since its inception, the Bermuda Shark Project has discovered these sharks travel vast distances across the ocean, some returning to the same spot a year later, almost to the day.

The team — which includes Choy Aming, Tim Hasselbring, Jeff Manson and James Cooper — have also identified a ‘tiger truck stop’.

This is an area of the Atlantic to the east north-east where some sharks “just drop in to visit” but others spend several months before moving on.

Dr. Burnie showed the TEDx conference the journeys of four tagged sharks — Griffiths, Correia, Harry Lindo and Katrin. Correia has travelled more than 10,000 miles in 20 months.

Dr. Burnie explained that the tagged sharks head south to the Caribbean in the winter — “the southbound carriageway of the tiger highway”.

The northbound carriageway takes them back past Bermuda in the summer, but not all return to the island, with some heading to the ‘tiger truck stop’ instead.

Of Griffiths, he said: “A year after, the first shark comes back to Challenger (Banks) and goes back to the Bahamas. This shark has his favourite stop and finds it precisely.”

Correia has travelled down to the Turks and Caicos Islands and then the mid-Atlantic, before heading over to the Gulf Stream and back north to Bermuda.

“A year after he was here, boom, he was one mile away,” said Dr. Burnie.

The Guy Harvey Research Institute and the University of Rhode Island Department of Biological Sciences are now interested in publishing a paper on the team’s results.

Dr. Burnie also spoke of his own experiences swimming with the sharks off Challenger Banks.

Dispelling the myths

“I’m here at TED to dispel some of the myths about the phenomenal tiger shark,” he said.

On Katrin, he said: “Just the grace of this fish when she’s moving around, they are truly beautiful.”

He also showed footage of Jim Abernethy in the Bahamas diving with a tiger shark called Emma.

In the clip from This is Your Ocean: Sharks, the 14 ft shark is seen nuzzling up to Mr. Abernathy and being patted on the head.

Dr. Burnie opened and closed his talk with a rendition of his song, Time to Save the Sharks.

He also emphasized his message wearing a ‘Stop Eating Shark Fin Soup’ T-shirt.

“I want people to stop treating sharks so badly by  cutting their fins off,” he said.

“They own the Atlantic, they own the Sargasso Sea. Let’s make the tiger shark the ambassador for the Sargasso Sea, the ambassador for the western Atlantic.”

TEDxBermuda 2011