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Tracking sharks: How close do they go to shore?


Paulina Keber
Staff Writer

Thursday, August 29, 2013, 10:52 -

People are often cautious when in shark territory and make sure they do not go too far out into the water. But how close do sharks actually get to the shore? 

It has now been discovered that sharks frequently come extremely close to the shore. Quite often that they may be swimming with you more often then you know. 

This information comes from OCEARCH, a non-profit organization, who started a global shark tracking project to find more data on shark habits and where they go. With this initiative, the organization hopes to develop strategies that would help in the conservation and management of sharks. 

The tracking system not only tracks where, but how, they are moving and the average water depth, temperature and light levels. OCEARCH uses this information collected using four different tracking systems to create a three-dimensional image of the shark’s activities. More impressively, researchers collect approximately 100 data points every seconds, making sure they collect data on every aspect of the shark’s journey including when its tail beat or it changes its posture.

Mary Lee is the first shark to be tracked using this technology. Shes’s a 4.9 metre and 1,568 kilogram great white shark that the team has been tracking since September of last year. Over the course of a year Mary has traveled as far up as Massachusetts and far as down as Florida. 

The information gathered on where this shark has traveled along the East Coast has surprised researchers. After tracking Mary, they found that sharks travel closer to shore then they previously thought. In fact, Mary Lee skirted the shores quite often. She was so close that it even prompted researchers to give a warning call. Also, despite previous belief, researchers found that white sharks do not always stick to cold water. They have found that some even venture into the Gulf of Mexico during the summer. 

OCEARCH likes to operate using open-source research. This means that they allow other people to see what they have done and see all the information they have collected at the same time that they receive it. On the OCEARCH website you can see pictures of the different sharks they are tracking, where they are, and a basic description about them (click here to go straight to the map). 

Researchers are currently tracking 47 sharks off of the U.S. east coast and in the waters of South Africa. Different types of sharks they are tracking include the bull sharks, mako sharks, and of course, great whites. To date, they have tagged over 100 sharks with the largest being a 5.5 metre 2,268 kilogram great white. The information collected from the organization could not only help learn more about sharks but it could also help prevent shark attacks or send out alerts when sharks come too close to the shores.

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