We got excited when we heard there was a satellite tag, which was until recently attached to a great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Somehow it had made its way onto Mozambican soil. We had been contaced by Alison Kock, research manager at Shark Spotters; she was receiving transmissions from outside a town called Chidenguele, about a three hours drive south from Tofo.
The transmissions of the tag were close to the main road, so we were confident we could find it
Having printed off some flyers and put the last transmission locations into our GPS, Clare and I set off in my rusty 4×4. After several detours, we arrived at the end of a road only 600 meters away from the last transmission and could not drive any further. We parked near a village and started asking around in our best Portuguese. One guy seemed adamant he knew where the tag was and gestured to follow us. Only problem was, this friendly fellow could not talk. All he could do was emit high-pitched squeals and frantically gesture for us to follow him.
Our self-appointed guide for the day
He was going in the opposite direction of the last transmitted tag locations, but knowing these locations are not always accurate and due to the sheer enthusiasm of our newfound friend, we followed on. He led us around for about 2 hours passing many villages, passing out flyers with my phone number, a picture of the tag and explaining to people what we were looking for.
“It is just over that hill!”
We were starting to lose hope and were about to head back to the car. Disappointed, thirsty and drenched in sweat, we handed out the last of the printed flyers to a group of women carrying water back to their village.
A short woman wearing an orange t-shirt suddenly started jumping up and down and cheering. We shortly joined in the celebration as she said she had found the tag on the beach. We were dancing around high-fiving each other. Our murmuring friend grabbed my wrist and raised it in the air as if I had just won the century’s greatest boxing match. Everyone was overjoyed.
Some of the curious onlookers as we were trying to retrieve the tag
We all went back to her village, a mere 220 meters away from the tag’s last reported location. The chief was called and we asked if we could see the tag. Everyone went off to a strange pile of dead palm leaves about 50 meters away from the houses and started digging away. When I approached the digging site, I got a sudden “espere!” (wait!) from the village chief.
I was a bit baffled and hesitantly stood at about 20 meters away waiting to get permission to come closer, take a few photos and help with digging. I soon found out the reason why I was told to wait; this wasn’t an ordinary pile of palm leaves, it was their toilet. And the tag was somewhere in the midst of it.
The ‘tag storing facilities’, also known as a ‘toilet’
After about 10 minutes they started walking back and washing something in a bucket of water. We were eagerly waiting to see if it was the actual tag, a bit anxious of its state as well… after all, it had been in a dugout hole full of human faeces.
The vast amount of data stored on this tag will aid in white shark conservation
After a quick rinse they held it up. It was the tag, fully intact at that. We quickly settled on a reward price of 700 Meticais and swiftly found a bag to keep the tag in. The tag will be sent to Alison in South Africa, and will allow for detailed analysis of all the archived data. We hope this tag will help unlock some of the secrets of one of nature’s greatest predator, the great white shark!