OCEARCH will capture sharks and collect a variety of samples to determine why the predators migrate south during the winter months.

Robert Snow/Ocearch photo

Great white sharks have a mysterious habit of migrating south along the east coast during winter, and scientists aren’t sure what’s driving this mass migration.

Is it a search for warmer water? Is it about the pairing? Or are the voracious predators hunting for food?

Finding grounds for this “winter residence” is the goal of an OCEARCH expedition that will hunt great white sharks off the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina from November 28 to December 14.

It will include representatives from 30 research institutions working on two dozen different shark studies, OCEARCH said in a press release.

“This is our first expedition attempting to sample these great white sharks when they arrive in their wintering season,” said OCEARCH founder Chris Fischer in the press release.

“It will allow us to understand the physiological makeup of a great white shark in this region at this point in time and fill in the gaps to understand their life throughout their migration path.”

The team intends to capture as many sharks as possible, then collect blood, feces and muscle tissue samples and perform ultrasound scans on adult females.

None of these tests will be easy considering that great white sharks can exceed 14 feet and are uncooperative patients.

“Animals sampled during this time will provide valuable information on prey preferences, foraging strategies, habitat use and preferred oceanographic traits,” said OCEARCH Chief Veterinarian Dr. Harley Newton in the press release.

OCEARCH, a non-profit shark research agency, used satellite tags attached to great white sharks caught in the Northwest Atlantic to discover that sharks are attracted to the region.

Tracking data later showed that December 1 to May 15 was a “wintering season” when these sharks moved between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and the Florida Gulf Coast, OCEARCH says.

It’s long been thought they simply preferred warmer water, but that doesn’t explain why some tagged sharks have been tracked as far west as the mouth of the Mississippi River, says OCEARCH.

“There are also differences in whether great whites that migrate to the Gulf of Mexico go there every year or only certain years,” Newton said. “There is still a lot to learn about great white shark movements in this region and time of year.”

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering issues such as schools, crime, immigration, LGBTQ issues, homelessness and charities. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history and a minor in geology.