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Shark tagging transmitter found off Steamer’s Lane: minus shark

On October 17, 2006, the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation (PSRF) detected a shark tagging transmitter a couple of miles off Steamer’s Lane, drifting away from shore in a south-southeasterly direction. According to PSRF Executive Director and Surfrider member, Sean Van Sommeran, until recently the transmitter had been attached to a white shark they were following through the Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP) program.

As to where the shark is now, Van Sommeran said, “It’s almost certainly patrolling off Año Nuevo Island, where we attached the transmitter last year.” But where did shark and tagging device actually part? Van Sommeran’s answer: “It likely drifted down the coast from Año, where the shark dropped it after returning to the area.” Since being tagged in Northern California, apparently the shark traveled out to a deep-sea locale just southeast of Hawaii, which Van Sommeran calls the “bad lands”.

The shark’s migration patterns and a wealth of other data have been made possible by the TOPP program, which was first deployed at Año Nuevo Island and the SE Farallones in 2000 (www.topcensus.org). For instance, some of the tagged sharks have been shown to migrate all of the way to Hawaii—demonstrating that they are, in fact, open ocean creatures. Prior to TOPP’S inception, PSRF began studying white sharks at Año Nuevo Island in 1992, with ID tagging commencing in 1995. Two years later, PSRF researchers started deploying ultra-sonic acoustic transmitters and ultimately moved to archival satellite transmitters in the fall of 2000. The TOPP program was born in the winter of that year.

While Van Sommeran says finding the sharks is pretty consistent, the devices themselves can be hard to recover when nearby cliffs cross-up RDF equipment signals. Nonetheless, data continues to pour in from the transmitters they do find, helping them to better understand the behavioral patterns of these often misunderstood creatures. For related article in The Herald, see link below. Additional information on PSRF and their participation in the TOPP program can be found at:

Useful Links:

  1. Pelagic Shark Research Foundation
  2. TOPP Program
  3. Monterey Herald Article

Surfrider members help free entangled humpback whale off Carmel Point

MONTEREY BAY, CALIFORNIA, 09/03/06 — Surfrider member and Pelagic Shark Research Foundation (PSRF) Executive Director, Sean Van Sommeran, departed Moss Landing Harbor at approximately 9:00 am to conduct a routine bottlenose dolphin survey.   Aboard the vessel Astirix (Pelagic I) were Van Sommeran (skipper) and four research assistants, including fellow Surfrider member and Earthwatch Institute affiliate, Anna Janovicz.  Around 9:30 am, the crew of the Astirix heard radio traffic about a disabled whale, which they subsequently learned was a humpback entangled in fishing gear near Carmel. 

With no one authorized or equipped to conduct a rescue in the area, the PSRF crew radioed for the whale’s coordinates and began motoring to its location off Carmel.   Once underway, the PSRF team received additional information from the Marine Mammal Center, USCG, and NOAA, authorizing them to organize and lead the rescue.  At 11:40 am, they located the whale roughly five miles off Carmel Point.  

Entangled by ropes around its tail, the approximately 30-foot humpback was moving into deep water.  The animal also had four large ball floats attached, but, more importantly, it was being dunked by a 1,000-pound cod trap around its “flukes” or tail fins.   According to Van Sommeran, the whale did not appear to have any immediately life-threatening injuries to its body, but it did appear extremely fatigued.  

At about 12:30 pm that afternoon, the Monterey vessel Silver Prince arrived on the scene; and the general consensus was that it would be impossible to assess the tangle without putting divers in the water as any attempt to do so would likely have resulted in cuts to the whale’s flukes.  As a last resort, two experienced divers were then deployed and proceeded to cut and untangle the ropes from the whale with dive knives.  Soon thereafter, several killer whales closed in to within about 100 meters from the humpback; and the divers promptly exited the water until the killer whales were observed to have left the area.

Some 15 minutes later, the divers re-entered the water and quickly finished cutting the ropes.  The whale, which was surmised to be a sub-adult (or less than six years old) was freed at 12:56 pm and immediately swam full stream toward the west.  Afterward, the crew of the Astirix and the Silver Prince retrieved two large buoys plus some line and tackle.  Unrecoverable, the cod trap sank to the ocean floor, its 30,000-pound captive now freed.

When asked how the whale become entwined in the fishing gear, Van Sommeran said, “Sometimes whales play with the brightly colored floats and get tangled playing with them…usually young whales.  Boats sometimes run over nets at night,” he added, “and this can tangle and cut the gear so that it floats all wrong and snaps or cinches onto an investigating or distracted whale.”  

The Pelagic Shark Research Foundation maintains a Stranding/Collecting Unit specializing in sharks, fishes and large marine animals.  For more information, please visit their web site at:  www.pelagic.org.

Santa Cruz Sentinel Article:
9/4/2006 - Entangled whale freed of fishing gear

Surfrider Foundation Chapter Website of the Year!

Winter 05-06

The Santa Cruz Chapter is stoked to announce that this site has won the "Chapter Website of the Year" award from the National office of the Foundation as announced in the Winter 05-06 Making Waves!

Surfrider says: "These awards serve to recognize those chapters which through their efforts set the mark for the rest of us to follow...

Thanks to the Carl Yoshihara at OnePixelDesign, the new site is fresh, fun and informative. A clean navigation layout makes it easy to explore the site. Once past the welcome page, visitors can find information on the type of projects or programs the chapter is working on, what sort of activism opportunities the chapter offers (everything from tabling to beach clean-ups, to Beachscape). Santa Cruz's long-running Blue Water Task Force program was especially well represented, with a regularly updated and easy to read water quality reporting page.

Thanks to local amateur and professional photographers Mike MacDonald, Howard McGhee and Bruce Topp, and Jim Littlefield (chapter chair). The site also utilizes a stunning amount of local imagery throughout, embellishing the experience.

Mounting Evidence of Red Tides' Harmful Effects on People

Sea Web Ocean Update, March 2006 issue

'According to Gregory Bossart of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution: "Recent, frequent red tides off the west coast of Florida correlated with a 54% increase in emergency room admissions for respiratory illnesses, including, pneumonia, asthma attacks, and other respiratory problems." Bossart and others implicate brevetoxins, compounds produced by the dinoflagellate Karenia brevis.'

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