Katherine the White Shark crashes research site's servers

Katherine was tagged off cape Cod and is now likely headed to Texas

Like the real star of the movie Jaws, another White Shark has taken on celebrity status along with dozens of others tagged with electronic tracking devices - so much so that visitors to a research site are crashing its servers.

The celebrity's name is Katherine, a 14-foot, 2,300 pound White Shark (Latin name: carcharodon carcharias) who was tagged off of Cape Cod last August; She was named by researchers from OCEARCH after Katherine Lee Bates, a Cape Cod native and writer of America the Beautiful."

OCEARCH is a non-profit, global shark tracking project that uses four different tagging technologies to create a three-dimensional image of a shark's activities. OCEARCH is hoping to develop successful conservation and management strategies by studying shark habits in granular detail.

Though Katherine often cruises up and down the Eastern Seaboard, she is currently about 150 miles off the western coast of Florida. Experts from OCEARCH tracking her through the Gulf of Mexico believe in another week she may be heading past the Mississippi River for the Texas coastline.

Katherine being tagged off of Cape Cod last August (Photo: OCEARCH).

While traditional research has focused on small-scale movements, the data being gathered by OCEARCH offers surprising new information about where sharks go and what they do. That's where the tracking technology is crucial.

A dorsal fin tag attached by OCEARCH uses a satellite to track a shark's position each time it breaks the surface. Other tags include an RFID implant whose ping is picked up whenever the shark passes a special, underwater buoy; an accelerometer, similar to the technology used in an iPhone or Nintendo Wii, that detects up or down movement; and a Pop-off Satellite Archive Tag (PSAT), which acts as a general archive, recording average water depth, temperature and light levels.

"On average, we're collecting 100 data points every second -- 8.5 million data points per day. It's just phenomenal," Whitney said. "Second by second, we can pick up every tail beat and change in posture," said Nick Whitney, a marine biologist with the Mote Marine Laboratories in Sarasota, Fla.

Katherine headed toward New Orleans (Image: OCEARCH).

In addition to in-depth data, what sets OCEARCH apart from past shark-tracking projects is that anyone -- from a child in grade school to a television arm-chair warrior -- can see the tracking data at the same time as researchers on the OCEARCH web site.

Each shark's location is represented by an icon on a Google Maps-based TruEarth Viewer. By clicking on the icon, a user can get detailed information such as the species, gender, size, weight, length, as well as where and when the shark was tagged. A user also gets images of the shark as it was being tagged.

By drilling down further, and clicking on the "Where Have I Been" icon, a user can also see a track of where the shark has been since being tagged, in some cases see a detailed trail over the course of a year or more.

Katherine's track over the past month or so (image: OCEARCH).

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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