Great White Breaks Distance, Speed Records for Sharks

October 6, 2005

A female great white shark has completed the first documented round-trip ocean crossing by a shark, swimming farther than any other known shark, according to a new study.

Nicole, as the shark is being called, traveled from Africa to Australia and back—a total of 12,400 miles (more than 20,000 kilometers)—in nine months. The feat also set a second record: fastest return migration of any known marine animal.

The shark's approximately 6,900-mile (11,100-kilometer), 99-day swim from South Africa to Australia was tracked with an electronic tag that had been attached on November 7, 2003. The device had been set to pop off on a specific date in late February 2004.

After floating to the surface, the tag told a satellite the details of its journey. The information was then automatically relayed to scientists' e-mail accounts.

On the day the tag was scheduled to transmit its data to the satellite, New York-based shark researcher Ramón Bonfil eagerly booted up his computer to get the scoop.

"When I opened the Web site and saw the map with the tag transmitting from the coast of Australia, I just couldn't believe it," said Bonfil, who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). "It was exactly what I wanted one of the sharks to do."

The news only got better: Six months later zoologist Michael Scholl called Bonfil from South Africa and said the shark had returned from Australia.

Scholl, the founder of the White Shark Trust, had identified the shark's unique fin markings in a series of photographs of Nicole—named after Australian actress and shark lover Nicole Kidman.

"We never imagined it would be back to South Africa so quickly or that we would ever find out it was back," Bonfil said.

The details of Nicole's big swim, and those of several other South African sharks will be published in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.

"It's just fantastic data," said Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. The findings, he added, advance shark biology by showing that the fish are more than just "ocean nomads that roam about" aimlessly.

Shark Biology

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