Pretty scary, actually, when it is 14 and a half feet long and weighs a ton.
A group of University of North Florida scientists and students got the educational opportunity of a lifetime to come face-to-face with one of nature’s most majestic aquatic creatures.
The UNF group teamed up with the crew from OCEARCH, a national, non-profit shark tracking organization, during a recent expedition departing from the Northeast Florida coast to tag and release Great White Sharks that have passed through the First Coast. They spent time aboard the 126-foot MV OCEARCH, which boasts a 55,000–pound capacity research platform designed to withstand the weight of the massive sharks.
The OCEARCH team managed during the expedition to tag and release a 2,000-pound Great White they named Lydia. Dr. Jim Gelsleichter, the director of shark research at UNF, said he and his students analyzed blood samples of the shark and used ultrasound technology to determine if she was pregnant. They also implanted Lydia with a tracking device, allowing researchers to generate data on migration patterns. Live tracking data is available online
Despite working with different sharks for more than 20 years, this was the first time Gelsleichter had ever been on an expedition to track this particular species. The same is true of his research assistant, UNF grad student Mike McCallister. When it comes to hands-on learning opportunities for students, it doesn’t get more intense than handling Great White Sharks, Gelsleichter said. And it’s such a unique opportunity that numerous biologists can’t claim to have ever been able to see a Great White up-close and personal.
“This isn’t something that happens every day,” McCallister said. “I’m glad UNF and OCEARCH offered me this opportunity because I won’t forget it.”