PROVIDENCE — For the first time, a great white shark in Rhode Island waters has been tagged with an acoustic device that will allow people to closely track its movements, researchers said.
The 7-foot-long female juvenile white shark was tagged in the Point Judith Harbor of Refuge Saturday by a fishing crew, according to Jon Dodd, the executive director of the South Kingstown-based nonprofit Atlantic Shark Institute.
“This size, in Rhode Island, in a harbor, is pretty cool,” Dodd said.
The tag is an acoustic tag, which was inserted near the shark’s dorsal fin after she was caught in a fishing boat’s net. After tagging the shark with the roughly $400 Vemco-brand device Dodd’s organization had provided, Ian Campbell and his crew aboard the F/V Buckeye out of Galilee took pictures and measurements and then released her back into the water. Her tag will emit a unique ping, akin to a social security number, that buoys in waters along the coast will be able to pick up.
Researchers have tagged other types of sharks in Rhode Island waters with acoustic tags, like makos, and blue sharks and thresher sharks, Dodd said. And it’s possible that white sharks in Rhode Island waters have been tagged with so-called M tags, which is sort of like a dog tag: You have to actually see it to find out where it’s from, Dodd said. That often happens if they wash ashore. Those don’t allow for real-time tracking like an acoustic tag does.
The acoustic tag inserted into the white shark in Rhode Island waters was significant because it will allow researchers to follow what they do and where they go more closely. The shark’s young age was especially important. Most of the sharks that have been tagged in the waters of the northwest Atlantic were older than this juvenile, either adults or sub-adults, Dodd said. The tag will allow researchers to track the shark for up to 10 years.
“If that shark is never seen, caught or touched again, it can provide significant data to researchers,” Dodd said.
Many people have a complicated relationship with sharks, Dodd noted — fear, mixed with compassion.
“I don’t want anybody to get concerned that there suddenly are sharks in Rhode Island,” Dodd said. “All we’re doing is identifying them and cataloging them. They’re here, they’ve been here, they’re going to be here. We’re just getting better at determining where they are and where they’ve been.”