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Researchers track wayward mako shark in mid-Atlantic

Researchers say a juvenile shortfin mako shark that was tagged more than eight months ago off Ocean City, Md., is tracking a highly unusual path directly south in the mid-Atlantic — a fast track to a mystery destination.

“I¹ve never seen one act quite like this one,” said Mahmood Shivji, director of Nova Southeastern University’s Guy Harvey Research Institute and Save our Seas Research Center. “The mako is displaying an amazingly directed movement — as if this shark has a specific destination it wants to get to in a hurry,” he added, pointing to a computer screen showing the nearly straight vertical path of a young male mako dubbed I-NSU.

The public also can follow I-NSU, as well as other tagged sharks, in near real time, courtesy of an interactive online website that the research institute has set up.

I-NSU is among 16 mako sharks tagged with special satellite-linked devices that allow researchers at the institute to monitor their movements. The research team has a particular interest in mako shark behavior and conservation.

The fast-swimming species is under heavy fishing pressure. Three of the nine mako sharks the institute started to track in 2013 were captured in commercial longline fisheries.

Shivji said tagged sharks often move in irregular patterns, sometimes even crossing previous tracks and frequently changing directions, although many traverse thousands of miles.

“I-NSU also showed an irregular and looping pattern for four months when it was exploring northern latitudes, but at some point it decided it was time to get somewhere directly south and has been on a virtual straight track for the last nearly 1,100 miles,” he said.

Is the shark on a mission to reach a destination?

“I guess we will just have to wait and see,” Shivji said. “It certainly hasn¹t been meandering for the past 26 days. It sure looks like it’s focused on getting somewhere specific.”