Shark Attack: GPS Helps Tag Great Whites

great_white_gps_trackingOne of the most mysterious animals in the deep blue sea is the great white shark. Sure, these sharks have been studied in captivity, but daily habits and patterns are largely a mystery. Can you blame scientists? Who wants to swim around with predators all day?! Maybe there’s a way to change that.

A Floating Laboratory

A team of Ocearch scientist are currently using GPS trackers to learn all they can about the great white shark. These scientists recently cruised the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to find their first subjects, drawing them close to the boat with chum in the form of herrings and tuna  – as well as a dummy that looks like a seal.

While armed with GPS tracking devices, this team of scientists has set sail in an old crabbing vessel – not exactly the safest way to travel when checking out great whites! What’s the best way to deal with a lured shark while standing in a crabbing vessel? Why, lift the shark up on a hydraulic lift, of course!

Scientific Methods

There’s just one problem with the hydraulic lift method. Captain Brett McBride has to jump into the water, and maneuver the sharks onto the lift. Gulp. Amazing, McBride has succeeded in this endeavor a few times.

Once the shark is lifted on deck, scientists cover the shark’s eyes with a wet towel to keep the animal calm. Water is then poured over a shark’s gills in order to ensure that each shark is breathing properly. While studying the sharks, scientist affix a GPS tracker to each great white. But, time is of the essence when it comes to this operation.

Tick-Tock Goes the Clock

Scientists have approximately 15 minutes to collect tissue, blood samples, perform an ultrasound, affix that GPS tracker under a shark’s fin, place an acoustic tag underneath a shark, add a third tracker to a shark’s tail, and release the shark back into the water. Phew! That’s a lot to accomplish in 15 minutes!

So far, the team has tagged more than 60 great white sharks since 2007. That’s around $10,000 worth of trackers with GPS and monitors. This team is looking to compile a shark migration map.

Lessons Learned So Far

Some incredible information has already been learned. For instance, one shark traveled from South Africa to Australia in 99 days, which is about 11,100 kilometers — the longest distance ever recorded for a great white.

Another interesting fact: male great whites spend all of their time hanging out by the shoreline, while females travel great distances. The reason is still unknown.

It is important to scientists to learn all they can about great whites. Without the GPS tracking device and GPS technology, keeping tabs on great whites wouldn’t be possible.


Photo by ZA Photos via Flickr Creative Commons