How Far Do Great White Sharks Migrate?

posted: 06/24/15
by: Danny Clemens
Great White Shark

"Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!"

A great white shark named Nicole took Dory's advice to heart in 2004, when she traversed the Indian Ocean twice, swimming from the western cost of South Africa to Western Australia -- and back. Named after Nicole Kidman, the shark's 12,400 mile (20,000 kilometer) journey helped researchers better understand shark migration behaviors, which have proved important to shark conservation efforts around the globe.

Nicole was first tagged in November 2003, near the Western Cape of South Africa, where researchers affixed a pop-up archival satellite transmitting tag to her dorsal fin. The tag is designed to detach itself from the shark at a designated time, float to the surface of the water, and transmit its location. The tag also records important information during the shark's journey, like its swimming depth, the ambient water temperature and the intensity of light underwater.

The tag released itself from Nicole in February 2004, and floated to the surface of the Exmouth Gulf in Western Australia -- 6,700 miles (10,800 kilometers) away. The sheer distance wasn't the only remarkable aspect of Nicole's journey: researchers used the additional data gathered from the tag to plot her course, and calculated that she traveled at a minimum speed of nearly 3 miles per hour (5 kilometers per hour), making hers the fastest sustained long-distance speed recorded for a shark migration.

Nicole, however, wasn't ready to settle down. She was later spotted and positively identified again in August 2004, back where she originally started, in the Western Cape of South Africa.

"This is one of the most significant discoveries about white shark ecology and suggests we might have to rewrite the life history of this powerful fish," remarked researcher Dr. Ramon Bonfil, lead author of a 2005 study about Nicole, published in the journal Science.

Nicole's journey helped researchers re-evaluate shark conservation efforts: although localized conservation efforts are necessary and useful, the same animals protected by localized efforts frequently travel tens of thousands of miles, leaving them vulnerable in international waters -- it's a problem that we are still grappling with today.

"More studies and funding are needed to unveil the mysteries of these great predators and how they can be protected in both national and international waters," Bonfil added.

Learn more about great white sharks:

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