The Jaw-some Tech Behind Shark Week
August 16, 2012 12:48 PM As Shark Week celebrates its 25th year with jaw-filled images, a slew of new technologies drive both content production and distribution.
We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat
In "Great White Highway," which airs Thursday, a team of researchers led by Stanford marine sciences professor Barbara Block uses new technology to track the great white sharks that migrate to the Northern California coast between August and February of each year.
Randall Kochevar, a Stanford researcher on Dr. Block's team, said that the historical method for tracking a great white shark involved archival satellite tags that were physically attached to the shark using a pole and a dart. This task can be more than a little hair-raising; to affix the tag, researchers have to position themselves within a few feet of the sharks, which can be larger than the vessel in which the scientists are perched.
Kochevar said these tags ride along with the sharks, collecting data about the temperatures, depths, and light characteristics that it encounters. After a pre-set time, the tag releases from the animal, at which point it--no longer blocked by water--can relay data back to the scientists via satellite.
A new method, he said, involves acoustic tags, which, at around $300 each, are much cheaper than conventional devices. They're attached in the same death-defying manner but prove more durable once they're out in the ocean; one tag, he claimed, was collecting data over 1,500 days after being deployed.
These newer tags release an acoustic ping that can be picked up by special underwater hydrophones. Data in some cases is stored locally and must be periodically downloaded when researchers visit the devices for maintenance. In other cases, the data can communicate data to researchers in real-time, allowing them to see where sharks are headed on a minute-by-minute basis.