Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bye sharkie, sharkie.

There’s now one more Great White shark in the waters off California.

Yesterday, the Monterey Aquarium released the Great White shark they’ve had since August. She’s visibly grown in the two-plus months she’s been here, thrived, and had recently been spending more time nearer the top of the giant Outer Bay tank, instead of down in the depths where I first encountered her.

But she’s apparently also been getting restless—you know teenagers!—and the decision to release her was made on Tuesday after she exhibited some “aggressive behavior” toward the other sharks in the exhibit over Halloween weekend.


The local news joked that the surfers currently competing in the Cold Water Classic surfing competition on the north side of the Bay might want to keep their eyes open.

Realistically, though, she’ll probably head south, like her predecessors, toward the warmer water in Southern California. Maybe as far south as the tip of the Baja peninsula, and then maybe north up into the Gulf of California/Sea of Cortez. Researchers are still not sure if that’s a Great White breeding ground, or a nursery, or just a place the juvenile in-crowd likes to hang out.

But it’s a popular Great White destination and researchers are doing their best to find out why. This Great White was fitted with two electronic transmitters before she was released, and her progress will be tracked via satellite. Rumor has it that last time they released a Great White, some of the most venerable of the Aquarium founders and staff camped along the beach in Baja, hoping for a glimpse. (Or a beer.)

An interesting tidbit here: surfers and swimmers in Southern California have about a 50% chance that any Great White they encounter in the water will be a juvenile, “only” about five to seven feet long.

In contrast, surfers and swimmers in Northern California have more to look out for: most, if not all of the Great Whites sharks up here are older and much, MUCH bigger. It’s not until the Great Whites get to an impressive size that they start preferring the colder water and rich feeding grounds north of Santa Barbara.

Of course, Northern California is also culturally superior, but that’s another post.

For details on how they isolate and catch a Great White shark from a two-million gallon tank that has also has lots of other sharks in it (VERY carefully), how they lift her out (How do they pick who gets to hold the biting end?) and transport her safely—like most tourists, she took the scenic route, right down Cannery Row—to the boat, to the Bay, and to an appropriate release point, you can check out the last two Aquarium blogs here:

They’ve got details about the scuffle with her tank mates (one of the Galapagos sharks now has a NASTY-looking five-inch gash and a couple of tooth punctures behind her right fin), some great pictures of the her release, and a good link to the just-published findings about Great White movements along the California coast. Turns out that Great Whites do occasionally swim INTO the San Francisco Bay, as well as along their more well-known routes down to Baja in the south to as far as Hawaii in the west. And congregate in what’s known as the “Great White Cafe” in between.

Now that the Great White is gone, I’m hoping the two sea turtles will re-appear. They’ve been kept in some holding tanks off-exhibit for the duration of her stay.

Just in case.

But it turns out this shark was a picky eater—the piscine equivalent of that phase where teenagers will eat anything, as long as it’s pizza. It’s not that pizza isn’t nourishing. It’s just that a little variety doesn’t hurt. Maybe now, back out in the ocean, she’ll expand her palate.

No more mackerel-on-a-stick for her, darn it. I wonder if she’ll think back on that fondly?

They’d already added a small school of mahi-mahi, or dolphin fish, to the exhibit with her last week. Bright, colorful, funny-looking things, with their odd-shaped heads, and, as it turns out, curious natures.

But what I’m really hoping for is a new mola mola.

More about that another time.