Studying sharks’ movements and how they behave in their natural environment is an integral part of keeping them safe from overfishing. To aid these efforts, scientists have developed a special solar-powered tag that can be used to monitor a shark’s trajectory for up to two years. Compared with older tags that ran on batteries and occasionally died before being able to transmit their valuable information, the new solar-powered variety may give sharks a fighting chance.
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The new tags are like “a smartphone for marine animals,” said Marco Flagg, CEO of Desert Star Systems, the company that offers the solar devices. The Guy Harvey Research Institute based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is already looking at using the solar tags to track certain species of shark, including tigers, makos, hammerheads, oceanic white tip and sand sharks.
An estimated 40 research agencies already use the solar tags, which went on the market two years ago, but a much larger uptake is needed to test how effective they really are. While the tags are perfect for turtles and other marine mammals that spend time in the sun, sharks spend less time near the surface, which called for some creativity. As a result, current solar-powered tags are programmed to collect data for about six months on conventional batteries before they detach and float to the surface, where they can gather energy and transmit all of the information stored within.
Sharks can migrate over huge distances, which means that to understand their movement is to understand how to protect them. As Antonio Fins, executive director of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation puts it, “They are not American sharks or Bahamian sharks or Mexican sharks. They don’t know borders or nationalities.”