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Satellite Telemetry

Satellite Telemetry:Satellite telemetry has been used extensively in the tracking of animals since the 1980s. After an animal has been captured and a tracking device has been attached, researchers can monitor movements of that individual for extended periods of time without having to recapture it. Satellite telemetry uses Platform Transmitter Terminals (PTTs) that are either attached externally or surgically implanted. The PTTs then communicate via radio-signals to orbiting satellites, which localize the signal and give positional fixes (latitude and longitude) on the PTT, and thus, the animal.

For many financially challenged scientists, satellite telemetry is, and remains, a distant pipe dream. However, over the years, government and NGO’s who understand the huge benefits of mapping the home ranges and migratory pathways of sharks have come to the party and supported me and the researchers in South Africa. In 2003, the Wildlife Conservation Society and South Africa’s Marine and Coastal Management funded our first major project to satellite tag and track great white sharks in South Africa. This was a huge learning curve, as capturing, restraining, tagging and releasing great white sharks had never been tried before! The project resulted in one of the most important discoveries off all time for shark conservation. Nicole, a 3.6m great white migrated from south Africa to Australia and back over a period of 9 months. This discovery was instrumental in showing that national protection was insufficient for sharks such as great whites, and led the academic charge to having the great white shark listed on CITES a couple of years after we published this discovery.

The second major satellite project developed in partnership with OCEARCH and the History Channel. The channel and OCEARCH agreed to fund the largest ever shark satellite telemetry project in the world right here in South Africa. This project was ground breaking in every sense of the world, and for the scientific team, we ere able to fulfill many of our life long research ambitions. The nature of the project also opened the door for extensive collaboration. Knowing we would have a large number of great white sharks stable on the cradle for a period of 15 minutes, allowed us to collect unprecedented data for a host of projects, including parasitology, hormone, morphology, genetic, bacteriology amongst others. The project was filmed for a 10 part series on the history Channel (named Shark Wranglers) that broght the pioneering research methods of shark scientists into the publics living rooms. Much of the data that stemmed from this research continues to be analysed and published by numerous researchers throughout Africa and the world. Visit OCEARCH to see their latest projects from around the world tracking sharks