Tracking Great White Sharks: Innovative GPS-Tagging Project Reveals Sharks' Swim Patterns


But the work Fischer and his team are doing doesn't come without its critics. Some environmentalists say the Ocearch shark tracking device is too invasive and that the team is harming the sharks, but Fischer said that's not the case. The real outrage, Fischer said, should be at the images that show thousands of freshly sliced shark fins heading to market in several Asian countries, such as Japan and China.

Shark fins drying in the sun cover the roof of a factory building in Hong Kong on January 2, 2013. Credit: Antony Dickson/AFP/Getty Images

"In our accelerometer data it shows that they recovered in less than a half an hour," he said. "We have the data now to understand that there's not that much stress and there's no time. What are you going to do? Sit back and chat about this for another day and allow another 200,000 be de-finned?"

Fischer believes his work could help save sharks from this process that many describe as barbaric, where shark fins are cut off the animal and then the rest of it is thrown back into the water. These fins are used to make a soup, viewed by many Asians as a rare delicacy.

"Think about all of the carcasses that are at the bottom of the ocean that are finless," Fischer said. "You can't remove the Apex predator from the ocean for a bowl of soup and expect the ocean to have a robust future."

Greg Skomal, a marine biologist and one of the stars of Discovery Channel's "Shark Week," is also hunting for great white sharks. He joined forces with Fischer to learn more about them, but Skomal and his team use a different technique. Last summer, Skomal's team successfully managed to harpoon a tag onto a shark found swimming not far off the beaches of Cape Cod.

Skomal believes Cape Cod is a great white hotspot, not because of the seals that live there, but for another attraction.

"My guess is that Cape Cod is a breeding site," he said. "I believe that they will be breeding them in the fall and early winter, but that's just my guess based on what we've seen around the world."

While a great deal of Fischer's research appears to be uncharted territory, he agrees with Skomal that breeding is largely what drives a lot of sharks' behavior.

"Usually when you get a mature female and mature male coming together, you don't have to be a rocket scientist with a Ph.D to think that maybe that was the breeding site," Fischer said.

He can see on the Shark Tracker that male sharks tend to hang near the coast while females wander the open ocean. No one knows if sharks are coming closer to shore more now before or if their movements have changed over the years, Fischer said, but they are finally beginning to understand.

While these sharks are the largest predatory fish on earth, Fischer said they have been given a bad rap. With his team's ground-breaking research, they are hopeful they will make some waves by replacing people's fear of sharks with curiosity.

"It's more dangerous to drive to the beach than to go swimming in the ocean," he said. "[People are] tracking our sharks because we kind of opened up and shared it with the world. They wouldn't even have shark or ocean on the brain, and that is really how this all began."

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