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  • Writer's pictureNikki Latham

Scientists puzzled as tuna unexpectedly travels on motorway to Birmingham

In a surprising turn of events, scientists found themselves scratching their heads when the satellite-tagged tuna they were monitoring took an unexpected detour along a bustling motorway leading to Birmingham.

The team of researchers from the esteemed University of Exeter had recently tagged an Atlantic bluefin tuna near Plymouth, hoping to gather valuable data. To their astonishment, the signal suddenly indicated that the tag had washed up on Whitsand Bay in Cornwall, seemingly ready for retrieval. However, despite their diligent search efforts, the PhD students were unable to locate the missing tag on the beach.

The situation took an even more peculiar twist when the tag mysteriously started making its way towards Birmingham, prompting a collaborative recovery mission involving two local BBC radio stations.

“We assumed someone had picked the tag off the beach and driven home from their holiday,” said Dr Lucy Hawkes, one of the leaders of the tuna-tagging project.
“These tags collect very detailed information, but they only transmit their location – to get the rest of the data, we have to recover the tags.
“They are designed to fall off the tuna after about six days, and obviously we can’t control where the tuna go, so the tags can be hard to recover.
“We have deployed 20 to 30 tags over five years and recovered eight so far. The tags are incredibly useful for our work, so I wasn’t ready to give up on this one.”

Dr Hawkes called BBC Radio West Midlands – who broadcast her appeal for information on Sunday morning. But then the tag moved again – going north to Lancashire. Still unwilling to give up, Dr Hawkes secured an interview on BBC Radio Lancashire later on Sunday morning.

“On Sunday night, the tag moved again,” Dr Hawkes said.
“We received high-quality tracking information that made me quite sure it was in a tiny village called Ribby, just south of Wesham.
“BBC Radio Lancashire called to see if we’d found the tag yet, and had me on again that evening.”

The radio station was ready to send a reporter door-knocking the next morning. But then Brian Shuttleworth, a Lancashire man who had heard the evening broadcast, contacted the station to say he had found the tag. Mr Shuttleworth had been on holiday in Cornwall and had spotted the tag among some seaweed while walking on the beach.

Appearing on BBC Radio Devon on Wednesday morning along with Dr Hawkes, Mr Shuttleworth said he tried to call the phone number on the tag, but reception was poor on the beach.

“I thought: right, when I get home I’ll ring it up and organise for sending it back,” he said.

On Sunday evening, Mr Shuttleworth and his wife caught the end of a programme on BBC Radio Lancashire and realised they had the tag in question. He spoke to Dr Hawkes and posted the tag to the university. The tag continued to provide location updates, allowing the team to track it all the way to the Streatham Campus in Exeter. It has now arrived, and its fascinating data on bluefin tuna can be accessed.

“This just goes to show the dual power of animal tracking for conservation mixed with local radio!” Dr Hawkes said.

This news story has been produced by Chesil Radio's News Team, for more information please visit:

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