Thursday, April 8, 2010

Give That Shark a Cigar for His Diving Record

Here's one for the record books: A great white shark named Shack, tagged with a tiny transmitter by New Zealand scientists who are studying the migratory patterns of great whites, took a dive a record 1,200 meters (or nearly 4,000 feet!) under the ocean's surface.

Now that is deep.

Shack is part of a larger group of 25 great whites who had these transmitter tags attached to them. Scientists are learning a lot about sharks they didn't already know. As Malcolm Francis, principle scientist for the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (one of the groups heading the study) noted:
Before we started this work, five years ago, it was thought that great white sharks were cold water animals. But it seems the great white sharks are taking tropical winter holidays, departing New Zealand between April and September, for somewhere warmer. The maximum distance migrated was 3300 km. Our sharks don't cross the equator; so far our tagged animals have only gone as far north as 17 degrees south, north of New Caledonia. (Source)

Almost as cool as the fact that Shack plunged close to the 4,000 feet under the water was the description of the process by which the sharks are "tagged" by scientists. As Department of Conservation Scientist Clinton Duffy described it:
We have to attract them to the boat, with a berley of tuna oil and minced tuna. Then we use a long pole that has a needle tip on it. The tag has a monofilament nylon leader with a barbed plastic anchor on it. The anchor slides over the needle tip, which is injected under the skin of the shark with the pole. When the shark is close enough and at (hopefully) the right angle, we use the pole to stab the anchor into the muscle below the dorsal fin as it swims by. Lots of patience is needed because usually the shark is moving around, its back is exposed only for a short amount of time and the dorsal fin is out of reach. (Source)
You've got to wonder: How much does that job pay an hour? And what are the benefits like?

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