They have inspired mythology, movies, and the Discovery Channel’s famous Shark Week. Carcharodon carchariai, commonly known as the great white shark can grow up to 20 feet long, weigh up to 5,000 pounds, and can live up to 30 years. They are an apex predator in Earth’s oceans, eating everything from small fish and birds to mammals such as seals or even whales.
Of course, humans are also eyed as food by great white sharks, and when one strikes a wayward swimmer or slap-happy diver, people become anxious about entering the waters. Just recently off the Massachusetts coast (close to where the 1975 thriller Jaws was filmed, which just celebrated its 35th anniversary), a great white was caught by a tuna-fishing boat, though experts say this is no cause for worry.
However, in an attempt to stay on top of the movements of great white sharks, researchers have tagged over 70 of them with special ‘acoustic seabed receivers’ that will send automated alerts to cell phones via text message if a shark decides to wander near a beach with such a receiver. The project was started by researchers at Western Australia’s Department of Fisheries, and they have linked the sharks to 20 different satellite-linked buoys, which communicate with the embedded sensors in the sharks. This will help lifeguards keep beaches safe, and also hope to offer clues to scientists on the habits of great white sharks, many of which are still largely a mystery to us.
With an estimated population of around 3,500 worldwide in all of its monstrous majesty, the great white still demands respect. Because they are so unpredictable, scientists have be selective with those they wish to continue to track, which they estimate now at another 100 tagged sharks in the next two years. However, it’s still an exciting development for scientists, who instead of having to spend long periods tracking down the elusive great whites on the open ocean, can take a page from the 30 Rock character Tracy Morgan, and live every week like it’s Shark Week.