TAMPA (FOX 13) -
On a cold February day in 2012, a great white shark was caught and tagged off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida. Since then, the shark named “Lydia” by the OCEARCH team that tagged her, has traveled tens of thousands of miles.
She’s been almost all the way to the United Kingdom and back, and she’s shattering long-held beliefs about where the sharks go, and why.
That's what OCEARCH is doing: tagging and tracking great white sharks to learn more about these top predators of the sea.
OCEARCH has tagged more than 150 sharks since 2008, including five of them along the Atlantic coast in the past two years.
When the OCEARCH team tagged a great white and named her “Katharine” (after Katharine Bates, composer of "America the Beautiful"), he had no idea she'd become a social media star.
"I'm jealous of Katharine. She's got more Twitter followers than me," says OCEARCH founder Chris Fischer.
Katharine has more than 15,000 Twitter followers and growing. Fischer says the shark tracker on their Facebook page, and the smartphone app that is free to download, is demystifying the shark that was demonized by a popular movie back in 1975.
"You know, Katharine is eliminating and replacing Jaws. In the drumbeat, in the drone of that music in the background of every white shark conversation, she is displacing that," Fischer says.
Replacing fear with fascination, the shark tracker has allowed us to watch as Katharine and another white shark, “Betsy,” swam all the way from Cape Cod, around the Florida Keys, to our own backyard in the Gulf of Mexico.
We were surprised. Fischer wasn't.
"It doesn't shock me as much to see Katharine and Betsy down here. If Florida's a white shark nursery, which I think it is, and they're immature sharks moving around the nursery," Fischer says.
Florida a great white shark nursery?
Fischer expects their ongoing research will prove that, but he also is quick to say we shouldn't be worried.
"People are like 'hey, should I be afraid?' No, you should feel enlightened. This has been happening for 400 million years! We just know now for the first time," Fischer says.
He also says white sharks are the "lions of the ocean," critical to their health and future, so changing how we view them is the key to saving them.
"Now we are all on the OCEARCH movement, trying to solve the puzzles of our most charismatic ocean creatures, to make sure our kids can eat fish sandwiches too," he says.
The OCEARCH ship and team are now in Brazil beginning their 20th expedition. They'll be tagging tiger sharks in an area of Brazil plagued by shark attacks over the past 20 years.