Shark Season Off To Slow Start; Blame The Weather

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Sharks

Marley, a 10-foot female great white shark, was detected on a real-time receiver July 29 off North Beach Island. MASS. DIVISION OF MARINE FISHERIES PHOTO 

CHATHAM – This summer's less-than-perfect weather has even impacted shark tagging efforts.

Dr. Greg Skomal of the state division of marine fisheries and his shark tagging team have only been able to get out on the water a few days. Rain, wind and low-ceiling clouds – which prevented the team's spotter pilot from taking off – have all been factors, according to Marianne Walsh, education director of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, which helps underwrite the tagging trips.

“Weather has definitely been a factor this season,” she said.

A 12-foot great white shark was the first of the season to be tagged by Skomal on July 7. He and his team have managed to tag three great white sharks with acoustic tags and has deployed two of the sophisticated CATS tags, which Walsh likened to an iPhone embedded in the animal. It collects fine-scale movement, records video and “gives us a better understanding of how the shark is moving through the water.” The tags pop off the animal after 24 to 48 hours. Both have been recovered. The data will contribute to ongoing studies by DMF and the AWSC of white shark movements along the Cape's shore.

Several of the more than 200 previously tagged sharks have been detected on real-time acoustic receivers deployed along the Cape's east side. Those detections register immediately on the AWSC's Sharktivity app, while previously tagged sharks that “ping” on the dozens of other acoustic receivers in the region are only known after the data is manually downloaded. Sharks are pretty much detected daily on the real-time receivers, which only register previously tagged sharks. Among them were Marley, a 10-foot female tagged in 2020 detected off North Beach Island last Thursday, and Big Bopper, a 13-foot male tagged in 2016 who was detected Friday on receivers off both Wellfleet and Truro within two hours.

The Shartivity app has reported numerous shark sightings this season, but whether the numbers are higher than last year – when fewer people at the beach seemed to correlate with fewer sightings – isn't certain yet, Walsh said. “We haven't done a comparison to last year yet,” she commented.

On Monday, Nauset Beach was briefly closed to swimmers after a great white was spotted 75 feet offshore, swimming south, according to Sharktivity. The app logged around 20 shark sightings or detections over the weekend off Orleans and Chatham.

Still, July isn't a particular busy month for sightings historically. According to DMF, the peak months for shark activity off the Cape are August, September and October, with the latter being the busiest.

Last week a trial was conducted of a new monitoring system using a balloon floating along the shore at Nauset Beach, which aims to detect white sharks in near-shore areas. The project is new and information on its effectiveness is not yet in, Walsh said.

The Conservancy has a number of other oars in the water this summer, so to speak. Its eco-tourism program was expanded this year thanks to the donation of a boat and is sold out through August, Walsh reported. “A lot of people are starting to realize that the Cape is a location where people can see wildlife in its natural habitat, white sharks specifically,” she said. The program will continue through September and into October, the two most active white shark months. “September is starting to book up,” she said. Information on the trips can be found at the AWSC website, atlanticwhiteshark.org.

The group's Shark Center in Chatham is still operating under a reservation system with capacity limits to help families feel more comfortable, Walsh said. “We've had many sell-out days this season,” she added. The organization is planning to begin work on a new shark center on MacMillan Wharf in Provincetown after Columbus Day, which should be open by next Memorial Day. Currently the organization has a store open on the wharf which is also doubling as a resource center. Walsh said the staff is knowledgeable about the region's white sharks and encouraged visitors to stop in and ask questions.

The organization is also continuing its Shark Smart beach program, with interns and staff members going to a different beach each day of the week to educate people about white sharks. The program is at Nauset Beach in Orleans on Tuesdays, Marconi Beach in Wellfleet on Wednesdays, Coast Guard Beach in Eastham on Thursdays, and Head of the Meadow Beach in Truro on Fridays. On Saturday the program alternates between LaCounts Hollow Beach and Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet.

Finally, the AWSC recently held its annual gala. While the auction was held online, the event itself was held in person and raised $225,000.

“It was great to have people back in person,” Walsh said.

 

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Residents of Maine can now report shark sightings which will be added to the AWSC's Sharktivity app once reviewed and confirmed by state scientists. The Maine Department of Marine Resources posted a line to the form, which also allows people to upload photos. A link to the form can be found here: www.maine.gov/dmr/. Last summer, Maine had its first ever shark fatality after a woman was attacked and killed while swimming near Bailey Island in Harpswel.