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Some sharks have become social media stars

Lucas Mearian | July 22, 2015
When news of a shark attack on professional surfer Mick Fanning reached Costa Rica and 9-year-old Ella Strickland Sunday, she grabbed her mother's smartphone to see if the great white was one of the sharks she knows.

Users of OCEARCH's mobile app often tweet about their favorite sharks' location and movements. The site's traffic has exploded over the past year or so.

The iPhone version of OCEARCH's mobile app has garnered 200,000 downloads and the Android version has 50,000 active users.

Some of the sharks OCEARCH tracks have more followers than human celebrities. Lydia, for example, has nearly 20,000 Twitter followers. Mary Lee, one of the first great white sharks OCEARCH tagged off Cape Cod, Mass. in 2012, has more than 80,000 Twitter followers. Every time a shark passes by an OCEARCH buoy and pings it with its location, social media lights up with activity around it.

Last year, a social media feeding frenzy over a 14-foot, 2,300-pound shark named Katharine crashed OCEARCH's website. The movements of Katharine between Cape Cod and the Gulf of Mexico led researchers to believe she may be pregnant.

Katharine's pregnancy instantly made her an online star as up to 100,000 scientists and amateur shark enthusiasts alike followed her daily movements. At the time, OCEARCH's Facebook page also had received as many as five million visits a week.

OCEARCH's Web traffic is 10 times what it was last year, and it's expected to grow 20 times more by the end of this year, according to Peter Bordes, CEO of oneQube, which sells social media audience-development software and has partnered with OCEARCH to help promote its cause. OneQube's software takes data on users -- such as their names, location and what they're posting on social media -- in order to help better target marketing and advertising.

For example, when OCEARCH researchers began tagging sharks off Australia earlier this year, OneQube's software allowed the project to target oceanographers and shark enthusiasts in Australia, who presumably would be more interested in the project because of their proximity to the action.

On Facebook last year, OCEARCH had 13 million visits. This year, Bordes predicts, it will reach 200 million impressions. But, it's not size of an audience but the quality that really matters, he said.

"Would you rather have 400,000 and one percent engagement or 50,000 people and 80 percent engagement?" oneQube's Bordes asked, referring to users who comment and return to the website or use the mobile app regularly. "This is a living, breathing database versus a static database."

The social media buzz around OCEARCH's shark tracking project has translated into opportunities for the non-profit to expand its relationship with product and media companies that want to be associated with the study of sharks.

"That's always been the goal," Bordes said. "How do we create this rising tide by marrying a great cause and the fascination with sharks to the technology that disseminates information in real time while building global audiences to effect change at scale?"

 

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