A 15-foot female white shark named Murphy Jean is currently swimming a few miles off the coast of Santa Barbara. She’s heading south from Morro Bay, perhaps on her way to Guadalupe Island, a jagged stretch of volcanic rock along Baja California where her species gathers during the summer. Earlier this year she’d wintered in Hawaii, feeding mostly between the Big Island and Maui before making the 2,500-mile journey back to the mainland.
Murphy Jean’s movements are documented in a $4 shark-tracking app called Expedition White Shark, which also follows large mako sharks, including two 10-footers patrolling the south side of the Channel Islands. The real-time app, available on both iOS and Android, was created in 2012 by Marine Conservation Science Institute researchers Michael Domeier and Nicole Nasby-Lucas, who’ve tagged over 100 sharks and published papers with new findings on their migration patterns. They’ve discovered, for instance, that pregnant females spend much of their 18-month gestation period far offshore away from males.
Nasby-Lucas said the app shouldn’t deter ocean-goers. “Sharks are always there anyway,” she said. And she’s not worried about it luring poachers. The signals from the dorsal tags, which transmit data for 4-6 years, have a margin of error of about a kilometer, and a shark’s position is only calculated when it’s at the surface with its dorsal fin out of the water for several minutes. The Institute maintains a photo database of hundreds of additional specimens, and app users can “sponsor” individual sharks. The funds are dedicated to research and conservation efforts, Nasby-Lucas said.
For more information, visit marinecsi.org.