First Coast Connect
3:59 pm
Wed January 8, 2014

Jax Researchers Track Local Visits Of Great White Sharks

Local scientists are keeping tabs on some of the sea's fiercest predators and tracking how long they visit the First Coast.

"Mary Lee," a 16-foot White Shark located within the surf zone of Jacksonville Beach a year ago this month, reminded many of the life that exists off Florida’s coasts.

Last month, "Katherine," a 14-foot, 2,300 pound White Shark was tracked off the coast of Nassau County.

Public awareness has increased due to release tags and satellite tracking devices that trace the travel patterns of the sharks, popularly known as "Great White Sharks," from Cape Cod, Mass., to Jacksonville and back.

Dr. Jim Gelsleichter, professor and shark program director at the University of North Florida, spoke with Melissa Ross about his team’s research into the length of time White Sharks stay in the area and how close they come to shore.

UNF professor James Gelsleichter
UNF professor James Gelsleichter
Credit The University of North Florida

According to Gelsleichter, when they began working with collaborators in Massachusetts they were trying to figure out where the sharks tend to congregate.

The team built databases containing data on White Shark sightings to provide an idea of where the animals are abundant.

Gelsleichter and his team then put acoustic receivers out on dive platforms detect the tagged sharks in the area and found that the sharks came a lot closer than they thought.

“One thing to keep in mind is that there’s never been a White Shark attack, or at least White Shark related injury within Florida waters,” he said as a reassurance to local swimmers.

Gelsleichter added that the sharks are often described as “skittish.” In his experience tagging sharks, like Mary Lee in Cape Cod, it was difficult to get the animals to come close enough and stay around long enough to be tagged, even with bait.

Gelsleichter and his team were only successful in tagging two sharks in a 30-day period despite seeing sharks everyday.

The team plans on placing more receivers on beaches in coastal areas within a mile from the shore.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.

WJCT News intern Lindsey Kilbride (@lindskilbride) contributed to this report.

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