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A shark-tracking app showed 6 great whites off Florida's coast. Experts say 'tis the season

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The great white, the bull shark and the tiger shark are called the "Big Three" for a reason.

Posted: Dec 27, 2019 6:00 PM
Updated: Dec 27, 2019 6:00 PM

A single sighting of a great white shark is enough to get most people out of the water. But six? That's the stuff of nightmares (or movies).

OCEARCH, an ocean data collection agency, has indicated that a half-dozen of its tagged white sharks have congregated off the Florida coast. The agency's tracking tool shows four white sharks off the northeastern coast and two more swimming in the southwest ocean region.

They say there's nothing to worry about.

While it may seem uncommon to have so many tracked sharks surfacing in one location, the water temperatures are actually ideal right about now. Three of the sharks found a sweet spot off the coast of Jacksonville, where water temperatures are 65-67 degrees.

What is unusual is the amount of sharks the agency is able to track. Recent years have brought more research expeditions, which has allowed them to discover loads of previously unknown information about the species.

The sharks, named Nova, Sydney, Cabot, Ironbound, Unama'ki and Hudson, were captured and released with trackers that enable OCEARCH to see where they are and trace their migration patterns.

OCEARCH founder and expedition leader Chris Fischer told CNN this group may be just the tip of the pod -- there are likely thousands more in the region that don't have trackers attached.

And despite all the action, beachgoers shouldn't forgo swimming because of the shark presence alone.

Fischer says shark attacks are very rare, but he does recommend avoiding the water in regions where sharks are known to be if there are also groups of seals in the water, too.

You wouldn't want to be mistaken for a part of the food chain.

Meet some of the sharks

Nova is an 11-foot, 6-inch adult white shark. He weighs in as 1,186 pounds. For the past week, he has been zig-zagging between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach, maybe hoping for spring break come early?

He is particularly special to OCEARCH because he was the first white shark they tagged in Canadian waters, hence his name, inspired by the people of Nova Scotia who support their work, according to the website.

In just two months, Ironbound has powered his way down the east coast, pinging off the coast of Massachusetts on October 8 and then venturing down to Florida, pinging again off the coast of Jacksonville on December 4.

He stretches 12 feet, four inches long and weighs 998 pounds.

Unama'ki (seen above) is the only female of the bunch. The 15-foot leading lady is a whopping 2,076 pounds. As a mature female shark, she may be able to lead researchers to where she gives birth and reveal a new white shark nursery, says her profile on the OCEARCH website.

She is named after what the indigenous Mi'kmaq people of Nova Scotia call Cape Breton. It means, "land of the frog."

Cracking the code on great white sharks

While the lives of great whites have long remained a mystery, Fischer says the explosion of data OCEARCH has collected in the last few years has allowed them to "crack the code" on the species.

Despite their scary reputation, great whites are a vulnerable species, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild, says World Wildlife Fund. WWF says the decrease in their population is due to years of being hunted for their fins and teeth, and as a coveted catch in sports fishing.

They can also get caught and entangled in commercial fishing nets and meshes used to protect beaches.

This influx of new data has allowed OCEARCH to uncover previously unknown information about the species which may lead to stronger protection of the sharks.

"This whole idea that the life of the white shark is a mystery is just no longer true," he told CNN.

"It's a matter of time and a little bit of money. In the next few years, we're going to have the complete life history of the north Atlantic white shark solved," he told CNN.

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