Article published in the Gansbaai Herald and Gansbaai Courant on the 1st of August 2001.
The richest shark in the world

Marine and Coastal Management have successfully managed to attach a sophisticated tag on a large female Great White Shark on Tuesday the 24th of July in Mossel Bay. This Pop-Up Tag is a special kind of satellite tag: the tag will remain attached to the shark for a year, and then around the 24th of July 2002, the tag will detach itself automatically from the shark, and « pop-up » to the surface, where the shark will link to the Argos satellite system and download all the information collected and stored over the year.

During that one year period, the tag will record water temperature and depth at which the shark is swimming. Additionally, the tag will also record the amount of light surrounding the shark, and from that determine sunrise and sunset times. Knowing these two times, it will be possible to calculate the position of the shark on a map. This positioning system is not as precise as the position obtained with a GPS, but this system is more reliable as the shark does not have to break the surface, and much more information about the whereabouts of the shark is stored.

This is a first in South Africa, and most probably not the last! Depending on the results of this first attempt, Marine and Coastal Management (M&CM) will certainly deploy several more tags such as these Pop-Up Satellite tags next year.

This project is lead by Ryan Johnson (University of Pretoria), Herman Oosthuizen and Mike Meyer (MCM). This tag was sponsored by Marine and Coastal Management, nonetheless, being a collaborative, extensive and integrated project, it could not have been realized without the funding of WWF (World Wildlife Fund - www.WWF.org), IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - www.IFAW.org) and PADI Aware Foundation (www.padi.com/aware/). This technology is very expensive, and without the support and funding from international agencies, these kind of extensive studies could simply not take place.

The research team arrived on Monday the 23rd of July in Mossel Bay, and they boarded the sailing vessel « Infante » belonging to Roy and Jackie Portway (Shark Africa), the white shark diving permit holders in Mossel Bay. Ryan Johnson, Michael Scholl, Mike Patterson and Stephan Swanson constituted the field team who attached the tag to the shark using a modified spear gun. By Tuesday afternoon, many sharks had been observed, but the targetted shark had to be over four meters in length. Finally at three in the afternoon, a female shark close to 450cm in length appeared, and shortly afterwards the tag was inserted next to the dorsal fin of the shark. Now we have to wait...

This satellite tag is part of a broader study investigating the movement patterns of Great White Shark along the South African coastline, as well as the impact of the white shark diving industry on these sharks. In June, nineteen ultrasonic transmitters were attached to Great White Sharks, and a series of nine automatic receivers were deployed in the Mossel Bay area to study the movements and residency patterns of these sharks in a preliminary study. Next year, these receivers will be placed in strategic regions along the entire coast to further investigate their movements, and many other sharks will be equipped with these transmitters.

In the past few years, Marine and Coastal Management, the Chondrichthyan Working Group and other associated independent researchers have started taking a closer look into the world of the Great White Shark. By working together and by establishing closer links between the different researchers working on White Sharks in South Africa and worldwide, results can be achieved much faster and much more efficiently. This is the true beginning of a new understanding!

You can soon read more about research on Great White Sharks in South Africa on a dedicated web site: www.SharkResearch.org