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The Region

Reward Offered for Lost Shark Tag

Great white was caught off Ventura, but the device probably washed ashore farther south.

October 04, 2003|Lynne Barnes | Times Staff Writer

Scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are asking Southern California beachgoers to be on the lookout for a shark-tracking device that is presumed to have washed up onshore.

Whoever finds the microphone-shaped device, which is 7 inches long and weighs about 2 ounces, will collect a $500 reward from the aquarium -- and will help to further the institution's quest for knowledge about the ocean's top predator: the great white shark.

The device was placed on a young great white shark caught July 29 off the Ventura County coast. After the 5-foot shark was released, the tag remained on the animal for two months to track its movements before popping off, as it was designed to do.

The tag then was supposed to transmit the two months' worth of data via satellite back to scientists. But the device sent only a few bursts of information before it stopped, probably because it washed ashore around Manhattan or Redondo beaches, said aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson. Scientists tried to pinpoint the location using tide data.

The electronic monitor provides information about a shark's habits, movements, diving depths and the water temperature it prefers.

While a search for the device may seem like trying to find a needle in a haystack, that isn't necessarily true, Peterson said. A tag lost last year was found by a beachgoer with a metal detector.

"Based on last year's experience, we're pretty confident," Peterson said. "There are a fair number of people out there with metal detectors."

The tag cost about $3,500 to manufacture, Peterson said, but the information it contains is priceless. The tagging is part of a three- to four-year, $1.2-million research project undertaken to determine whether sharks can survive in captivity.

The Monterey aquarium is seeking to capture a great white shark for its 1-million-gallon Outer Bay exhibit. No public aquarium has ever kept a great white on display for more than a few weeks, mainly because the animals do not feed in captivity.

Two sharks were tagged this year after being accidentally snared by fishermen.

The shark caught off Ventura County was the first. The second shark, netted farther south, is still wearing its tag, which is attached with a wire to the rear end of the shark's dorsal fin, officials said.

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