The great white shark that fascinated crowds during its record 198- day stay at the Monterey Bay Aquarium appears to be alive and swimming more than 200 miles south of where it was released a month ago, aquarium officials announced Monday.
By Alan Gathright
The … female shark was … miles west of Point Conception off the Santa Barbara coast Saturday, where an electronic tag attached to it popped to the surface of the Pacific Ocean, as programmed, 30 days after the predator’s March 31 release near Monterey Bay.
Aquarium officials would not speculate whether the shark might be swimming toward the Orange County coast, where halibut fishermen caught it by accident in August off Huntington Beach. But researchers said the distance the shark traveled since its release indicates that it is doing well.
“It’s very good news that the tag came free on schedule,” said Randy Hamilton, the aquarium’s vice president of animal husbandry. “We’ll have to wait a while longer to learn exactly where she’s been, but from all indications she’s doing fine back in the wild.”
Information about the shark’s movements was relayed to researchers via satellite when the tag surfaced, aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson said Monday. The device was also designed to pop loose if a fish showed no movement for three days, indicating it had died.
Details of the shark’s journey, including what water temperature and depths she favored, will emerge in the coming weeks as the tag continues to relay information to researchers at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station — the aquarium’s lead partner on a project that’s tagged six other young white sharks to unlock the mysteries of the famed predator.
The aquarium plans to try to recover the floating tag, which would allow scientists to assemble the most complete portrait of the shark’s travel.
In 50 years of attempts, she was the first white shark in the world to survive more than 16 days in captivity. Aquarium officials released the shark — after more than 1 million visitors came to see it during six months — after it killed two soupfin sharks and began hunting other fish in the million- gallon Outer Bay exhibit.
The shark was also growing at more than twice the anticipated rate and officials were concerned that further delay would make it riskier to safely release the big predator.
Some critics had questioned whether the white shark had been a good candidate for captivity, but aquarium officials said they may soon capture another young great white for display as part of a research project. They believe that because the young shark, which was fed dead salmon and tuna, didn’t exhibit predatory behavior until after six months in the tank, the aquarium could display other juvenile sharks before releasing them.
“She was a great ambassador for white sharks and shark conservation,” said Randy Kochevar, a marine biologist at the aquarium, which used the great white exhibit to win public support for preservation of sharks that are threatened worldwide by destructive fishing.
The nonprofit aquarium has used money from increased ticket sales to extend funding of a $2.1 million, 4-year international research project to track the migratory movements of young great whites from shark nurseries off Southern California as they travel up the coast and down to Mexico.