A satellite tagging device a Canadian researcher attached to a Greenland shark in the Arctic in 2012 and used to record migratory data was recently found washed up on a beach 6,000 kilometres away.
The tag was found in Wales, just a short distance from where the wife of the researcher used to spend her summers.
Based on the data they recovered from the device, Nigel Hussey determined it must have come off the animal in December of 2012 in the middle of the Davis Strait, between Baffin Island and Greenland, and floated all the way to Wales.
The devices are programmed to release from the shark, float to the surface and transmit data to a satellite, which the scientists can access from their labs.
The data helps paint a more complete picture of the animal’s behaviour. However, not all the data collected by the tag is transmitted to the satellite, so finding one is extremely rare and could prove to be a potential gold mine, Hussey said.
“We’ve never got one back before. It’s really fantastic,” said Hussey, a scientist in the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. “We never would have thought that after putting it out in such a remote place that it ever would have been found.”
This tag is of particular interest because it never transmitted any data to the satellite.
Hussey said satellite coverage in the remote area of the Arctic can be spotty.
“It just seemed to disappear," Hussey said.
Although it only stayed on for three months, it still contains a wealth of information.
“This is the most detailed data we've ever had for a Greenland shark,” said Hussey.
Mari Williams found the tag March 6 during a volunteer beach cleanup on West Dale Bay in Pembrokeshire.
Hussey’s wife Anna’s family originates from nearby St. David’s, and that’s where she spent her summers as a teenager.
“I’ve still got an aunt, an uncle and several cousins there,” Anna Hussey said. “In fact, Mari knows one of my cousins. They used to work on one of the tourist boats there together.”
Not knowing what the device was, but suspecting it might have been a shark tag, Williams, who has an undergraduate degree in environmental science, posted a picture of the tag on Twitter and tweeted it at the Shark Trust, a shark conservation charity.
Simon Pierce, of Marine Megafauna Foundation, recognized the device and recommended she contact Wildlife Computers, the device’s manufacturer.
She sent them the serial number, and the Seattle-based company traced it back to Hussey.
“I just find the whole thing amazing,” Williams said from her home in Wales.