Streams

A Great White Shark makes a transatlantic crossing — and you can follow along

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lydia is such a pretty name — for a shark.

Lydia is a 2,000-pound, 14-foot-long Great White Shark. She was fitted with a satellite tag a year ago, off the coast of Florida, as part of the Ocearch scientific project.

She has since travelled 19,500 miles and is currently about 3,000 miles from her starting point.

No white sharks have ever been documented making a trans-Atlantic crossing. But Lydia is currently more than halfway across the Atlantic, near the coast of Ireland.

"Lydia is one of those sharks that we tag that seems to be exhibiting quite dramatic movement," said Greg Skomal, a senior scientist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. "Right now, she's closer to Ireland than she is to us. She's making the very first documented transatlantic migration of a white shark — so it's pretty fascinating to watch."

Skomal was a member of the team of scientists that tagged Lydia so her movements could be monitored. The scientists used a custom-built 75,000-pound-capacity hydraulic platform that allowed them to safely lift mature sharks from the water.

"[It's] a remarkably humbling experience to see one of these massive animals right in front of you," he said. It "gives us amazing access to these creatures so that we can tag them."

The scientists took tissue samples, blood samples and even did an ultrasound on Lydia — all while the shark was awake on their boat.

"We don't want to sedate them because it could kill them," Skomal explained. "All we do is we irrigate the shark's gills, meaning that we give the shark the sensation that it's breathing — it can respire, it's not holding its breath. And we cover its eyes. And we try to achieve this all in about 15 minutes — and remarkably the shark remains very still."

The scientists give the sharks they tag attractive names like Lydia, Mary Lee or Katherine.

"They are beautiful names for beautiful animals and in giving them these nice names, we are also trying to change the image of the white shark," Skomal said. "All too often we think of [a shark] as a horrible creature that wants to consume people — and it really isn't. It's a charismatic creature we should revere."

You can track Lydia's movements on the Ocearch website.

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