Great White Sharks Tracked Off Georgia Coast
Biologists say there’s no confirmation there are more migrating great whites off the Georgia coast than in the past, but technology continues to improve and provides better data.
Recent reports of a nearly 1,200-lb. great white shark being tracked via satellite off the coast of Georgia have created a buzz. For many Georgia citizens, the report may have come as a surprise since the Georgia coast is not where the public would typically picture this type of shark. However, a Georgia Coastal Resources Division (CRD) marine biologist simply shrugs at the data.
“White sharks are much more common off the Georgia coast than people once believed,” said Eddie Leonard, a CRD marine biologist. “Now days, there are more advanced tracking methods for researchers and also better boating equipment for the average fishermen to get out farther to actually see these fish and report their sightings. Therefore, fisheries biologists have significantly more data today than 30 or 40 years ago.”
The shark mentioned in the news story is one named Ironbound and is being tracked by OCEARCH, a global non-profit organization interested in researching giant ocean creatures to attain groundbreaking data. Ironbound, which is one of more than 400 ocean animals that has been tagged by OCEARCH since starting in 2007, is a 12-foot, 4-inch, 1,189-lb. male white shark that was tagged in 2019 in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Leonard explained, “There are three ways that fish can be tagged. One is the traditional way of securing an identification tag to the animal and relying on recapture for the data. Another is through satellite tags which transmit signals to satellite receivers only when the fish breaks the ocean’s surface. The third and most common way is through acoustic tags that require the tagged fish to swim by receivers that have been positioned at strategic locations in the ocean.”
The most expensive and largest are the satellite tags, so these are often reserved for big sharks, as with Ironbound.
It was reported that Ironbound “pinged” off the Georgia coast on May 10 (roughly 50 miles from Savannah), meaning that the shark broke the ocean’s surface there to transmit the location signal.
“The term ‘off the coast’ can mean anywhere from 1 mile to 100 miles, so it’s not like this shark is where people are swimming,” Leonard said. “White sharks are a highly migratory species (HMS) and follow the food supply. Their habits change depending on the seasonal prey, but the white shark may follow right whale migration up and down the Atlantic coast, chasing a particular water temperature. Typically, these great whites come down south during the fall and winter and head back north during the spring and summer. They can travel as far south as the tip of Florida. Also, many people do not know that one of a shark’s favorite meals is another shark, so really, a great white shark could show up anywhere off the United States coast since they have food nearly anywhere along their route.”
Currently, as the warmer months arrive, Ironbound is steadily traveling northward to cooler waters, and he is not the only great white moving up this route. The latest ping of interest to Georgian’s is a 13-foot, 3-inch male white shark named Breton. It pinged roughly 125 miles southeast of Jacksonville, Fla. on May 30.
The number of white sharks off the Georgia coast is difficult to accurately assess, but more information is gathered each year. Check out OCEARCH.org to see an interactive map with the routes of the white sharks being tracked. In regard to the news clip that got traction several weeks ago, Leonard simply says, “Great whites are not necessarily more common off the Georgia coast today than they were in the past; we just have more proof now.”
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