Two Sharks Tagged, More Seen By Researchers Off Chatham
CHATHAM – Beginning Friday, July 1, anyone with an iPhone can find out instantly when great white sharks are sighted or tagged off the Cape.
The free “Sharktivity” app, developed by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, will enable the public to track shark sightings and shark activity, report sightings and submit photos and videos of sharks, data that scientists can use in their ongoing studies of the North Atlantic white shark population.
“This is the one location where anybody who has a shark sighting will be able to input information,” said Conservancy Executive Director Cynthia Wigren. “It's really citizen science at its best.”
Researchers sighted a number of sharks in the past week and tagged two. Once launched, the app will track that activity in real time, as well as provide alerts of shark activity near bathing beaches. Sharktivity users will not, however, be able to track the movement of tagged sharks. The acoustic tags being used by Dr. Greg Skomal of the state Division of Marine Fisheries only register when a tagged shark passes near a receiver afixed to one of dozens of buoys deployed in outer Cape, Cape Cod Bay and South Shore waters. That data has to be manually downloaded.
Satellite tags were placed on several sharks off Chatham by OCEARCH in 2012 and 2013, and they can be followed in real time on the organizations Shark Tracker app.
The Sharktivity app can be used by shark watchers all along the east coast, not just on the Cape, Wigren said. Last week, the Conservancy received reports of white shark sightings off New Jersey, she said. The recent Cape shark sightings have made national news, and Wigren said she sees no problem getting the word out about the app. “I do think it will get traction, just given the interest,” she commented.
Staff from the Conservancy, Cape Cod National Seashore, DMF and local Cape and South Shore towns provided input on the app, which was developed by Conserve.IO. It was funded by Everglades Boats and Amelia Rose Design, according to a press release. Currently only available for Apple devices, plans are in the works to adapt the app for Android operating systems as well.
“We're still in a place where not much is known about sharks, but what is known is completely contrary to what is portrayed in the popular culture,” Wigren said, citing the new film “The Shallows” as perpetuating the myth of great white sharks are bloodthirsty killers. “What is so fascinating about the animal is that it is a large, powerful, apex predator we share the water with and it is incredibly rare that incidents ever take place.”
Researchers tagged their second great white shark of the season this past Monday off Monomoy. They tagged the first last Friday off Nauset Beach, when they also witnessed, for the second time this season, a shark eating a seal.
The first tagged shark, which measured approximately 12 feet, was seen June 24 during the twice-weekly population study trips along the coast sponsored by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and the state Division of Marine Fisheries. It was the second time in the study's first week of the season that researchers had seen a great white shark; the first of the season was spotted Monday, an 11-foot animal seen off Monomoy. The researchers saw both sharks preying on gray seals, an event they only witnessed twice all last summer. Last Friday's predation occurred about 300 yards off the southern end of Nauset Beach.
Skomal named the first tagged shark tagged “Luke” after a fisherman friend who recently passed away, according to the Conservancy.
Luke was first identified by DMF's John Chisholm in underwater footage take in 2014, during the population study's first year. Funded by the Conservancy, the study will provide the first baseline database of the region's white sharks. Now in its third year, the population study has identified more than 140 individual sharks; researchers have tagged more than 70 sharks with a variety different types of tags since 2009. Last season 24 sharks were tagged.
The shark tagged Monday off Monomoy was approximately 11 feet. Chisholm was reviewing footage taken of the animal to determine if it was in the DMF database. Wigren said researchers saw four or five other sharks on that trip and are waiting for video taken of them to be analyzed.
Researchers also downloaded data from acoustic receivers Friday, but only one shark – Scratchy, the first to register this season – was detected.
“Scratchy's still sticking around,” said Wigren.
It's also Shark Week on The Discovery Channel, and Friday's program, titled “Shark Bait,” focuses on Chatham. Here's the program blurb from the channel's website:
“There's been a war going on between seals and great whites for millions of years. Now there's a new battleground on the map called Cape Cod. It's different in every way from the usual rocky islands where sharks and seals usually face off in other parts of the world. The great whites have had to learn new ways to hunt seals here. Dr. Greg Skomal and his team wonder, what are the sharks doing here, how do they get here, and how do more sharks learn of Cape Cod's bounty of seals? And more importantly: if the number of seals and sharks continue to increase at the present rate, what's the future?”
“Shark Bait” airs Friday, July 1, at 9 p.m.
In what's become a Chatham summer tradition, “Jaws” will be shown at the Chatham Orpheum Theatre July 1 to 7. It will share the July 4 holiday weekend bill with “The Finest Hours.”