Scientists are now able to track two whale sharks after multiple sightings of the polka-dotted sharks in the Gulf of Mexico this month.
After reported whale shark sightings, Mote Marine Laboratory scientists found five whale sharks feeding on the surface off Longboat Key and New Pass on June 14. They were able to tag two of the whale sharks, which they named Colt and Minnie.
The tags attached to Colt and Minnie from the side of a boat will store data about their location and the depths and temperatures they encounter, according to an announcement from Mote Marine Laboratory.
"The tags incorporate archival data collection and storage as well as Fastloc GPS location detection," Jack Morris, senior biologist at Mote, said in a release. "This configuration provides GPS location data that can be received via satellite, and long-term depth and temperature data that can be retrieved once the tags release in six months."
Colt, a 16-foot long male, and named for Yellowfin Yachts Captain Wylie Nagler's son, was tagged around 12:30 p.m. Thursday about 40 miles offshore of Sarasota County, according to Mote. Minnie, a 22- to 25-foot female was found and tagged on their way back to shore around 2 p.m. The tags were attached using a titanium-head dart on the end of a wooden pole.
Nagler and Yellowfin Yachts took the Mote scientists into the water on his vessel, accompanied by his son, for about six hours. Minnie's name is in honor of Walt Disney's Minnie Mouse, as Disney supports providing the tags used on the whale sharks, according to Mote.
One Mote scientist said it's not uncommon for whale sharks to be spotted in the Gulf of Mexico this time of year. What's different, said shark researcher Robert Hueter, is how long they are staying in the area. It's unclear if this is a larger than normal number of whale sharks in the area.
"Reported sightings are usually scattered, but the sharks’ locations have stayed pretty stable, as most sightings have been about 30-40 miles off Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key," Hueter said.
"There could be other reasons for these longer-duration sightings such as better ocean conditions for spotting the sharks, the opening of red snapper season drawing more boats offshore or the increased prevalence of smartphones to capture photos and videos of marine life."
Scientists also saw three additional whale sharks in a group closer to shore, but they were not tagged. Minnie was also photographed due to her "unique spot pattern."
Mote officials noted that photos taken of the sharks’ unique spot patterns will be sent to "Wildbook for Whale Sharks," an online database of whale shark encounter reports and pictures used to identify individual animals for research.
Whale sharks have been spotted off Anna Maria Island more than once recently. Captain Barry Moss told the Bradenton Herald he was about 20 miles off the coast on Thursday morning near Harbour Isle where he lives, when he spotted the creatures swimming next to his 25-foot boat.
Earlier this month, Jacob Campoamor said he was fishing for grouper with his family about 40 miles off the coast of Anna Maria Island on when he saw multiple whale sharks in the water.