Betsy, a 635-kilogram great white followed by OCEARCH (Photo: OCEARCH)
Here's something you might not know about great white sharks: in the wintertime, they sometimes venture out of their usual cold water habitat to take a little vacation in Bermuda. Or, more precisely, in the waters around Bermuda.
And unlike most such projects, OCEARCH has taken the additional step of sharing its data online in real time via its Global Shark Tracker.
Using the tool, you can keep tabs on the whereabouts of about 50 different great white, bull and mako sharks along the U.S. east coast and near South Africa. Sharks like Gina, a 2.4-metre, 137-kilogram bull shark who spends her days in the Gulf of Mexico. Or Mary Lee — named after OCEARCH expedition leader Chris Fischer's mother — who made the long voyage to and from Bermuda in February and March. Other excellent shark names include Poseidon, Vindication, Rizzilient, Princess Fi and Betsy.
Each of the sharks followed by OCEARCH is outfitted with four different tags: an acoustic tracker tag the size of a Sharpie; a radio positioning tag placed high on the dorsal fin; an accelerometer, like those on a smartphone, to detect fine-grained movements; and an archival satellite tag, which keeps track of depth, temperature and light levels.
To actually mount all that hardware on a shark, an OCEARCH team made up of as many as eight scientists follows the fish in their 38-metre boat. They use a barbless hook to catch it, then place a wet towel across its eyes to calm it down while they get to work.
According to OCEARCH, the project is about more than mere scientific curiosity. As the shark tracker website points out:
Shark populations worldwide are under threat — sharks are being slaughtered at an unsustainable rate, many for a bowl of soup. This unsustainable harvest rate driven by the demand for shark fins, meat and other products puts not only sharks at risk, but also the entire balance of the ocean.
By learning more about how and where sharks spend their days, the researchers hope to devise novel conversation strategies. As this arresting Shark Attack infographic shows, the number of shark-related deaths per year is thoroughly dwarfed by the number of sharks killed by humans — every hour.
Back in 2007, Sharkwater director Rob Stewart talked to George about the shark fin industry: