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Utah's Shark Man: Protecting the ocean one step at a time

PARK CITY, Utah (ABC 4 News) – The movie “Jaws” left us believing Great White Sharks are pure evil, eating machines with a taste for humans. But, one man from Park City is out to dispel the Hollywood myth. Some are even calling Chris Fischer the next Jacques Cousteau.
PARK CITY, Utah (ABC 4 News) – The movie “Jaws” left us believing Great White Sharks are pure evil, eating machines with a taste for humans. But, one man from Park City is out to dispel the Hollywood myth. Some are even calling Chris Fischer the next Jacques Cousteau.

Fischer is the man famously behind the TV series of NatGeo’s “Shark Man” and The History Channel’s “Shark Wranglers."

“I was trying to figure out how do we pour the oceans into people's homes,” said Fischer.

He made a name for himself catching and releasing big fish like Marlin and Tuna. He had begun helping the science community with his fishing skills, then one day a scientist propositioned him with something even bigger. They wanted him to catch, tag and safely release 4,000 pound Great White Sharks.

“And so he's like if we could get this tag and use it on a mature white shark and let it go, we could begin to solve a 400-million-year-old secret,” said Fischer.

Many people think that sharks dwell in the same area of the ocean their whole lives. Fischer says that couldn’t be further from the truth. For instance, while tracking one shark over a three-month period she went from Massachusetts to Florida.

This new technology with a multi-year battery life is uncovering the mysteries of where sharks breed, where they make their nurseries, where they go to feed and where they go after they leave these areas. This is historical research never before possible that is uncovering numerous secrets, but most importantly educating the world about where the best places to protect the Great White are.

In order to fund this multi-million dollar operation, Fischer founded “Fischer Productions” and began documenting his team’s expeditions. This is where his hit series formed and was able to sell them for millions. Those millions founded the non-profit Ocearch that is dedicated to researching, discovering and saving the oceans sharks. An undertaking not for the light hearted.

“There was no book on how to do it. And we went out there and got beat up. I mean, we had the biggest gear in the world just destroyed. Hooks broken in half. We were humbled,” said Fischer.

Nearly four years and 15 expeditions later, more than 40 Great White Sharks are tagged, sending real-time information via satellite to scientists for never-before-possible research. Fischer says at this point the good problem is that they are collecting so much historical data it’s nearly impossible for the scientists to keep up.

“And now we're catching 4,000 pound White Sharks when we first started would take us three hours to get in the cradle. We're getting them in the cradle in 30 minutes.”

Of all the sharks, there is one that means the most to Fischer. He even named her Mary Lee after his mother.

“I mean, she's become the most famous fish in the world for all the right reasons,” said Fischer.

Mary Lee was the first mature, female Great White they were able to catch, tag and release.

“Knowing that she could reveal both the nursery and the breeding aggregation. Ya know, it's just the right shark at the right time and a big, big moment. You know … the beginning of replacing the fear of Jaws with the facts of Mary Lee,” said Fischer.

Sharks are being killed at an alarming rate at the hands of their only predator. Man is killing up to 75-million sharks a year for little more than their fins. Fins are a tasteless but expensive ingredient for soup that’s selling for $500 a pound.

“The balance of the ocean for a bowl of soup. That just does not pass the common sense test,” said Fischer.

There is progress. A few Asian countries have banned the soup from state functions and major retailers are pulling it from shelves. Still, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Sharks are the lion of the ocean. They are the Apex predator in every one of their little ecosystems. There's about 400 different types of sharks and if you remove them from those systems certain things flourish that then eat other things and there's a whole trickle-down and collapse of the ecosystem,” said Fischer.

This is exactly why the best scientists in the world from different institutions are working together.

“You know, you wanna know what our angle is? There's no angle! We're just trying to do something great for the sharks and the ocean and the planet,” said Fischer.

Scientists are working on this historical research for individual recognition, but for an ecosystem that sustains us all.

Not only is Park City’s Chris Fischer behind these monumental expeditions and research, but he’s made it to where everyone in the world can follow along with the progress. Just go to the Ocearch Global Shark Tracker and you can see in real time where all the sharks are. This is giving you the exact access at the same time as the greatest scientists are the planet.

Fischer and his team at Ocearch are also writing school curriculum that will be for kindergarten through doctoral students. Sixth through 8th grade should be ready to launch next fall. It’s a way for students to use the Shark Tracker to learn science, math and technology. Ocearch is giving the curriculum away to schools for free.

For more on Ocearch and to learn about past and future expeditions visit Ocearch’s website.

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