(Submitted by Skepticality listener Shawn Wilson)

A shark in Canada was tagged.  It never broadcast its information successfully to the satellite, but (the tag) came loose after a couple months and was found years later on a beach in Wales.  The person who found it recognized it for what it was, and after considerable sleuthing, found the researchers.  It turns out, the person who found it knew the cousin of the researcher’s wife.

CBC News – Windsor

A satellite tagging device a Canadian researcher attached to a Greenland shark in the Arctic in 2012 and used to record migratory data was recently found washed up on a beach 6,000 kilometres away.

The tag was found in Wales, just a short distance from where the wife of the researcher used to spend her summers.

Based on the data they recovered from the device, Nigel Hussey determined it must have come off the animal in December of 2012 in the middle of the Davis Strait, between Baffin Island and Greenland, and floated all the way to Wales.

The devices are programmed to release from the shark, float to the surface and transmit data to a satellite, which the scientists can access from their labs.

The data helps paint a more complete picture of the animal’s behaviour. However, not all the data collected by the tag is transmitted to the satellite, so finding one is extremely rare and could prove to be a potential gold mine, Hussey said.

“We’ve never got one back before. It’s really fantastic,” said Hussey, a scientist in the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. “We never would have thought that after putting it out in such a remote place that it ever would have been found.”

This tag is of particular interest because it never transmitted any data to the satellite.

Hussey said satellite coverage in the remote area of the Arctic can be spotty.

“It just seemed to disappear,” Hussey said.

Although it only stayed on for three months, it still contains a wealth of information.

“This is the most detailed data we’ve ever had for a Greenland shark,” said Hussey.

Mari Williams found the tag March 6 during a volunteer beach cleanup on West Dale Bay in Pembrokeshire.

Hussey’s wife Anna’s family originates from nearby St. David’s, and that’s where she spent her summers as a teenager.

“I’ve still got an aunt, an uncle and several cousins there,” Anna Hussey said. “In fact, Mari knows one of my cousins. They used to work on one of the tourist boats there together.”

Not knowing what the device was, but suspecting it might have been a shark tag, Williams, who has an undergraduate degree in environmental science, posted a picture of the tag on Twitter and tweeted it at the Shark Trust, a shark conservation charity.

Simon Pierce, of Marine Megafauna Foundation, recognized the device and recommended she contact Wildlife Computers, the device’s manufacturer.

She sent them the serial number, and the Seattle-based company traced it back to Hussey.

“I just find the whole thing amazing,” Williams said from her home in Wales.

Below are the extended notes for use in Skepticality Episode 233 provided Edward Clint.  Clint produces the Skeptic Ink Network and writes about Evolutionary Psychology, critical thinking and more at his blog Incredulous. He is presently a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA studying evolutionary psychology.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary.

Six Degrees of Canadian Bacon, or, The one that didn’t get away

There are two unlikely events in this story, though each is not quite a astronomical as you might think. First, what are the odds anyone would find the tracker, wherever it ended up? We can’t be sure how long the tracker was on that beach, but it must have taken a couple months to arrive. That leaves 6-9 months it might have been at the Westdale Bay Beach which is described as a “picturesque sandy beach” popular with surfers. Many hundreds of people might have seen the device, but only a person who recognized what it probably was, as Williams did, would have bothered to pick it up. Since Williams was part of a voluntary beach clean up activity, it’s no wonder someone policing the beach would take an interest in unusual bits that don’t belong there.

That being the case, what are the odds one UK dweller would happen to be related to another who knows the original researcher that placed the tracker? Not all that bad. The original “six degrees of separation” concept was popularized by psychologist Stanley Milgram. But in 2011 a University of Milan study determined any two people in the world are separated by an average of 4.7 acquaintances. (link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/technology/between-you-and-me-4-74-degrees.html?_r=0) In Williams’s case, it’s about 2 degrees of separation from the researcher. But that’s only about three degrees more than you have. Or me. Or anyone.