Magazine article Science News

Sharks Could Serve as Ocean Watchdogs: Tagged with Sensors, Fish Gather Weather, Climate Data

Magazine article Science News

Sharks Could Serve as Ocean Watchdogs: Tagged with Sensors, Fish Gather Weather, Climate Data

Article excerpt

The same gray triangles that peek above ocean waves to terrify beachgoers could prove a boon for climate scientists. By strapping sophisticated sensors to sharks' otherwise ominous fins, researchers can now collect temperature and other environmental data from the far reaches of the Pacific.

Maintaining devices that monitor conditions in the ocean is expensive, said marine scientist Kim Holland of the University of Hawaii at Manoa; a crucial network of buoys in the tropical Pacific is currently operating at reduced capacity due to budget problems. Using sharks as ocean surveyors could provide a new source of data for scientists developing weather and climate simulations. "Sending sharks to do the heavy lifting makes a lot of sense," Holland said.

Although other animals, including seals, have proven useful as data collectors (SN: 11/6/10, p. 12), sharks represent an untapped resource. Holland and his team recently discovered that sharks take nightly dives as deep as 800 meters. They also take 1,000-kilometer-long unexplained excursions to the center of the Pacific. The sharks' deep and long jaunts provide unprecedented access to ocean waters unplumbed by scientists, Holland said February 14.

Off the coast of Hawaii, Holland and his team have begun fitting the fins of tiger and hammerhead sharks with sensors about the size and shape of an ice cream cone. Holland began the project to study the behavior of the ferocious fish, but he realized the data could be more widely applied. Future shark-mounted gadgets will record water oxygen levels and conductivity, which researchers use to estimate saltiness and other chemical properties. …

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