At least since the release of a certain blockbuster movie, the great white shark has had a reputation as one of the planet’s most fearful residents. Even while we are mesmerized by seeing them on television, most of us have no desire whatsoever to get close enough to a great white to look into its big, black eyes. For those who are interested in following these animals and keeping up with scientists as they make brand-new discoveries about just what they do, GPS tracking has come to the rescue.
It’s not very easy to catch a great white shark, and even less easy if you intend to keep the fish alive and release it again into the wild. But researchers have done just that with 36 sharks, fitting them with small, rugged GPS trackers so that they can remotely follow their subsequent movements. This is a real breakthrough in marine research, since great whites are loners, skittish, and notoriously unfriendly. Tracking via GPS lets scientists observe patterns without disturbing the fish at all (aside from the initial catch and release, of course!).
Fortunately for us, those in charge of this project decided that offering the tracking data to the public would be a great way to reintroduce the great white shark. On the website of Ocearch, the organization supervising the project, you can view the locations of the tagged sharks on a global map. You can’t view the sharks in real time like on a webcam, but you can see where they are and where they have been. In spite of yourself, you’ll find it hard to stop playing amateur marine biologist, asking why the sharks used certain routes and what they were doing in certain areas.
In some cases, you’ll discover information that science already knows—migratory patterns and nursery areas, where baby great whites are born. But one of the tracked sharks shows an unexpected trip down the coast of the U.S. from New England to Florida, and the researchers aren’t sure why. In past decades, the public has had no opportunity to watch ongoing research in such detail, and if scientists have their wish, it will give the public a new appreciation for their hard work.Google+