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Long Island researchers get a rare gift: a shark tracker retrieved

Credit: Gabriella Vukelic / Newsday

When a black electronic device shaped like a mini soda pop container washed up Tuesday on a Jersey Shore beach, the discovery was, to Long Island researchers more than 150 miles away, like finding a treasure map sealed in a bottle.

That’s because the shark-tracking device — plucked by a lifeguard from the sand at Island Beach State Park in Ocean County, New Jersey — contains reams of data to help researchers, including those at the South Fork Natural History Museum & Nature Center's shark research program, learn more about the mysterious fish and how it roams Long Island’s waters.

For Greg Metzger, the research program's field coordinator, discovering the device is as unlikely as it is beneficial to understanding sharks’ swimming patterns, including how deep and where they swim off Long Island and what temperatures they prefer.

Metzger, who last month tagged a 7-foot thresher shark in the Moriches Inlet using a Lotek pop-off tracker, said the tale of the lost device found off New Jersey is much more than the typical fish story.

“It’s a world first,” Metzger said of the find, shortly after driving 160 miles from his Ridge home to the New Jersey beach park to retrieve the tracker. He said most trackers are never recovered from the ocean though they can still transmit information to researchers. But when devices like the one found Tuesday are recovered, they can deliver far more accurate data, he said.

Specifically, the retrieved device can supply data about the shark’s movements every 20 seconds. Lost tracking devices emit data about the shark’s movement every five minutes, Metzger said. An added bonus of retrieving the tracker, Metzger said, is a 50-percent discount on a new one, which costs about $2,000, if he trades in the found device.

Metzger said he and other researchers have tagged several baby white sharks with tracking devices to monitor their daily behavior.

“It's pretty neat that we can collect foundational data,” Metzger said, adding that he may begin analyzing the device in about a month. “We can find out how they are utilizing Long Island waters, where they go. Our data then gets used in fisheries data analysis. We’re pretty excited.”

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