Thursday, July 20, 2006

Great white shark provides info!

A female great white shark caught off Neptune Island and fitted with a satellite tag has been named "Columba" to signify a unique tie with St Columba's Memorial School at Yorketown.

"Columba" was caught a couple of weeks ago by a team of CSIRO scientists on a four-day patrol off the West Coast. On board with the researchers was Yorketown's John Beaumont, former Yorketown police officer and police diver, and it was he who charged his daughters, Alanah and Ebony of St Columba's school, with the job of naming the newly tagged shark.

John became involved in the work by SARDI and the CSIRO several years ago as a volunteer, and says he has always been fascinated by the great whites.

He has also been part of a team which tagged four other white pointers off the islands, including one named "Bomber" in his honour.

"Sharks are fascinating. They have, after all, survived for millions of years without change, are just so big and graceful when you see them under water, and I believe they are not the mindless killers everyone labels them," John said.

In the last week of the school term, John visited St Columba's school to explain the tagging operation to the students, who will continue to keep tabs on "their" shark. He brought with him a small piece of Columba's tail, used in part of the biopsy process by the scientists.

At 3.5 metres in length and weighing around 500 kg, Columba will carry the satellite tag for around nine months, about twice as long as previously fitted tags, giving scientists detailed data her movements.

Data will be transmitted when Columba comes to the surface, providing information on the location and the water temperature at the time. The signal is picked up by satellites, relayed to a ground station in France, and accessed in Hobart where CSIRO senior research scientist Barry Bruce is based.

The information is providing scientists with a picture of movement patterns, as they try to understand why the sharks are in certain places at certain times of the year.

While information gathering on 'Bomber' has finished, during his time in the spotlight he travelled 2,739 kilometres from Esperance in Western Australia to an area south of Port Lincoln. Another called 'Bruce' set records for his travels, completing a 7,000 kilometre trek from Port Lincoln to Queensland and back!


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