Scientists Track Great White Shark Lurking Along Florida Coast

Scientists tracking a great white shark that they’ve named Katherine for the past five months say that she is currently lurking off the Space Coast area of Florida.

The 2,300 pound shark was tagged near Cape Cod, Massachusetts in August. Since then,  researchers with the nonprofit group, OCEARCH, have been keeping an eye on Katherine as she has completed her southern migration over the past few months and say that their most recent data shows that she has been swimming in a “figure eight” pattern off the Space Coast area near Cape Canaveral.

OCEARCH reports that following Katherine has taught them that the late fall and early winter migrations of great white sharks may happen much more rapidly than they previously believed. Apparently, the shark is capable of swimming up to 30 miles per hour in short bursts.

Those interested in the work of OCEARCH, or in Katherine herself, can follow the great white shark on Twitter at @Shark_Katherine where she is described as a “misunderstood girl swimming around tryin’ to get some fish.” She already has more than 100 followers on the social media site.  Katherine and other great white sharks tagged by OCEARCH can also be followed at the OCEARCH website or through the use of an app available for Apple devices known as the Global Shark Tracker.

The shark research group uses large, barb-free hooks capable of dissolving quickly in salt water to capture the sharks and hoist them onto the deck of their 126 foot former crab boat. OCEARCH then tags the dorsal fins of the sharks before releasing the giant predators back into the water.  They are able to track their movements through the use of a satellite and off-shore transmitters that are triggered any time the sharks’ fins surface.

In addition to tracking the migratory patterns of the great white sharks, OCEARCH is also interested in learning more about the habitats they choose, their reproductive habits and in raising awareness about the plight of sharks around the world. Though great white sharks are known to have a long lifespan similar to that of humans, they and other species of sharks face major threats from the practice of “finning.”

Katherine isn’t the first great white tagged by OCEARCH to attract attention. Last year a shark that the group named Mary Lee made an appearance just off Jacksonville Beach that resulted in the researchers alerting local officials to her presence and potential as a threat.

The knowledge that great white sharks stay quite close to shore as they travel may be frightening for beach lovers, but researchers say that there is likely little cause for alarm. They report that their satellites have a wide margin of error, sometimes reporting the location of a shark as much as several miles away from its actual location. The satellites are intended to measure general patterns of behavior and movement, not necessarily specific location. Further, there have been no known attacks by great white sharks anywhere along the Florida coast, including in the waters where Katherine is now lurking.

By Michele Wessel

Tampa Tribune

Florida Today

Christian  Science Monitor

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