Monterey Bay Aquarium’s White Shark

May 16, 2005
For information contact:      
Broadcast media: Mimi Hahn (831) 648-4918; mhahn@mbayaq.org
Print media: Ken Peterson (831) 648-4922; kpeterson@mbayaq.org


An electronic tag recovered from a young white shark released in March by the Monterey Bay Aquarium mapped travels that took her more than 100 miles offshore and to depths greater than 800 feet below the surface, researchers with the aquarium and Stanford University reported today.

Now scientists are trying to assemble the data into a larger picture that can help explain where young white sharks are going and what they’re doing in the wild.

“It’s clear she survived and thrived after release,” said Dr. Randy Kochevar, a marine biologist with the aquarium and a principal investigator with the Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP) project—a research collaboration that maps the migrations of many open-ocean species in the northern Pacific. “There’s no question that she was hunting and feeding on her own.”

“It’s extraordinary to see in detail what this one animal did for a month,” he added.

And, said Kevin Weng, a researcher with Hopkins Maine Station of Stanford University—one of the aquarium’s scientific partners in the white shark field project—the data on her temperature preferences and diving profile “are consistent with those returned from tags we’ve placed on other young sharks as part of the project.”

The aquarium has spent or committed $840,000 to the multi-year white shark project and is developing an expanded research plan with its Stanford partners.

The electronic tag, recovered on May 5 west of Point Arguello near Santa Barbara, logged the white shark’s movements along the coast, the water temperatures she favored and the depths she reached for 30 days after her release near Point Pinos at the southern tip of Monterey Bay.

The young shark spent a record 198 days at the aquarium prior to her release on March 31.

At the aquarium, she grew from a length of 5 feet and a weight of 62 pounds to a length at release of 6-feet-4 ½ inches and a weight of 162 pounds.

On April 30, the tag popped free on schedule and began transmitting data via satellite to scientists at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center (TRCC), a research collaboration between Stanford and the aquarium. The tag was subsequently radio-tracked and netted out of the water by Weng and aquarium senior collector Joe Welsh, with the assistance of a team from the University of California, Santa Barbara, led by biological collector Shane Anderson.

TRCC researchers analyzed and mapped data from the electronic tag that were recorded every 10 seconds during the 30 days it was on the shark. They found that the white shark swam more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) off California’s central coast and was at times diving nearly 820 feet (nearly 250 meters) deep. Though she spent most of her time in surface waters at temperatures around 58 degrees Fahrenheit (14 to 15 degrees Celsius), during her deeper dives she swam in waters less than 48 degrees Fahrenheit (less than 9 degrees Celsius).

The aquarium will begin a fourth field season of white shark research this summer, and will attempt to bring another young shark back to Monterey for exhibit. In addition to the husbandry effort, key areas of study with its research partners at Stanford and California State University-Long Beach will involve continued tagging of juvenile and adult white sharks to learn where and when they move in California waters, and DNA sampling to learn more about the population of white sharks in the region.

The TRCC team has analyzed data returned from six tags placed on young white sharks since the field project began in 2002—not including the animal tagged at release from the aquarium.

Through its Center for the Future of the Oceans, the aquarium is working with other institutions and agencies to help develop strategies for white shark conservation policy in California waters, said Dr. Chris Harrold, director of conservation research for the aquarium.

Data from white sharks tagged in the field will be shared with wildlife officials who can use the information to inform fisheries management decisions involving young white sharks, he said.

The shark was caught inadvertently by a commercial halibut fisherman in waters off Huntington Beach in Orange County on August 20, 2004. She was held in a 4-million-gallon ocean pen off Malibu for three weeks before she was brought to Monterey on September 14.

During her record stay, nearly 1 million visitors saw the white shark and learned more about shark conservation issues in conversations with staff and volunteer guides; through a question-and- answer auditorium program devoted to the white shark project; in other exhibits that address shark conservation; and through exhibit graphics specifically addressing the threats facing white sharks.

“She was an incredible ambassador for white sharks and shark conservation,” Kochevar said.

Details about the white shark research project are online at www.montereybayaquarium.org.

The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans.