Boston Blog

New system tracks return of White Sharks to Cape Cod

A new network of wired buoys that stretch from Truro to Buzzards Bay is collecting detailed data about the White Sharks that have started returning to the Cape Cod each summer.

The Mass Division of Marine Fisheries is now poised to take full scientific advantage of the fish, which were first spotted here three years ago, says Greg Skomal, a state marine biologist. By the time the last of the receivers went out last week, the system had already picked up signals from two of the eleven sharks tagged last year.

Scientist Greg Skomal. Photo Credit: Clarita Berger

Scientist Greg Skomal. Photo Credit: Clarita Berger

In the past, Skomal had to wait for sightings from fishing boats or amateur shark spotters. Now, the receivers will collect new data and alert scientists to the sharks’ arrival.

“What we have in essence is an electronic spotting system that is much more accurate than our human eye,” he said. That may be why the sharks were detected early; they usually arrive in July. Or, until recently,  not at all. Most of the existing research on the sharks comes from places like India and the Pacific Ocean, he said.

“We have basically a paucity of any information about the life history and ecology of these animals,” in the Atlantic, Skomal said,  “Up until the Cape Cod phenomenon, if you will, we didn’t have predictable access to white sharks.”

But the arrival of the sharks off Massachusetts offers, “an incredible opportunity to start answering about some basic questions about these species,” he said.

These include: Do they stay in one area or do they move up and down the coastline? What factors dictate where they want to be? Is there any correlation between their behavior and with time of day or tidal factors?

“By setting up receiving stations along the coast of Cape Cod … we can start to tease out some of these factors and see where these animals are spending their time” Skomal said.

Evidence suggests that the sharks gather where they can feed on the region’s growing seal population.  Despite the sighting – and the movie “Jaws” — they are unlikely to feed on tourists. Still, swimmers have been warned to stay away from the seals.

Skomal will have a chance to explain more about the differences between the shark in the book and movie, and real White Sharks. He’ll be part of “Sharks, Arts & Conservation “event at this summers ”Jawsfest” on Martha’s Vineyard, where the movie was filmed.


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