THE ENVIRONMENT

Florida keeps an eye on Katharine the great white shark

 

bdupuy@MiamiHerald.com

An unlikely tourist continues to swim off Florida’s coast this week, capturing the attention of residents and researchers.

Katharine, a 14-foot great white shark, was spotted off Key Largo on Monday. Over the past week, she’s swam past West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Where she goes next is anyone’s guess.

Trackers are following the 2,300 pound shark on the marine research website OCEARCH.

The website updates every 30 minutes. Click on her name and watch her go.

Unlike some of the other sharks on the website, Katharine’s location has so far been continuously tracked. Researchers can see Katharine's location each time her dorsal fin, where the tracking tag is placed, comes out of the water, allowing it to be recognized by a satellite.

“Katharine likes to come up and ping for long periods of time,” said OCEARCH founder Chris Fischer.

Some sharks ping only a couple times a year.

The great white, who was named after Katharine Lee Bates, the American songwriter who penned America the Beautiful, was first tagged off Cape Cod in August.

She has been wandering the coast since, sometimes moving close to shore.

“She’s doing what she wants to do,” said George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. “Its time to eat — that’s why she’s still here. As the water temperature increases, she will head back North. ”

Katharine’s trek may provide new information for researchers. Katharine could reveal the path that an Atlantic female great white takes to get to the Gulf of Mexico, Fischer said.

“The public is in the research project learning at the same time as the scientists,” Fischer said.

While another great white named Betsy took a similar path as Katharine, she did not ping enough times for OCEARCH to see how she traveled into the Gulf of Mexico, where she was last seen. Betsy had pinged while she was in the middle of the Atlantic and then pinged again when she was already in the gulf, Fischer said.

Where Katherine ends up, could send a message about her personal life.

“If Katharine returns to Cape Cod this August then it's likely she’s not pregnant,” he said “If she doesn't go back then she’s likely to be pregnant.”

Tracking a pregnant shark could lead researchers to great white shark nurseries.

Katharine is quite the social shark. On a Twitter account run by OCEARCH, Katharine The Shark has nearly 4,000 followers.

But Burgess, the director, said it's important to remember that for those following Katharine online, her location might not always be exact.

“There is a cone of uncertainty around where that shark is on every given time,” he said. “We need to remember there are restrictions on what that technology tells us.”

Read more Florida Keys stories from the Miami Herald

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