Question: What’s 12 feet, 4 inches long, weighs 1,000 pounds, and just cruised from the Jersey Shore to the Pamlico Sound this week? Answer: “Ironbound,” a great white shark tagged and tracked by OCEARCH. 

OCEARCH, which has tracked 431 marine animals, including sea turtles, dolphins, pilot whales, and a variety of shark species, tagged Ironbound near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on October 3, 2019. Since then, they’ve tracked his zig-zagging yearly migration back and forth from the Canadian Atlantic to the Florida Keys, for a total of more than 13,000 miles. His latest tracker ping put him at Hatteras Canyon off the coast of North Carolina on May 10.

Ocearch tags and tracks great white sharks and other marine animals to better understand their migrations patterns and protect them from extinction. Their ship, the M/V OCEARCH, is equipped with a 75,000-pound-capacity hydraulic platform. When the research team hauls a great white onto the deck, they use hoses to keep the animal’s gills hydrated and gather up to 12 biosamples in 15 minutes. Before releasing the shark, they attach acoustic, accelerometer and SPOT tags, which work in coordination with a GPS. 

When Ironbound pinged near Jersey last week, Bob Hueter, chief scientist at OCEARCH, told CNN, “Mating season is over, we think, and Ironbound is on his way north to get into some good feeding ground and bulk up again for the next year.” While scientists haven’t conclusively determined where great white sharks mate, they have theorized that it happens off the coast of the Carolinas, Heurter explained. In March, Ironbound pinged near Georgia, then steadily moved north to the Jersey Shore, where a ping was recorded on April 28. But, contrary to Hueter’s prediction, the half-ton fish turned and headed back to the Pamlico Sound, where it had spent much of the summer and fall. Perhaps it has one last bit of business to tend to before it heads back to Nova Scotia.

Heuter estimated that Ironbound is about 20 years old, but explained that OCEARCH has tagged much larger great whites, including one that was 17.5 feet and 4,000 pounds. The great white is the world’s largest predatory fish and can grow up to 20 feet long and reach weights over 5,000 pounds.

The World Wildlife Fund classifies great white sharks as a vulnerable population, one step away from endangered. Heuter told CNN: “Sharks have been around for about 400 million years. They in many cases occupy what’s called the apex predator position, in marine food webs. Just like on land, that is an important role in terms of keeping the lower parts of the food web healthy and balanced.”