Beaches have been closed dozens of instances this summer season on Cape Cod, prompted by close by sightings of nice white sharks. But researchers say the rising variety of closures and sightings is “definitely not” reflective of a “boom” or sudden enhance within the shark inhabitants.
Headed into the 2019 seashore season, state and native officers pushed for brand new measures to extend consciousness about sharks in Massachusetts and enhance security on the seashores after the Bay State noticed its first deadly shark assault in additional than 80 years final September. The dying of 26-year-old Arthur Medici of Revere, who was bitten and killed whereas boogie boarding at Wellfleet’s Newcomb Hollow Beach, adopted an assault the earlier month in Truro that severely injured a New York man.
Greg Skomal, this system supervisor and senior scientist for the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, mentioned this 12 months’s shark season has up to now been “pretty standard” in comparison with earlier years.
“There’s a greater level of effort out there looking for sharks and that has resulted in more information and more communication and more closures of swimming waters,” he advised Boston.com. “And that’s what this perceived increase in sightings and beach closures can be attributed to.”
Skomal’s colleague, Megan Winton, a analysis scientist for the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, mentioned they aren’t drawing any quick conclusions based mostly on the variety of sightings this season, which have garnered nationwide consideration.
Rather, she mentioned it’s essential for the general public to do not forget that the variety of sightings is “effort driven.”
“There was a day a couple of weeks ago where we had a pilot up in the air and a tour company who was out looking for sharks also had a pilot up in the air,” she mentioned. “Our pilot was sending sightings in to us, and we had been reporting them to the seashores and by way of the Sharktivity app and the opposite pilot was additionally doing that. So we had extra eyes, we had extra effort on the market, we had two pilots on the market, and due to that we had been reporting the next variety of sightings. And individuals had been freaking out. They had been like, ‘Oh my gosh, what happened today?’ But actually it was the actual fact that there have been two pilots up within the air who had been each sending us sightings and we had been then capable of report them.”
Skomal identified that this 12 months not solely are scientists and their spotter pilot headed out onto the water a few times per week, different firms — together with the Chatham Bars Inn and Monomoy Sportfishing — are hiring their very own planes to search for nice whites for what they time period “White Shark Ecotourism.”
The further eyes within the air and on the water make a giant distinction, he mentioned.
“In previous years, basically we saw lots of shark reports and some beach closures on days where we were on the water because we had a plane in the air and for the most part we were the only ones out there,” Skomal mentioned. “And that tended to happen on Mondays and Thursdays, which were the days when we were out on the water.”
The sharks could be on the market, whether or not or not they had been seen, Winton mentioned.
“There are a lot of sharks out there,” she mentioned. “This is definitely an aggregation site for white sharks in the summer and the fall.”
That goes for the sightings and seashore closures on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, too.
Winton mentioned there are sightings off the islands — not simply of white sharks — yearly.
“We’ve been tracking them, as well as reports of bitten seals, and the Division of Marine Fisheries has been monitoring for the presence of tagged white sharks using acoustic receivers,” she mentioned.
The identical expertise used to hear for tagged sharks alongside the Cape has been deployed off each islands since 2012 with protection various year-to-year, she mentioned.
But the scientists mentioned there’s a method that this 12 months stands out from seasons previous.
Researchers have tagged 19 sharks up to now this season over the course of 9 journeys — 5 alongside the Outer Cape and 4 in Cape Cod Bay.
By the identical time final 12 months, that they had solely tagged 9, and in 2017 by the identical date that they had tagged 10.
Skomal pointed to 2 components as attainable drivers behind the elevated variety of tags.
The frequency of the tagging can depend upon how typically researchers are going out on the water, however it could possibly additionally depend upon the target of the examine.
Last 12 months, Skomal and his workforce accomplished their closing 12 months of subject analysis for a five-year examine aimed toward estimating the inhabitants of white sharks in Massachusetts waters, which they hope to conclude work on within the subsequent six months.
“In previous years we would spend quite a bit of time with each shark making sure we had good identification footage,” Skomal mentioned. “And if you spend a tremendous amount of time with a single shark, it will tend to move away from you and it will limit your ability to tag them. What we’re doing this year, as we completed the field component of the population study last year, we’re now moving on to getting as many tags out as we can.”
They nonetheless will take video footage of the nice white, however they don’t want the quantity of media they did in earlier years for the inhabitants examine.
“We make a couple of sweeps with the camera, we determine if its a male or female, we listen to hear if it’s been previously tagged, and then we put a tag in it,” he mentioned. “So we’ve been able to do it much more quickly and that allows for us to have the time to tag the individuals without spooking them away, which is what we’ve done in the past.”
This 12 months, researchers additionally noticed extra shark exercise within the early a part of the season than has been witnessed in earlier years.
“Most of the time things don’t begin happening in terms of numbers of white sharks really until mid-to-late July, and we had a lot of white sharks around in early July this year,” Skomal mentioned. “So that gave us a couple to three weeks more of tagging as well. So that’s clearly the case where we had far more sharks, in our opinion, around in July than we had in previous years.”
Things slowed down close to the top of July, however Skomal and Winton agreed that the exercise seems to be selecting again up once more.
The peak time for shark sightings and exercise off Cape Cod is August by means of October.
“We have peak number of sightings and activity from August through October, but really the sharks are there all summer,” Winton mentioned. “Whether we’re out with our pilot or not. So we really want people to know that and be aware that those animals are there, even when we’re not out looking for them.”
She mentioned beachgoers ought to proceed to make the most of the Sharktivity app to see the place researchers and different members of the general public have noticed sharks and attain out to the conservancy on social media if they’ve any questions.
But Winton suggested in opposition to utilizing the app to select which seashore you must go to.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t sharks there, if there weren’t sightings there recently,” she mentioned. “It just means either the research team wasn’t there or somebody wasn’t there to report them. We know from the research that’s been conducted over the past couple of years that as a whole, white sharks really do patrol the whole outer coast of the Cape. There isn’t anywhere along the outer coast of the Cape that we haven’t seen a white shark during the course of our survey over the past five years.”