GALVESTON — A great white shark could find itself off the Texas coast in the next couple weeks.
Then again, it also could go somewhere else.
News outlets around the country breathlessly reported this week that a 14-foot, 2,300-pound great white shark named Katherine was swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, having made a seven-month journey from Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
Katherine, who is being tracked with an electronic tag that sends a GPS signal to a satellite, was last detected in the Gulf of Mexico, about 140 miles off the coast off Panama City, Fla.
According to the shark’s movement history, it has mostly stuck close to the coast and seems to now be making its way west, toward Alabama, Louisiana and, yes, Texas.
But are sharks so predictable that researchers can determine where they are going weeks in advance?
No, says one of the researchers following Katherine’s progress.
“There is no ‘actual evidence’ for this speculation, and it cannot be stated as a factual prediction with some degree of certainty at this point,” said Robert Hueter, the director of shark research at the Mote Marine Center in Sarasota, Fla.
“It’s only one of several possible scenarios,” Hueter said of Katherine’s possible destinations. “She could continue to follow the continental slope in the northern Gulf, as she’s been doing for the past week or so, which would eventually take her west past the Mississippi River, eventually approaching the Texas Coast.
“Or she could stay in the northeastern Gulf and not go west of the Mississippi. That would not be surprising. She could also turn and head out into deep water in the central Gulf.
“Who knows? That’s why we do the tracking.”
Hueter has been working with OCEARCH, a foundation dedicated to shark research, to track Katherine and three other sharks that were tagged in Massachusetts waters last summer. Another shark, Betsy, has also been detected off the Florida coast. The tags that track the sharks’ locations offer more data than older methods of shark tracking, which mostly rely on a shark being caught, recording and released.
OCEARCH has created a mobile app that allows people to track the location of the animals as they continue to explore the Gulf.