Great white shark "Genie" is tagged by a joint research team during an expedition led by OCEARCH and including researchers from Mote Marine Laboratory and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries aboard the M/V OCEARCH on Sept. 13 in waters off Massachusetts. From left: Brandon Eyre of Fischer Productions, Dr. Nick Whitney, staff scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory, and Chris Fischer, expedition leader of OCEARCH./Photo©OCEARCH.
Great white shark "Genie" is released during an expedition led by OCEARCH and including scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries aboard the M/V OCEARCH on Sept. 13 in waters off Massachusetts. From left: Brandon Eyre of Fischer Productions, Dr. Nick Whitney, staff scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory, and Chris Fischer, expedition leader of OCEARCH./Photo©OCEARCH.
A great white shark was tagged for the first time with a fine-scale motion sensor this week, reports the scientist from Mote Marine Laboratory who placed the tag during a joint research expedition off Massachusetts. The shark was nicknamed "Genie" after Mote's founding director, famous "Shark Lady" Dr. Eugenie Clark.
The female great white, which weighed over 2,500 pounds and measured nearly 15 feet long, was tagged and released on Sept. 13 during an expedition that started the week of Sept. 3 and will conclude this week off Chatham, Cape Cod, Mass. The project is led by the nonprofit organization OCEARCH and includes researchers from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Mote and other collaborators.
OCEARCH leaders are using their unique ship, the M/V Ocearch, to lift great whites out of the water so researchers can collect biological samples, apply tracking tags that would be impossible to attach in the water, and then return the sharks to the wild. The M/V Ocearch is a former Bering-Sea crabber with a custom lift that can hoist thousands of pounds. The OCEARCH crew and their ship are featured in the show "Shark Wranglers" on HISTORY (formerly The History Channel) owned by A&E Television Networks. (This particular tagging was not filmed for the show.)
"Genie" is the first great white shark to be caught and released by OCEARCH in the North Atlantic - and she has made scientific history. Genie is the only Atlantic great white to be tagged with a satellite transmitter that can send scientists real-time updates on her geographic location. She is also the first great white tagged with an accelerometer - a motion sensor designed to record her every tail beat and tilt of her body using the same motion-sensing technology found in smart phones and the Nintendo Wii.
Dr. Robert Hueter, Director of the National Center for Shark Research at Mote, is coordinating Mote's involvement in the project and was on the M/V Ocearch during the first week of the expedition, when bad weather allowed for only one day of fieldwork. The accelerometer was deployed by Mote Staff Scientist Dr. Nick Whitney.
"It was unbelievable putting it on," said Whitney, who has deployed the first accelerometers on several coastal sharks and other species - but never on anything so massive. "It was nighttime and I was working on the dark side of the shark - she was so enormous she blocked out the lights from the boat."
While Genie the shark was on the lift, crew members collected blood and other biological samples that will support multiple research projects by Mote and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. The shark was fitted with an acoustic transmitter that will provide data on her position by sending a signal to receivers placed in coastal waters of the eastern U.S., and she was fitted with the satellite tag for real-time tracking by Dr. Gregory Skomal, Senior Scientist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.
Skomal, the Scientific Leader of the current expedition, nicknamed the shark "Genie" to honor Dr. Eugenie Clark, who founded Mote Marine Laboratory in 1955.
"Mote's contribution to this expedition has been significant, and it's no secret among the scientific community that Genie is a pioneer in shark research," Skomal said. "She has inspired many scientists, male and female. Many of us probably wouldn't be studying these animals if not for Genie Clark."
The news quickly reached Clark, who turned 90 this year and continues to do research from her office at Mote's main campus in Sarasota, Fla. "I'm honored, and I'm glad the shark is alive and swimming," Clark said. "I've seen and dived with many great whites off Australia, and it's good to hear that one has been tagged off Massachusetts, which is not far from where I was born and raised in New York. I hope this shark will be around a long time, like me."
Genie the shark swam off looking strong and bearing scientific equipment that should help reveal the life cycles of great whites in new detail. Despite the popular fascination with great whites, many basics about their life history remain unknown; the new tags deployed on Genie will help uncover great-white movement patterns and potentially reveal vital habitats where they mate and give birth.
"[This shark] may be the most important fish we've ever caught in our lives," said Chris Fischer, Expedition Leader and Founding Chairman of OCEARCH and owner of the M/V Ocearch.
Exciting data have already come in from Mote's accelerometer, which measured Genie's every tail beat and body tilt for 10 hours before detaching and floating to the surface, as it was programmed to do. Whitney and collaborators retrieved the tag on the afternoon of Sept. 14.
"We were thrilled," Whitney said. "The data showed us that she swam off the lift really well. She surprised us by swimming very level. Other sharks we've tagged tend to go up and down constantly in the water column, but she was as stable as a 747 jet. She started with frequent tail beats of lower power, and then she resumed a stronger, more typical swimming pattern with more force behind each tail beat. During the last few minutes before the tag came off, she was very active - she might have been swimming in strong currents or chasing prey."
Genie's real-time satellite tag has been signaling her geographic location since Sept. 14, revealing that she south, continuing on past Nantucket.
The public can follow her progress at http://sharks-ocearch.verite.com
Attaching multiple tags and gathering several biological samples from the same shark allows scientists to better understand the movement, behavior and physiology of great white sharks, which are considered "Vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and are protected by many national governments, including the U.S.
Read more about the current expedition at the OCEARCH Web site: http://ocearch.org/expeditionblog/