Frothy waves rolled onto the sand. The warm September sun, high in the sky, beat down on the dark blue ocean water. It was a perfect beach day. A final summer heat wave as September came to call an end to the season. It could have been a scene from a Cape Cod post card, except for one thing. The beach goers, clad in their brightly colored bathing suits, stood lined along the shore, all of their eyes trained on a single boat. A sense of excitement hovered in the humid air. The water was empty.
Except for the shark. They couldn’t see her, but they knew she was there. They knew because the small plane was circling overhead, and the boat, which only seconds before, had been hurdling through the water, was now still, as if it always had been. A man stood on the boat’s metal pulpit, suspended out over the cold Atlantic water, a GoPro stick in one hand, the other tightly gripping the railing, ready for the boat to lurch back into motion without warning.
“We’re following a white shark,” he said to a man who had stepped forward, like an ambassador for the curious crowd. The boat was close enough to shore that he didn’t event have to yell to be heard. His name is Dr. Greg Skomal. He’s a marine biologist, and he’s famous around these parts, famous because he’s studying the White Sharks.
If the movie Jaws, was any indication as to how Massachusetts residents would react to the presence of white sharks in their waters, one would expect unmanageable fear and panic to permeate the summer air, yet in reality, the people here are excited. Dr. Skomal has become a celebrity. The circling plane and the boat, which signal the presence of a white shark in the water, and lead to the temporary closing of the Cape’s beaches on hot summer days, seem to be a source of wonder, not a cause for contempt.
These people, lined along the shore, scanning the water, watching the boat, waiting for a glimpse, these people are a part of something big. White sharks have always been a source of fascination. Hollywood has painted them as monsters to be feared. But people have always had a love for the creatures that they don’t understand, for the wild that they cannot tame, for the “monsters” that scare them. And now the sharks are here. A normal day on the beach, on a Wednesday in September, can turn into an episode of “Shark Week”. Life as we know it on Cape Cod is changing.
With a roar of the motors, the boat thrusts forward. People run along the shore, following it. The boat turns, stops, thrusts forward again, and stops, in 7 feet of water, just past the break point of the waves. A shadow moves towards the pulpit, invisible to the people on the beach. Dr. Skomal pushes the GoPro stick into the water, moving it back and forth. He pulls the camera out of the water, and the boat is moving again, gunning forward, then just as suddenly, it stops once more, and the camera goes back into the green ocean.
A few swipes, and Dr. Skomal brings the camera out of the water. As abruptly as it first appeared, the research boat takes off, following the small plane in the sky. Dr. Skomal, and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, are off in pursuit of another white shark.
Chatham resident and nature photographer, John King, donated forty limited-edition signed prints of his poster ‘Wild Chatham’ to AWSC. Anyone who donates $100 or more to the Conservancy will receive a poster (while supplies last). Funds will go toward our Summer Camp Scholarship Program. Please visit our website (www.atlanticwhiteshark.org) to make a donation.
Many thanks to John and Pam King for their generosity and support!
Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is pleased to offer scholarships for qualifying students to participate in summer camp programs that include a shark curriculum. Our goal is to connect a future generation to sharks through hands-on learning opportunities; inspiring the conservation of keystone species in our ocean’s ecosystem.
In 2013, we will be working with two amazing organizations on Cape Cod!
MASS AUDUBON – Wellfleet Bay and Chatham Natural History Day Camps
CAPE COD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY – KidSummer Natural History Day Programs in Brewster
One week of camp will cost up to $455 per child. Donations can be made by visiting our website: http://www.atlanticwhiteshark.org Thank you for your support!
At Atlantic White Shark Conservancy we love all sharks! Last summer we had the privilege of spending two days with Rafael de la Para, swimming with whale sharks. Rafael has been instrumental in whale shark research in Mexico. Whale sharks are the largest living fish and can reach lengths of 40+ feet. One of the sharks we encountered, Lucy, was tagged shortly after our trip. Her tag popped off 4 days ago a few miles south of Galveston. Rafael let us know that the tag popped off where the Flower Garden Banks are, making her the first whale shark tagged in ‘Afuera’ Mexico to be documented to travel to the Flower Gardens Banks!
The great white shark is the largest predatory fish in the world! Discovery Channel gets footage of great whites feeding on a whale carcass. The sharks don’t feed in a frenzy, rather they swim around and size each other up and allow the biggest shark to eat first. AWSC encourages you to take this respectful approach at your Super Bowl buffet table today!
Click here to view Discovery Channel video: http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/africa/videos/great-whites-devour-whale.htm
The Conservation Law Foundation, a leader in ocean conservation, and Brian Skerry, award winning photojournalist, teamed up to form New England Ocean Odyssey which offers “a first-of-its-kind journey beneath New England’s waves.”
I recently wrote a piece for New England Ocean Odyssey about white sharks in New England. Together we hope to raise awareness to ensure the future of this magnificent species.
I’ve always been fascinated by the shark species that inhabit our oceans. As a young girl, I saw my first shark on a whale watch trip out of Newburyport, a basking shark slowly cruising by. As an adult, I’ve had incredible underwater experiences with sharks. I’ve seen great hammerheads and nurse sharks in Nicaragua, whale sharks in Mexico, and great whites in South Africa.
In South Africa, my husband and I were the first to jump in the cage when a great white shark was spotted near the boat. I ducked my head under water and there she was, swimming gracefully by, cautiously checking us out. It was awe-inspiring and absolutely love at first sight (for me, I can’t speak for the shark)!
Around the same time, great white sharks off Cape Cod were making headlines. 2009 marked the first time white sharks had been successfully tagged and tracked in Western North Atlantic waters. I was thrilled to know this amazing species was spending time close to our shores.
Last summer, I had a conversation with Dr. Greg Skomal from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) about his work with white sharks in our area. I was surprised to learn that the DMF does not directly fund white shark research, so Dr. Skomal and biologist John Chisholm, rely on outside help for shark projects. This sparked the idea to form a nonprofit that would support local shark research and education, and with that Atlantic White Shark Conservancy was established.
Over the last six months, I’ve spent a great deal of time talking to shark researchers and enthusiasts around the world. I’ve learned a lot about the pressures facing numerous shark species globally (finning, overfishing, bycatch), as many populations have seen devastating declines.
Locally, I’ve begun spreading the word about our shark conservation work. What better place to gain support than in New England, where people are passionate about the marine environment. If they love whales, dolphins, and turtles, they must love sharks, right? Not necessarily. I’ve been told by people who care deeply about other marine species off the coast of Cape Cod, that they are not interested in shark conservation. Why the lack of concern for sharks? Fear. Come on New Englanders! We are of hearty stock and brave winters that would bring most people to tears. With regard to sharks, a quick Google search will give you stats on animals in the U.S. that are more likely to kill you than sharks (cows, dogs, horses).
I believe it’s time to face our fears, use our heads, and open our hearts to the beauty of the great white sharks that travel along our coastline. They certainly have more to fear from us than we do from them. Plus, white sharks are fascinating!
Great white sharks are one of a handful of sharks that are endothermic. These ‘warm-bodied’ sharks can maintain internal body temperatures higher than the outside water temperatures. They are part of a small group of sharks (Lamnids) whose eyes are proportionally larger than other shark species. White sharks are known to spy hop, which involves peering above the surface of the water to take a look around. The eyes of a white shark are not black as coal, as the movie JAWS would have you believe, but instead the iris is denim blue! As an apex predator, white sharks sit at the top of the food chain and help maintain balance that is critical for a healthy ecosystem.
In New England, we are privileged to have such incredible marine wildlife so close to home, including the great white shark. There is very little known about these sharks. We have the opportunity to raise awareness and learn more about this magnificent species, in hopes of ensuring its future.
It is important to realize that the ocean ecosystem is all connected—from the tiniest zooplankton to the largest apex predator. If you love whales, dolphins, and turtles…I encourage you to embrace great white sharks!
For more information on New England Ocean Odyssey: http://www.newenglandoceanodyssey.org/about/
For information on the Conservation Law Foundation: http://www.clf.org/