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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.

Bordes sees the public's attitude about sharks changing dramatically. That was illustrated last week, he said, when a great white beached itself on Cape Cod. Instead of killing it, beachgoers scrambled to save it -- and succeeded with the help of wildlife officials.

"It's amazing to see how people on the Cape put the shark back into the water," Bordes said. "We're learning how to cohabitate and respect their environment."

The OCEARCH shark tracker can also inform users when a shark has been killed, often by illegal fishing operations. Fishermen, often unaware what they're doing is illegal, return the tags to OCEARCH.

The project uses four tags: An acoustic tag that lasts for 10 years; a SPOT tag, which is a real-time satellite tag mounted to top of the dorsal fin; an accelerometer tag package; and a PSAT archival satellite tag, which records depth, temperature and light levels (used for geolocation) and stores the data to memory.

On average, OCEARCH is collecting 100 data points every second -- 8.5 million data points per day. The sensors can even reveal if a shark changes its posture. The data shared with the public will also increase in the future as a Hadoop-style big data analytics cloud platform is added to the technology.

The data has also been useful for warning beachgoers that a tagged shark may be in the area. In January 2013, OCEARCH received a location ping from Mary Lee that the 16-foot, 3,500-pound shark was within 200 yards of Florida's Jacksonville Beach. Having penetrated the surf break, OCEARCH contacted local authorities to aler them and they cleared the water until she headed back out to sea.

Far from frightening the public, however, OCEARCH's project has created a worldwide community of citizen conservationists who are concerned with the sharks they track online. OCEARCH researchers believe its work has been critical to changing the public's attitude toward one of the ocean's apex predictors.

"We see people during the [Fanning] shark attack tweeting about how actually we're in their space. We should be more respectful about being in their environment," Bordes said. "Versus -- Jaws! Run!"


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