Tweeting Sharks and Cool Tech
Good morning Mary Lee!
I was so excited to get up this morning and see that Mary Lee, a white shark, tweeted her arrival in Tom’s River, New Jersey! Now that summer is almost here and the waters around New York City are warming up, I'm planning some dives in New York and New Jersey. It's nice to know who I can say hello to on my dives! (Just kidding. Mary Lee will be long gone by the time I hit the Jersey waters.)
Now, of course, Mary Lee isn't chugging up the East Coast with her new Apple Watch attached to her pectoral fin, live tweeting as she swims (although that would be epically cool. Imagine what she might say to us! What would you ask her?). But... scientists from Ocearch tagged Mary Lee in 2012. Every time Mary Lee's tracker comes to the surface for about 90 seconds, it "pings." The ping sends electronic data to a satellite.
Shark tags allow scientists to leave sharks in the wild and learn more about their behavior: where they travel, what times of year they visit different places, and over time to learn the importance of those places. There are different kinds of shark tags, but they all basically work the same way, capturing information about the shark’s location and the water it is swimming in. Scientists can learn a lot about how deep sharks go, how cold or warm the water is, and how far sharks travel.
For example scientists know that Mary Lee is 3,456 pounds, 16 feet long (they got this information while they were tagging her, not from her tag). And, since she was first tagged in 2012, she has traveled more than 19,599 miles. Wow! Here's a quick look at all of the places she's been since 2012:
That's a lot of traveling!
Why do we want to know about Mary Lee and other sharks? There are a lot of reasons we need to know about sharks. White sharks are important predators in our oceans. If they are healthy and doing well, that tells us something about how the ocean is doing. Also, sharks have been made into scary villains in movies, t.v. shows, and books. We have been taught to think that ALL sharks are bad.
Sharks are amazing, elegant, quick-moving, and smart. We want to know more about them and we want to learn whatever they have to teach us about the ocean. Shark tags help us to do that. They also help us to think more about what lives in the ocean waters. I've written about this before. I think too often, when we look at a pretty ocean view, we don't think about the whole world UNDER the surface. What's down there? And, what should we do to protect it? If we don't know what's there, then we can't even begin to think about protecting it.
Ocearch has been doing this work for a while and what's super cool about their work, led by founder Chris Fischer, is that they make all of their information public. You can be a shark scientist too! Ocearch allows you to see where the sharks are in (almost) real time. You can visit the Shark Tracker and see where any of the sharks Ocearch has tagged are right now. You can follow the sharks and make up your own hypotheses about their behaviors.
For example the shark tracker shows that Mary Lee spent most of the winter down south. That makes sense, right? The waters are a little warmer and the food a little more plentiful. Now that it's getting warmer, she's headed "home" (or at least where she was originally tagged). Right now, Mary Lee is traveling up the East Coast of the United States. Scientists think she’s heading back to the Cape Cod, Massachusetts area to visit the breeding grounds for white sharks. If scientists accurately identify the breeding grounds, then they can be protected, so diminishing shark populations can be protected. Imagine what else we can learn. Imagine how you can help with your questions and your ideas!