The third tag is an accelerometer package, which tracks fine-scale data on the shark's body movement and behavior along with water depth and temperature information. That tag, which is designed to release from the shark after just two days, records more than eight million data points each day, with the information stored to memory. The tag is embedded in a float package that contains a satellite transmitter and a VHF radio tag, which transmits a ping that can be heard over a 10-mile range with a VHF receiver and antenna.
"In this case, the VHF tag allows us to find the needle in the haystack, once the satellite tag tells us where the haystack is," Whitney said.
Although OCEARCH has been using two-day accelerometer tags, the team off Cape Cod is now going for the longest accelerometer track of a shark ever: two weeks of second-by-second behavioral information.
Finally, OCEARCH researchers attach a PSAT archival satellite tag, which records depth, temperature, and light levels (used for geolocation) and stores the data to memory. The tag is programmed to release from the fin anywhere from six months to a year after being attached. It then floats to the surface and processes and summarizes the data for transmission back to researchers via satellite.
"It'd be great if there was one tag to get all the information, but there's not," Berger said.
The researchers have gotten the tagging procedure down to, well, a science. They've perfected the process by performing it on more than 100 sharks -- 67 of them great whites.
To date, the largest great white the team has captured and tagged is an 18-foot, 5,000-pound animal named Apache. Apache currently holds the world record as the largest fish ever caught and released by anyone, Berger said.
For their massive size and ferocious reputation, white sharks actually represent a small minority of shark attacks throughout the world, including the shark attack capital, Florida.
"Florida has more shark incidents than any place in the world, but virtually all of those bites form small sharks -- black tips and spinner sharks. In fact, I'm not sure of any confirmed white shark attacks there," Whitney said.
Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.