August 4, 2013

Sounds like sharks: White with fright, bite

Readily adaptable to cooler waters, at least a few great white sharks venture into the Gulf of Maine, but they're after seals, not swimmers.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

It's official. They're here. Cold water or not.

click image to enlarge

Just when they thought it was safe to go back into the water, beach goers in Orleans, Mass., wisely stay ashore as a great white shark patrols the shallows in search of one of the many seals that populate Cape Cod and the islands.

Photo By George Breen/Courtesy of Dawson Farber, Orleans Harbormaster

Shark Diving in Guadalupe Island
click image to enlarge

The Associated Press Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear ... and woe to the seal that gets pulled into the 2-inch serrated incisors of this great white that may be a seasonal guest.

SEE THE SHARKS

To see Mary Lee or other great white sharks in the Ocearch study: sharks-ocearch.verite.com/

After a shark was sighted off the Wells coast Thursday, little more came from the rare report of a dorsal fin off the Maine beach. But Tuesday, Massachusetts shark expert Greg Skomal confirmed great white sharks are in Maine waters just as he launched a ground-breaking study on the species.

Three different specimens cruised up here the past year wearing acoustic transmission tags, proving great whites migrate to Maine, said Skomal, the shark biologist at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

So the argument that Maine waters are too cold for great white sharks doesn't hold water, not one drop from the Gulf of Maine.

In fact, the great white shark population has grown so robust around Cape Cod, 11 coastal towns spent $45,000 this year to line the beaches with pamphlets and great white shark warning signs. And on Tuesday, Skomal launched the first-ever study using satellite transmitters on great white sharks in the Atlantic Ocean, giving scientists, indeed the general public, a real-time look at where these sharks are spending time.

Finally great white sharks along the Eastern seaboard can be tracked and their travel routes plotted for all to see on the website of the research vessel, Ocearch, at www.ocearch.org.

And Skomal said it's only a matter of time before one of these high-tech tags ends up on a great white that travels to Maine. Then the proof that Maine serves as the feeding ground for seal-hungry whites will be documented for all to see.

"You are on the highway. It's just we haven't identified yet off the coast of Maine where any hot spots are. But given the sheer number of seals, you could have quite a few white sharks. It's just they come and go unnoticed," Skomal said.

Since 2009 Skomal has had more than 25,000 detections from acoustic transmitters on great white sharks traveling as far north as Halifax, Nova Scotia, and all the way to Cape Canaveral, Fla. Some of the 35 great white sharks Skomal has tagged reside in Cape Cod, but he said most are transient.

And Skomal said a few travel to Maine.

"I've got my proof in other tags. I know they do occur in the Gulf of Maine, maybe not in terms of the numbers that we're seeing in Cape Cod. But once we get more (real-time) tags in now, it will be perfect timing for the sharks heading north. You'll be getting detections in your neck of the woods in September, October, November," Skomal said.

HIGH-TECH TAG

In the past four years Skomal has tagged great white sharks off the Cape Cod coast using a few different kinds of acoustic transmitters, but none with the real-time satellite transmission capability. He said the high-tech tags he is using now will change the way great white sharks are studied, understood and maybe viewed by the public.

As Skomal waited Tuesday aboard his 126-foot research vessel to catch a great white shark to put a satellite-based tag on another dorsal fin, he mused about the one massive shark that has become the poster girl for his study.

The 16-foot-long, 3,500-pound great white tagged by the Ocearch team on Sept. 17, off Cape Cod during the study's pilot project, has traveled so far and come in so close to so many beaches, Skomal said, "Mary Lee" is now being followed worldwide.

(Continued on page 2)

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