Sharks collect storm data

by Mary Caperton Morton
Monday, February 2, 2015

The new face of hurricane research: Sharks tagged with sensors help researchers trace changing ocean temperatures. Credit: ┬ę

Sharks are among the planet’s most prolific travelers, with some species swimming up to 50 kilometers a day in search of food and mates. Now, a program at the University of Miami plans to harness these top predators' wandering ways to help study hurricanes.

The Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami already tags an average of 300 sharks each year to study their migration patterns and aid in conservation efforts. And advancements in tag technology now enable researchers to glean more detailed information from sharks about ocean temperatures and how they relate to hurricanes.

“The great thing about these sharks is that they don’t really know boundaries here in the ocean. They go out and do their thing and collect data while they’re swimming around,” Neil Hammerschlag, a marine ecologist at the University of Miami and one of the researchers involved, told CBS News.

Years of data collection have shown that sharks tend to gravitate to stormy places in the oceans, where the atmospheric turmoil triggers rapid temperature changes in the water, possibly because those areas tend to be good hunting grounds. They also swim at different depths, providing vertical temperature profiles of the water column. “Not only are [sharks] swimming in those areas, they are also providing data at [higher resolution]” than is currently available with satellites, said project member Nick Shay, also at the University of Miami.

The project is still in its beginning stages, but Hammerschlag and Shay say they hope to place a dozen temperature-sensing tags on sharks off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida over the next few months.

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