An unusually early start to the shark season in April caught Irelands basking shark research teams a little off guard. Now as the summer begins in earnest and sea surface temperatures start to climb above 11 degree Celsius for prolonged periods a Malin head based research team are gearing up for what may prove to be one of the most memorable seasons in recent Irish marine research.
To investigate shark movements and predator- prey associations the team plan to deploy numerous different types of tracking tags on the sharks including five satellite relaying tags. It is hoped these pioneering Fastloc GPS enabled tags will relay live positions and record fine scale movements of the huge sharks. Until now tracking marine based animals has proven to be extremely problematic for scientists because satellite signals can only be retrieved from a steady platform on the waters surface. Light Geo-location using recorded measurements of light levels and day and night have been used to roughly determine positions (with an approx. 75km radius of uncertainty). Fastloc tags differ by taking micro-second snapshots of the satellite constellation and processing the position data internally before uploading the location data through the ARGOS satellite system, this generates locations with a GPS accuracy of ± 30m. All sound a bit complicated, well it is, add in a cocktail of unseasonal weather, unpredictable shark behaviour and some of the Atlantic oceans roughest waters and the possibilities of success are greatly reduced.
This small chance of success hasn’t deterred the Inishowen based researchers who are working with the Marine Biological School in Queens University Belfast to pioneer this deployment a first for Ireland and the Atlantic. “Last year we pioneered the worlds first deployment of Timed Depth Recorders on the basking shark, this year we are taking it to another level with the deployment of five Fastloc enabled satellite tags. If they work, the data recovered will provide an insight into the shark’s behaviour which has been an enigma to marine biologists for decades.” stated Emmett Johnston the project coordinator. The tag deployments are the final part of a five month long programme of marine based community awareness funded by the Inishowen Development Partnership entitled ‘The Monster Munch Project’. Five lucky Primary School classes from Inishowen have named the tags and will be following their progress over a google maps viewer in a newly developed section of the website. More details will soon be available.