The instructions and tips provided for this program should not be confused with fishery management rules and requirements.
How to Identify a Shark
These resources can help you identify the shark species before tagging.
- Species Descriptions for Identification
- Guide to Sharks, Tunas & Billfishes of the U.S. Atlantic & Gulf of Mexico
- NOAA Fisheries Shark Identification Placard
- Prohibited Shark Identification Placard
Male or Female?
Look at the underside of the shark at the pelvic fins. In males, a clasper will extend out from the inside edge of each pelvic fin, females do not have claspers.
How to Tag a Shark
Commercial tag poles are available for purchase, or you can construct your own.
- Firmly mount tagging needles in 1" to 1¼" diameter hardwood dowel.
- Ensure the tagging needle extends out approximately 2½" from the pole.
- Fit the dart head loosely into the slotted point in the needle. It should be curved so that the two rear points will face downwards into the muscle when the tag is inserted.
- Place rubber bands around the capsule on the pole to hold the tag in place.
Inserting a Tag
Tags should be inserted into the muscle of the back near the first dorsal fin at an angle toward the head of the fish.
Aim the tag at the base of the first dorsal fin with the two rear points facing the shark and quickly thrust downward.
Tag Placement on Shark
- The dart head should come to rest approximately 1" to 1½" beneath the shark's skin with the capsule trailing away from the head of the shark.
- In tagging small sharks, care must be taken to avoid injury to the backbone. To control the depth of penetration, make an incision with the point of a knife and carefully push the dart head into the muscle.
- Do not tag sharks less than 3 feet in length with dart tags.
Tagging Best Practices
- Follow all local and federal laws. Participating in this volunteer program does not exempt you from the regulations. You are the responsible party.
- Only tag sharks you can identify.
- Record tagging information promptly and completely.
- Always use safe release practices for you and the fish. The goal is to minimize physical handling.
- Leave the shark in the water while tagging.
- Release prohibited species immediately.
- Do not gaff a shark you plan to release. Never drag the fish on dry sand or on a hot boat deck.
- Do not sit on the shark, hold their mouth open for pictures, grip them over the gills, or lift them by the tail. Sharks do not have bones to protect their internal organs. The larger the fish, the more prone they are to internal injury.
- Use the proper gear, such as heavy tackle and a fighting harness to reduce fight times. Long fight times stress the fish.
- Do not take the extra time to tag a shark that appears stressed or overly fatigued.
- Use a dehooker to retrieve the hook or cut the leader as close to the hook as safe.
For more information on safe handling and release practices:
What to Do if You Catch a Tagged Shark
When you catch a shark with a tag in it, we ask that you record the following information as accurately and completely as possible:
Tag number, type, and color
Species and sex
Date of capture
Location caught (latitude and longitude preferred)
Length and/or weight and whether it was estimated or measured
Type of length (fork or total) and/or type of weight (whole or dressed)
Fishing method (rod and reel, longline, etc.)
Release condition: did you keep the shark or release it alive—if released alive, indicate whether released with the same tag, a different tag, or no tag and condition of the fish
Be sure to include your name, mailing address, daytime phone number, and email address.
There are several ways you can report this information to us:
Call (877) 826-2612 toll-free
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Use our online reporting form
Mail in the information to Cooperative Shark Tagging Program, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, 28 Tarzwell Drive, Narragansett, RI 02882
We will send you a report with information on the shark you caught and a hat to thank you for your participation.
Request for Backbones of Recaptured Sharks
If you are keeping the shark, please consider sending us a backbone sample. The large number of sharks currently being recaptured offers a unique opportunity for fishermen to assist biologists in age and growth studies.
To send us a sample:
Record tag number and recapture details (date, location, latitude and longitude, species, measured fork length, sex, and method of capture).
Remove a 6 - 10“ piece of the backbone from over the gills.
Freeze the backbone.
Call (877) 826-2612 or (401) 782-3320 weekdays for information on mailing the sample.