After the 2018 death of a Revere man and mauling of another by sharks off Cape Cod beaches, 2019 dawned with new concern by many people on Cape Cod.
In the winter and spring, many residents and officials in towns on the Cape debated how to prevent shark attacks, whether barriers or warning systems might work, and what could be done to help keep the waters safe, and tamp down everyone’s fears.
The shark attacks last fall made the work of Greg Skomal, the program manager and senior scientist for the Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries, even more important. Skomal is well known as the state’s white shark expert and a master at tagging and studying these creatures. Videos of him jabbing a barbed tag into a swimming shark are regular fare on Boston TV news programs.
In an interview in the summer issue of Bostonia, the alumni magazine of Boston University, Skomal talked about these fascinating, but dangerous, animals. He has compiled five years of data on white sharks, including information transmitted by the electronic tags. He and his crew have recorded thousands of hours of shark video that helps identify individuals by their coloring, size and movements. Marine Fisheries experts are using the data to interpret shark behavior – differences between active feeding by sharks and simple cruising, for example. Given how little was known about the behavior and number of great whites until Skomal and his team started their research, the knowledge they gain could help predict shark behavior and maybe save lives.
Skomal said researchers have identified at least 320 individual white sharks off our coast in the past five years. Over the last decade, researchers have tagged 151 sharks, with about 100 to 110 of the tags still transmitting data. He said he doesn’t think changes in ocean temperatures are bringing more sharks to our coast. Rather, the end of random killing of sharks and the steady growth in the seal population are likely contributors to the increase in sharks.
White sharks are here to stay – at least during the warmer months – so the countless hours of shark observations and research by Skomal and others will prove essential to helping us continue living with these ancient predators.