Tag, you're it!

January 24, 2019

 

It is not too often that sharks and happy are in the same news article. More often than not, shark reports center around something doom and gloom. Be it the illegal fishing of endangered species thereby contributing to the alarming shark population decline, someone getting bit by a shark or more devastating killed, or the harmful shark deterrent methods being used to protect water enthusiast in our oceans, the news is grim. But not always!

 

My boss recently forwarded me an article about the great white population in Cape Cod. It peaked his interest (and consequently mine) because a few years back I featured the same area in a blog I wrote titled, Wildlife Conservation: working too well? I am happy to be visiting Cape Cod again.

 

The article, Here’s what researchers are focusing on next in their study of great white sharks off Cape Cod, by Dialynn Dwyer focuses its attention on the work done by researchers on the great white population in Cape Cod.

 

In short, Greg Skomal, the senior fisheries scientist for the state Department of Fish and Game who leads the Massachusetts Shark Research program, and his colleagues tagged a 14-foot female white shark in the waters off Provincetown which marked the 150th shark for the season which officially closed in October of 2018.

 

 

What is the big deal about tagging 150 sharks you might ask?  In efforts to examine the movement, ecology, and behavior of the ocean predators in Cape Cod waters, Skomal and his team have been tagging sharks since 2009 and to date it is the most great white sharks tagged in the Atlantic. The big deal is a quite a bit can be learned from those tags. To a mere shark lover, it may simply be an indicator of the increase in shark population but to this team of researchers it is far more.

 

The truth be known it is very difficult to determine the great white population, but with the data collected over the past five years we may soon know that number and much more. The data  collected from these tagged great whites is invaluable. For instance, by analyzing the data from 2014-2018 the hope is to not only estimate the population of sharks off the Cape coast but also to study the habits of these sharks. Through an analysis, researchers “may be able to project what the trend of sharks in Massachusetts looks like over time and where it might be heading next,” said Skomal. In addition, they will also gain a sense of where the ‘hotspots’ for sharks are in the Massachusetts area and understand everything related to shark habitat such as water temperature, tides, time of day.  Determining such patterns could give answers to what may be driving the sharks to be in certain areas or why particular spots might be commonly used. Think about how all this information can benefit officials who manage our beaches. Would it not be beneficial to know if there are 20 sharks or 200 on a given day?

 

Skomal hopes in the future to be able to produce forecasting models that will be helpful for beach managers in predicting patterns of the lovely great white so that the two-footed inhabitants are safe. This information is not only beneficial to gaining a deeper understanding of these creatures but also improves shark-human interaction in making it less risky for sharks to swim in their natural habitat.

 

 

 

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