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Computerworld - Meet Mary Lee, a great white shark that's the same weight and nearly the same length as a Buick. And, by the way, you may have been swimming within a few feet of her this past year and not known it.
Since last September, when she received an array of radio, acoustic and satellite tags, Mary Lee has travelled from Massachusetts to Florida, often hugging the coastline so closely that scientists tracking her called beach authorities in Florida to warn them about her. The 16-foot, 3,456-pound shark also headed into open ocean, taking a February vacation off the beaches of Bermuda.
"She was undoubtedly not the only one there. Sharks have probably been doing it for millions of years," said Nick Whitney, a marine biologist with the Mote Marine Laboratories in Sarasota, Fla. "We're learning things that 10 years ago we would have never dreamed we could have learned about these species."
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Mary Lee, a 16-foot 3,456-pound great white shark, traversed the East Coast over the past year, at times hugging the shoreline so close as to prompt a warning call from researchers. (Image: OCEARCH).
Whitney, who spoke this week from a research vessel off of Cape Cod, Mass., is part of a team that runs OCEARCH, a non-profit, global shark tracking project that uses four different tagging technologies to create a three-dimensional image of a shark's activities. OCEARCH is hoping to develop successful conservation and management strategies by studying shark habits in more granular detail.
While traditional research has focused on small-scale movements, the data being gathered by OCEARCH offers surprising new information about where sharks go and what they do. That's where the tracking technology is crucial.
A dorsal fin tag attached by OCEARCH uses a satellite to track a shark's position each time it breaks the surface. Other tags include an RFID implant whose ping is picked up whenever the shark passes a special, underwater buoy; an accelerometer, similar to the technology used in an iPhone or Nintendo Wii, that detects up or down movement; and a Pop-off Satellite Archive Tag (PSAT), which acts as a general archive, recording average water depth, temperature and light levels.
"On average, we're collecting 100 data points every second -- 8.5 million data points per day. It's just phenomenal," Whitney said. "Second by second, we can pick up every tail beat and change in posture."
One of the surprises the tracking data revealed is that white sharks don't always stick to cold water, as previously thought. Some even venture into the Gulf of Mexico during the summer.
A great white named Garmin was tagged by the OCEARCH team, which picked up his signal after two days and got a good location on him on the third day. Starting in late April, wireless data showed him moving away from Guadalupe Island until mid-July, when he arrived north of the Hawaiian Islands. (Image: OCEARCH).
In addition to in-depth data, what sets OCEARCH apart from past shark-tracking projects is that anyone -- from a child in grade school to a television arm-chair warrior -- can see the tracking data at the same time as researchers on the OCEARCH web site.
Each shark's location is represented by an icon on a Google Maps-based TruEarth Viewer. By clicking on the icon, a user can get detailed information such as the species, gender, size, weight, length, as well as where and when the shark was tagged. A user also gets images of the shark as it was being tagged.
By drilling down further, and clicking on the "Where Have I Been" icon, a user can also see a track of where the shark has been since being tagged, in some cases see a detailed trail over the course of a year or more.
OCEARCH expedition leader Chris Fischer calls the methodology "open source" research, since all scientists see the data at the same time; nothing's proprietary. Within a week, OCEARCH also plans to launch a "digital hub" shark tracker platform with a real-time social media interface that allows researchers to post FAQs and videos to the most popular social networks: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or Twitter, according to OCEARCH spokesman Chris Berger.
OCEARCH will also be launching a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education-based curriculum for K-12 students. "We currently have 30 lesson plans for sixth through eighth graders, and will have more for K-12 -- eventually, even pre-K," Berger said.
Currently, OCEARCH is tracking 47 sharks, some of them bull and mako but mostly great whites off the U.S. East Coast and in the waters off South Africa.
Many of the sharks are given endearing names, such as Princess Fi, Genie, Opera, and Sabrina. Others have handles more befitting ships, such as Poseidon, Redemption, Perseverance and Courage.
Mary Lee, who was tagged off of Cape Cod, is named after Fischer's mother. "My parents have done so much. I was waiting and waiting for a special shark to name after her and this is truly the most historic and legendary fish I have ever been a part of and it set the tone for Cape Cod," Fischer wrote in an online description of Mary Lee.
Co-Captain Jody Whitworth and master of the Martha's Vinyard OCEARCH team Brett McBride prepare to stabilize a great white shark named Amy. Before taking measurements, blood and securing real-time technology tags, a device is inserted into the shark's mouth to irrigate its gills. (Image: OCEARCH).
How to catch a great white shark
To tag the sharks, the OCEARCH team first goes fishing with a hand-held line tipped with special barbless hook, engineered so it won't injure the animal. The team then brings the shark alongside their 126-foot boat, which has an underwater hydraulic lift that can hoist up to 75,000 pounds. That capacity is needed since the team is not only lifting what could be a one- to two-ton shark but also the water around it.
Once the shark is above the water line, from three to eight scientists get to work on it like a NASCAR pit crew, first placing a wet towel across its eyes to calm it and an irrigator in its mouth so it can breath. The crew then rolls the shark on its side to surgically implant the first tracking tag in its belly.
Originally published on www.computerworld.com. Click here to read the original story.