A Great White Shark makes a transatlantic crossing — and you can follow along

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Lydia, it's a pretty name for a pretty majestic creature. Lydia is a 2,000 pound, 14 foot long, great white shark, and she has a pretty adventurous spirit. Lydia is being monitored by scientists as she crosses the Atlantic ocean. She's more than halfway across and heading for Ireland. She was tagged a year ago off the coast of Florida by a team of scientists, including Greg Skomal. He's a senior scientist with the Massachusetts division of Marine Fisheries. So, Greg Skomol tell us, what's so special about Lydia?

Greg Skomol: Well, Lydia is one of those sharks that we tag that seems to be exhibiting quite dramatic movement. Right now she's closer to Ireland than she is to us, and she's making the very first documented trans-atlantic migration of a white shark. So it's pretty fascinating to watch.

Werman: Right, so first documented doesn't mean it hasn't happened before, but it's the first time that it's actually been seen, and been monitored, and you've got the data on it.

Skomol: Exactly, yes. It doesn't mean they haven't been doing this for eons. It's just now, for the very first time, we have one to spy on.

Werman: Can you break it down in terms of miles per hour? Like how is she averaging?

Skomol: You know, some days she picks a spot, she seems to like it, and she doesn't move much, and other days she can go over a hundred miles.

Werman: Now we've got this incredible video at our website PRI.org, of Lydia being tagged last year. Explain to us what goes into tagging a great white shark.

Skomol: The old search team who we were working with, these guys were able to locate and capture a big white shark that we then brought out of the water on their massive lift system, which is a remarkably humbling experience to see one of these massive animals right in front of you. Which gives us amazing access to these creatures so that we can tag them. So what we're trying to do is place multiple kinds of tags on the shark while we get additional tissue samples. And those tissue samples could include a piece of skin, a muscle plug, we take blood from the animal. And we can learn a lot about the creature itself from those tissue samples.

Werman: Any close calls where the sedation wears off?

Skomol: We don't want to sedate them because it could kill them. All we do is we irrigate the sharks gills, meaning that we give the shark the sensation that it's breathing, it can respire, it's not holding it's breath. And we cover its eyes, and we try to achieve all this in about 15 minutes. And remarkably, the shark remains very still.

Werman: That's incredible. So, tell us what we've learned about great whites since you've tagged this group?

Skomol: Well, in the beginning when we started tagging white sharks we thought that the migration along the eastern seaboard of the United States was fairly simple. The more sharks we tagged we started seeing dynamic movements that were much broader in scale than we ever imagined. And a good example of that is Mary Lee's movements, and of course now, Lydia's movements.

Werman: Mary Lee is another shark?

Skomol: Yeah, Mary Lee is another shark. We tagged her in September of Cape Cod, 2012. And she exhibitied some broader spatial patterns that went out into the offshore areas, the deep water areas of the Atlantic. But nothing has matched what Lydia is doing as she continues to just move east and north.

Werman: Greg, I think of Lydia, I think of Mary Lee, these are really beautiful names. Great white sharks, not such a pleasant creature. How did they get these names?

Skomol: Well, you know, the research is sponsored by corporations including Caterpillar, and Caterpillar actually chose Lydia. And Mary Lee is actually Chris Fisher, who's the founder of Ocearch, is his mom. So, you know, they're beautiful names for beautiful animal, and in giving them these nice names they're also trying to change the image of the white shark. All too often we think of it as a horrible creature that wants to consume people, and it really isn't. It's a charismatic creature that we should revere.

Werman: Greg Skomol, senior scientist with the Massachusetts division of Marine Fisheries. Thanks for telling us about Lydia.

Skomol: My pleasure Marco, thank you.

Werman: Want to see where Lydia goes next? We put a link to the Ocearch global shark tracker at PRI.org. It is a cool map.

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