Since the release of the movie Jaws thirty-three years ago, the Great White Shark has been a source of fascination – and fear. But it’s still a species we know very little about.
A Department of Conservation programme’s been set up in New Zealand waters hoping to change that. Shark expert Clinton Duffy attached a tag to a great white shark six months ago to track Great White Sharks movements. When retrieved, the depth, light and temperature sensors on the tag will tell Duffy exactly where the shark’s been.
The tag recently broke free and is already sending a signal telling Duffy where its is floating. It will be found and picked up using GPS. “The principal objective of the research is to define the habitat of Great White Sharks, we want to look at long-distance movements, connections between populations in New Zealand and other countries, and we also want to learn about the basic behaviour, the day to day behaviour of the animals,” Duffy explains.
Of course, getting the tag onto the shark’s hardly easy, with Duffy having to wrestle a three-metre great white in the Manukau Harbour, just trying to tag it. But he says it’s essential we learn more about the species.
“This research is the first step on the way to getting a better understanding of both their movements and also their population abundance”.
It is thought great whites, now a protected species, are widespread around New Zealand. It’s at around this time of year you’re most likely to see great whites in and around our harbours because it’s pupping season.
That means pregnant females, often up to five metres long, come in to more sheltered waters to give birth. Then it’s believed they head north to feed. This has now been confirmed by the latest tag recovered – by a fisherman in Tonga.
That’s 3000 kilometres from where the shark was originally tagged, in the Chathams. It’s a journey Duffy thinks would have taken the shark just 25 days. “We suspect they’re going up to the calving grounds to feed on whales, probably animals that die on migration or possibly still-born animals”.
Now, after three and a half thousand dollars for every tag – and months of information – should help Duffy learn a little more about this mysterious neighbor.