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Shark-Tracking Program to Expand in Florida [VIDEO]

Jan 20, 2014 11:21 AM EST

A shark-tracking program along the Florida coast expects to expand by the end of this month, enabling researchers to plot the movements of the fish with greater detail than ever before.

As many as 10 sensors will be placed close to the Florida coastline, where great whites and other sharks are known to congregate. About 20 great white sharks which had been previously tagged with acoustic transmitters in Massachusetts waters by the state's Division of Marine Fisheries will be able to be monitored as they pass by the sensors in Florida.

Other white sharks have been fitted with satellite tags that can relay data quicker than the acoustic transmitters.

In all, several dozen sharks are capable of being monitored by the network of sensors. Florida's shark-tracking program is a collaborator of the nonprofit organization Ocearch, which researches great whites and other large predatory fish.

As a shark swims by a sensor, it sends off a "ping" that identifies its location and other data that can be used to track the shark. As multiple sensors pick up the movements of the same shark, a map of their movement emerges.

Ocearch tracks sharks as they travel the world's oceans. One shark, Mary Lee, a 16-foot great white, showed researchers that the apex predators are not as predictable as they seem.

It had long been thought that white sharks migrate south during winter and back north for the summers, but the tracking data has revealed something more complex.

"By looking at Mary Lee's track, we're able to determine that the movements are way more dynamic than that," Jim Gelsleichter, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Florida's Shark Biology Program, told First Coast News.

Mary Lee most recently pinged a sensor off the Carolina coast on Jan. 14, prior to that the shark had spent time close to shores in Georgia.

"What's really surprised us is the coastal portion of their life, which particularly seems significant in the Southeast," Chris Fischer, founder of Ocearch, told The Associated Press.

Mary Lee and other tagged sharks can be monitored in real time at Ocearch's Global Shark Tracker web page. 

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