MONTEREY, California -- An electronic tag carried by a young white shark released in January by the Monterey Bay Aquarium popped free off the southern tip of Baja California on Sunday (April 15), documenting a journey of more than 1,100 miles in the 90 days since he was returned to the wild.
The first signals from the data tag arrived via satellite after the tag floated to the surface on schedule, in waters southwest of San José del Cabo in Baja California , Mexico .
Details of where the shark traveled, including the water temperatures and depths he favored, will emerge over the next few weeks as researchers at Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University – the aquarium’s lead partner in the white shark tagging project – analyze data being transmitted by the tag.
This marks the second time the aquarium has exhibited a young white shark, released it to the wild, and documented its travels following release. In 2005, a female white shark traveled south from Monterey Bay to waters north of Santa Barbara during her first 30 days back in the wild.
This time the tag was programmed to separate from the shark 90 days after release – a decision based on the 2005 success and a desire to learn more about where young white sharks travel, said Randy Hamilton, vice president of husbandry for the aquarium.
“This is exciting news, and good reminder of how much we have to learn about the life history of young white sharks,” Hamilton said. “It’s such a privilege to work with these animals – giving visitors a chance to see them on exhibit, and adding to what we know about their lives in the wild.”
The young shark spent 137 days at the aquarium, where he was seen by nearly 600,000 people before his release on January 16. He grew from an initial length of 5-foot-8 and 103 pounds when he arrived on August 31, 2006 to a size of 6-foot-5 and 171 pounds at release.
The boost in attendance generated by the white shark prompted trustees of the nonprofit aquarium to contribute an additional $200,000 last December– for a total of just over $1 million since 2002 – to field studies of juvenile and adult white sharks.
In the fall of 2006 alone, researchers with the Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) funded in part by the aquarium placed 41 electronic tags on adult white sharks off the Farallon Islands and Point Año Nuevo. TOPP researchers have now tagged 101 adult white sharks off the Central Coast.
Data from the tags are offering new insights into the far-ranging travels of white sharks in the eastern Pacific, according to Dr. Barbara Block of Stanford University , a marine biologist and principal investigator with TOPP. Tag data can be found at www.topp.org.
The aquarium also collaborates with research teams to tag young white sharks in Southern California waters. Thus far, researchers have tagged nine young sharks there, and collected DNA samples for analysis of the population structure of white sharks in California and Mexico .
The aquarium plans a sixth field season this summer, and will again attempt to bring a young shark back to Monterey for exhibit.
The male shark was caught by aquarium collectors offshore in Santa Monica Bay on August 17, 2006. He spent two weeks in a 4-million-gallon ocean pen off Malibu and was observed feeding in the pen before he was brought to Monterey .
During his stay, visitors learned about white shark conservation issues in conversations with staff and volunteer guides; through an auditorium program devoted to the white shark project; and in exhibit graphics that address the threats facing white sharks in the wild.
Like the female shark released in 2005, the white shark was “a powerful emissary for ocean conservation,” said aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. Surveys of aquarium visitors who saw the first white shark found many of them reporting that they came away with a deeper understanding of the need to protect white sharks and their ocean homes.
The aquarium is actively engaged in shark conservation efforts through field research, through its “Seafood Watch” program to encourage sustainable fishing and fish-farming, and through advocacy for state and federal policies that protect key species and ocean habitats.
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