Researcher Wants to Know Why His Shark Tracking Tag Is in Dallas

Whale sharks are about the size of a school bus, but somehow a locator for one ended up in a Dallas-area home. 

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There is either a whale shark, which is about the size of a school bus, in a very large pool in the Dallas area right now, or its tag has mysteriously fallen off and been taken hundreds of miles inland from where it was abandoned. It seems unlikely that a whale shark made the trip from Galveston, Texas to landlocked Lewisville of its own accord, so it is more probable that it was the latter.

A whale shark was tagged last year off the coast of Isla Contoy, Mexico by marine biologist Dr. Alistair Dove from the Georgia Aquarium, who spoke with The Wire by phone to tell us more about the situation. The tag allows researchers to follow the sharks migratory patterns, offering daily positioning information.

As a location tag, it does allow the researchers a general idea of where they should be looking. Dr. Dove explained the pickle sized object sends out a ping giving a several hundred meter wide area. When it is on the whale shark, it pings only twice or three times a day, when it is above water. Then, when it falls off, the researchers will get 200 to 300 alerts a day as it is constantly floating on the surface, and the tag will begin to follow a current pattern. The female whale shark then traveled about the Gulf of Mexico, and Dr. Dove believes the tag fell off in the Northwest region of the Gulf in early June.
So far, the Georgia Aquarium team has not had any leads, even though they know Lewisville, Texas is where to look. "It does look like a fishing lure. I have a feeling someone found it and it is still bouncing around in the back of their boat or their car."

Here's how this whale shark tag traveled:

Dr. Dove explained that the tag falling off is not entirely unusual. "It is actually really hard to get a tag stuck onto the world's largest fish. Getting the tag to stay on is a significant challenge." Usually, the tags wash ashore and are picked up by good samaritans who return them to the biologists. The tags are usually signed with emails or phone numbers. "This is the only time I know of someone taking it home several hundred miles away from the beach," explained Dr. Dove.

He hopes to have the tag returned so it can be reused, as the Spot tags run as much as $2,000. Nonetheless, the researcher understands that perhaps, the tag is lost for good. "Our job is to essentially throw expensive equipment into the ocean and hope we get it back."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.