Group tracks great white sharks online

By Brian Crandall

Chris Fischer and his team from OCEARCH are looking for great white sharks.

"We're capturing 3,000 to 4,000 pound sharks, giving scientists access and tracking them," he said.

His crew recently hauled in two great white sharks during an expedition in September.

One shark they named Genie. The other was named Mary Lee, after Fischer's mom.

Before releasing the sharks, they take samples and attach a GPS tracking device.

But what happened during the crew's expedition now lives online. The sharks' movements are tracked for anyone to see.

OCEARCH has a global shark tracker on its website, following dozens of sharks the crew has tagged in various parts of the world, like off South Africa.

"Every kid in every science class (can play with this)," Fischer said. "I wanted to make it so this 400 million year old secret could be solved by the public and the Ph.D.s at the same time."

Greg Skomal is one of the Ph.D.s.

Skomal is the top shark expert for the state of Massachusetts and is also recognized as one of the top experts anywhere.

"How cool is it to see what a white shark is doing every day? We're spying on white sharks," Skomal said.

Skomal was with the OCEARCH crew on the tagging mission off Cape Cod, as they all try to learn more about the journey of the mysterious great white.

"You'll probably be quite a bit surprised that they're actually going to be off shore quite a bit and maybe they'll go to areas and parts of the Cape and Rhode Island that we never thought they went to," Skomal said.

So what are the two Cape sharks up to?

Genie is still lurking off Nantucket.

"I actually never thought they spent much time there. And I've got Mary Lee bee-lining south. I thought she'd spend more time here. There are a lot of seals to be eaten here," Skomal said.

While scientists look to learn, Fischer said there's a practical application for the public.

"Do I want to go to the beach? There's a mature female pinging off the beach right now. Maybe I'll go to a different beach," Fischer said.

A tracker app for smart phones is in the works too.

But they said the tracker isn't meant to freak people out like in the movie "Jaws."

In fact, it's just the opposite.

"The facts replace fear," Fischer said.

"I think people are going to find out these sharks aren't just patrolling the beaches trying to eat people. That in and of itself is a very useful tool," Skomal said.

The high-tech tool takes everyone along for the ride.

The destination?

"Nobody knows, but everybody gets to watch together," Fischer said.