Citizen Science Spotlight: In It For The Long Haul

Longtime citizen scientists share why they first got involved with NOAA Fisheries programs and why they’ve continued volunteering over months, years, and even decades.

We have lots of opportunities for members of the public to get involved in our research. We’re sharing the experiences of three longtime citizen scientists working with our programs. We hope you’ll be inspired by their stories to get involved in citizen science in your community, too! From the Cooperative Shark Tagging Program to OceanEYEs, there’s truly a project for everyone.

Mark Sampson

Citizen Science Program

Cooperative Shark Tagging Program


Charter Captain

Mark Sampson Fish Finder

Mark Sampson is a man who wears many hats: captain, guide, recreational fisherman. But one of his favorites is citizen scientist. Sampson has been a charter captain with Fish Finder Adventures for decades in Ocean City, Maryland, where he works as a fishing guide. He initially heard about the Cooperative Shark Tagging Program from a friend and decided to get involved during the late 1970s. Sampson’s familiarity with local marine life made him a great fit for the program, and he’s been volunteering ever since.

The Cooperative Shark Tagging Program is a collaborative effort between recreational anglers, the commercial fishing industry, and NOAA Fisheries. Founded in 1962, it is one of the oldest citizen science programs in the nation. Volunteers tag sharks caught during recreational or commercial fishing activities and release them. The tags provide shark researchers with information about the sharks’ movements and migration patterns, growth rates, abundance, and more. 

“When I first started volunteering, I immediately felt the satisfaction of releasing a shark we caught and putting a tag on it. When you tag a shark, you know the story might not end there after it’s been released, even if you don’t hear anything until years down the road,” Sampson says. In fact, he’s had a number of sharks he’s tagged pop back up years later. Two blue sharks he tagged off Ocean City were eventually recaptured—all the way across the ocean in the Azores archipelago and off the coast of Spain!

A man tags a shark in the water below from a boat.

“We also have other biologists contribute to the program and incorporate tagging data from multiple surveys, but our citizen scientists, especially our dedicated volunteers like Mark, are the backbone of our program,” says Cami McCandless, the research fisheries biologist who leads the Cooperative Shark Tagging Program. “A citizen science-based tagging program provides an excellent platform for obtaining shark movement data. Conventional tags last for decades and are quite inexpensive in comparison to high-technology tags that give detailed movement data. Sharks are highly migratory, covering vast distances. Our research team can’t be everywhere all the time, so having volunteers deploying tags each season throughout the North Atlantic vastly expands what we can do on our own.” 

Sampson and McCandless encourage anyone with an interest in sharks to get involved with the Cooperative Shark Tagging Program—you don’t need to be a charter captain or even a volunteer tagger to contribute! If you are fishing and you catch a tagged shark, report it to the program by email (, toll-free call (877-826-2612), or fill out a form online

“The people with the program are extremely knowledgeable and helpful,” Sampson says. “I’ve been so appreciative of the tagging program for all these years. It’s a great opportunity to communicate back and forth with scientists and help with real research.”

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