As the number of the West Coast’s great white sharks drops, scientists at Stanford University are deploying a solar powered floating robot in the Pacific Ocean to track and further understand the mighty predators.

To onlookers the device may look like a lost yellow surfboard, but the “wave glider” is actually high tech spy gear to watch the ocean’s most feared creatures. It uses a satellite transmitter to send the positions of tagged fish to researchers tracking their movements.  The glider is powered by solar panels along its topside and the waves propelling it, giving it the ability to track the thousands of sea creatures previously tagged by scientists within a 1000 foot range, even though it is currently only following the sharks.

“Our goal is to use revolutionary technology that increases our capacity to observe our oceans and census populations, improve fisheries management models, and monitor animal responses to climate change,” Stanford marine biologist Barbara Block said in a statement.

Built by the California-based Liquid Robotics, the glider moves slower than the speed of walking but made 200 detections of 19 sharks in one eight-day test.  Working with fixed buoys, the glider has picked up on “mysterious gatherings” in the oceans, which the scientists have dubbed the “white shark café.”  Because of its mobility, the glider has been able to find these “hot spots” which the buoys had missed.

The information collected is not just available to the researchers – for those of us that want to keep up with the shark movements (or just like to check for shark watches before heading to the beach), the new Shark Net app allows anyone with an iPhone or iPad to track the great whites. Though the app was designed to help people get to know the sharks as individuals, some of us might just like to know Elvis, Showtime, and their finned friends are nowhere near the shore.

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