With new technology, scientists track every move of sharks - FOX 13 News

With new technology, scientists track every move of sharks

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Sharks: We fear them, but they fascinate us.

Still, we have much to learn about the ocean's most fearsome predator.

Every summer, Mote Marine Laboratory's shark scientists spring into action, tagging bull sharks in Boca Grande pass to track their movements, and ultimately learn more about the ocean's top predator.

Director of Shark Research for Mote Marine, Dr. Bob Hueter, said the information is invaluable.

"We've learned things about where sharks go to give birth to their young by species," Hueter said. "We've seen the connectedness between the southwest Florida coast and other countries like Mexico, Cuba and The Bahamas."

We had the opportunity to go on a tagging trip to Boca Grande with Dr. Hueter and a team from Mote Marine Lab. He works with local fishermen and guides who are experts at catching bull sharks. 

The first one of the day was caught by an 11-year-old girl from Texas, who used every ounce of her strength to reel it in.

Charter Captain Bo Johnson guides the shark alongside the barge where the scientists are waiting.  The shark is tired, but still a handful. Johnson offers a bit of advice.

"The easier you are with him, the easier he's going to be," he said.

The shark is a 6-and-a-half-foot immature male.  Dr. Hueter and the team go to work, trying to hold the big fish steady while he uses a wooden mallet to affix an ID tag to the dorsal fin. 

It's a tag that may eventually reveal where this shark goes.

"If and when that shark is ever caught again, the fisherman will see instructions on the tag, read the number off and send that information back to us at Mote," Dr. Hueter said.

That young male was the fourth bull shark tagged in the pass this summer.  Three much larger females are somewhere out there sporting much more sophisticated satellite tags.

"Very expensive, but when they work, tremendous quality data," Hueter continued. "They look at the daily lives of the animal, not just where it is this year, but everything it's been doing in between."

All three female bull sharks are wearing what's called a "SPOT" tag, or Smart Position or Temperature Transmitting tags.

They "ping" a satellite when their dorsal fin breaks the surface, and their travels are documented on the OCEARCH website's Shark Tracker.

They're little telephones that every time the shark comes to the surface they're calling home and saying, 'I'm here! I'm here!'" Hueter said.

One of the bull sharks tagged, Lori Anne, has traveled miles and miles since June 13.  The OCEARCH shark tracker shows her heading north to Pinellas, spending time offshore, then heading south again before shooting around the tip of Florida to the waters off Palm Beach.

She was still in that area when she last "pinged" on July 30. Those are pings that may provide answers to some of the questions still eluding scientists.

"Are they going offshore when the tarpon go offshore? And can they lead us to where the tarpon are spawning?" Hueter pondered.

You can track Lori Anne and the rest of the OCEARCH sharks on your smartphone. Even better, the app is free.

Check out OCEARCH's Global Shark Tracker in the app store, and for more information on tracking local bull sharks and great white sharks, including "Lydia," the first great white tagged off Florida, here's the website: http://ocearch.org/

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