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Sep 4, 2019 10:27 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

SOFO Rare Shark Tag Found In Jersey

Greg Metzger and Walter Zublionis tagging a thresher shark last month. COURTESY SOFO
Sep 4, 2019 11:16 AM

A satellite tracker that popped off a 6-foot thresher shark in Moriches Bay washed up on the Jersey Shore last week.

Greg Metzger, the South Fork Natural History Museum’s shark research and education program chief field coordinator, tagged the 185-pound thresher shark a month ago in Shinnecock Bay, and, to his surprise, the tag washed ashore in New Jersey and was picked up by an Island Park beach lifeguard.

Only three trackers that were part of their shark research and education program have ever been recovered by SOFO, which is in Bridgehampton, and Mr. Metzger said they were very excited to take the trip to pick this one up from New Jersey.

Mr. Metzger drove three hours to pick up the tracking device, which measures water temperature, depth and migration patterns of the shark for a little under a month. The device, by design, falls off after 28 days and sends a GPS location to the research team. Mr. Metzger said he and his team had been following the tag since it popped off the shark on August 23 and floated from Moriches Bay to New Jersey.

Another researcher, Tobey Curtis Drew, posted a request on social media for people to be on the lookout for the small tag on the beach at Island Beach State Park.

An Island Beach State Park lifeguard, Tyler Saccoccio, was starting his morning shift when he saw something lying in the sand near the shore. Luckily, there were instructions on the tag advising what to do if it was found.

On Friday, Mr. Metzger explained that they’ve recovered only three trackers, as most get washed out to sea and their batteries eventually die, making it impossible to track them any further. As the shark swims with the tracker, researchers are notified every five minutes regarding depth, location and water temperature. Mr. Metzger said once the satellite tracker is located, it holds enhanced data that isn’t seen until it’s retrieved.

“If we only get the data from the transmitter, we get that data every five minutes, which is still pretty accurate. But it’s nowhere near as accurate as every 20 seconds, if we can get the tag back,” Mr. Metzger explained. “That’s why we’re super-excited to get it back.”

Also, if the used tag is returned, SOFO gets another one for half price, which saves money.

More than a month ago, Mr. Metzger said, he and Water Zublionis, another SOFO fisherman who participates in the shark program, went out to tag sharks a handful of miles south of Shinnecock Inlet in the afternoon. About five minutes before packing up to leave, they caught the thresher, secured it alongside the boat, and placed two tags on it, a process that takes about 12 minutes to complete.

He explained that they are researching when the sharks are present between Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and Montauk Point, which includes the New York Bight. The two sharks SOFO researchers are currently focused on are white sharks and threshers.

Mr. Metzger said this was the first thresher tagged through the museum, and that, this season, they tagged seven baby white sharks.

This year, as a whole, they’ve tagged about 30 sharks, including sand sharks, dusky sharks and one smooth hammerhead.

“We certainly know we’re getting a better idea of the water temperatures they like,” he said. “We’re also are getting a sense of the depth of water they like, and how they use the water column. If they do swim out into very deep water, we see them making deeper dives and taking advantage of the deeper water. We’re starting to gather basic information about how thresher and baby whites are utilizing the water on Long Island.”

Another tag placed on the sharks is much more high-tech and accurate. It records a “whole sweep of movement and acceleration as well as the temperature and depth,” he said.

Mr. Metzger said one of the baby white sharks they tagged was tracked about 80 miles south of Long Island — the farthest offshore they’ve tracked.

SOFO offers opportunities for people to come out and tag sharks and better understand the process. For a fee, SOFO, in part with Ocean’s Wide, gives the opportunity to work as a crew member while they embark on research opportunities. Mr. Metzger said it’s not a spectator sport, and participants get to touch the sharks, measure them and do other work.

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