Project Hopes To Give Sharks A Theme Other Than "Jaws"

May 20, 2014

A group is tracking great white sharks to try and shed some light on their lives.
Credit Creative Commons / Flickr user Travelbag Ltd

South Florida beaches have a special tourist this season. But this one won’t be slathering on the tanning lotion. Boasting a couple hundred teeth and some killer ancestry, Katharine the Great White Shark is now swimming off the coast of Key Largo.

A project run by OCEARCH has tracked her position since tagging the 14.5-foot, 2,500-pound great white off the coast of Cape Cod in the fall of last year. The group captures great white and tiger sharks, lets scientists do a few tests and then releases them to track their movements over several years.

For some, familiarity with the great white shark is limited to the movie "Jaws." And that lack of knowledge isn't limited to the public. There is a lot of mystery that continues to surround the sharks even in the scientific world, according to Chris Fischer, who started the tracking project.

Katharine's path off the coast of South Florida

“They're the great balance-keepers," he says. "And we have little information about their life because they are so big that no one has ever been able to capture them, leverage the latest technology, and release them alive to solve the puzzle of their multi-year migrations."

Part of what Fischer finds most exciting about his project is that all the data and information acquired is open-source, most of it posted online to share, including a real-time tracker of Katharine’s movement. (One caveat: The tracker requires her to surface in order for her location to be transmitted to the GPS system, so there may be a few gaps in "real time.")

“Now [that] we have given out so much information and included the public, they’re starting to [ask], 'Well, why did Katharine swim down the east coast of Florida though Miami over the past weekend? Could she be going to Gulf? And if so, why?'” Fischer says. 

Those questions are bringing up some good points. As waters around South Florida and the Keys heat up, Katharine’s continued path south into even warmer waters just might debunk some previous assumptions about migratory patterns.

The tracking, though, can also be used for wary beach-goers who might not want to meet Katharine personally.