The mysterious breeding habits of sharks may become a little clearer this spring as a female great white makes her way toward Europe, where scientists are hoping she will give birth.
Monitoring Lydia, a great white shark, has been exciting from the start, according to expedition leader Chris Fischer, who helped place trackers on the shark last year. He and his team from OCEARCH, a nonprofit organization that researches great whites and other predators, found her off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., where they never knew sharks swam.
“People thought we were crazy going down to Florida to try and find sharks,” said Fischer in a telephone interview Tuesday.
But Fischer and his team had a lead. Mary Lee, named after Fischer’s mother, is a great white the team tagged near Cape Cod in fall 2012. After she left Massachusetts waters, scientists tracked her to Florida, where they found Lydia.
Lydia, who weighs nearly 2,500 pounds, was captured last March and brought onto the scientists’ boat with a specialty shark lift. The team quickly performed 12 tests on her, as they do on all captured sharks. They took her blood, scraped bacteria off her teeth, ran genetics tests, inserted four trackers, and placed her back in the water — all within 15 minutes.
One tracker, bolted to her dorsal fin, sends data to satellites whenever it hits the air. The results are posted on the OCEARCH website, allowing people to follow Lydia’s travels online, said Fischer.
“People love it,” said Fischer. “It’s nice to see them excited about sharks and not afraid.”
In the year that Fischer has followed Lydia, she has traveled nearly 19,000 miles, sometimes swimming 100 miles per day, he said.
Researchers are tracking sharks because their population is dwindling. Great whites are a threatened species and are likely to become endangered, according to Fischer.
Fischer would like to know where the animals breed, so he can try to preserve those areas and help the population. If Lydia gives birth near Europe, it will open up a whole new area that may need to be watched, he said.
“This is the first documented trip across the mid-Atlantic,” said Fischer. “We know she’s headed for Europe, but why? That’s the $100,000 question.”