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[INTERACTIVE] Hungry Hammerhead: NOAA Tagged Shark Swims Far For Food

Sep 13, 2015 07:38 PM EDT
Hammerhead Shark
A hammerhead shark tagged off the coast of Southern California traveled farther than expected for food over the past two months.
(Photo : Flickr: Sean )

A hammerhead shark that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tagged two months ago has traveled farther than they expected, all for a bite to eat. This was the first southern California hammerhead shark tagged with a satellite-tracking device. The shark started near San Clemente Island, and has since traveled to Mexico and back, totaling over 1,000 miles, according to NOAA. This could become a habit for sharks who can't find enough food in warming conditions.

"The surprising thing we've learned from this is just how much they move around within a season," Russ Vetter, Senior Scientist at NOAA Fisheries' Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif., said in a news release. "This one went way down to central Baja and then shot back up here again just to find food, and that is a lot of territory for an animal to cover."

For this project, the NOAA partnered with the Tagging of Pelagic Predators program.

The shark that the researchers tagged is known as a smooth hammerhead. It is a female, roughly seven feet long, and was tagged on June 30, using a satellite position only tag (SPOT). This tag was attached to the shark's dorsal fin, and it relays high-resolution location data as the animal travels.

A smooth hammerhead shark was also tagged in the same area in 2008, using a tag that stores data for a few months and then detaches from the animal instead, according to the release.

Hammerheads have become more visible along the coast of Southern California, as warmer water forces them northward. Scientists have been interested in this migration period and how it relates to El Niño patterns. The fact that the sharks travel far to acquire food suggests to the scientists that the animals' resources aren't abundant enough, and provides the scientists with insight on how they animals will react to climate change. 

"It's certainly possible they may spend more time farther north," Vetter said in the release. "We'll be very curious to watch how far north this shark goes, which could give us an idea what to expect in the future."   

You can see current tags online

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