Massachusetts marine conservationists spot great white shark in waters of Cape Cod

On Thursday morning, Massachusetts marine conservationists came across a great white shark they once tagged swimming in Cape Cod water.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy said that the visitor was in fact ‘Scratchy’, a 13-foot male great white that was tagged with an electronic tracker to monitor its activity in August last year. Scratchy was first identified in 2014 by the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Department.

The predator got named Scratchy by the conservationists because of the presence of several scratches on its side, probably as a result of encounters with seals.

Great white sharks aren’t known to frequent the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, but as per the state marine fisheries division, many of the ocean predators have been spotted swimming around Monomoy Island, present off the coast of Chatham, Cape Cod. The region is famous for its huge population of gray seals.

From 2009 to 2015, marine researchers have found and tagged around 80 great white sharks off the coast of Cape Cod.

Due to the growing sea population in Cape Cod, scientists think the region may very well turn into a new hub for predatory great white sharks.

A marine biologist, Owen Nichols, studied seals for 15 years, and said that the marine mammals have seen a population boom in the past some decades.

Nichols explained that until 1960s, seals were virtually eliminated from Cape Cod waters. He said that what has been happening presently is that the marine mammals have started re-colonizing the area, which may result into a resurgence of seals.

In 1972, prior to the implementation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, seal sightings in the area were quite rare. Locals often hunted the marine mammals before they received protection from federal government.

“Marine Biologist Greg Skomal began tagging these sharks in 2009 when the shark population was still relatively small. In 2015, he identified 141 sharks in Chatham, Massachusetts, designating Cape Cod as the only great white shark hub on the Eastern seaboard,” according to a news report published by Global Animal.

That weekend, marine biologist Greg Skomal tagged five great whites off the coast of Chatham, marking the return of the legendary predators after perhaps hundreds of years of exile from Cape Cod. They’ve been back every year since, congregating around the long, sandy shoals south of town and feasting on grey seals.

Technically, great whites were nothing new in Cape Cod. Every salty old fisherman in the region has a story of seeing one or maybe even pulling one onboard. Most of Steven Spielberg’s film Jaws was filmed across the sound in Martha’s Vineyard. But these sightings were rare, and scientists assumed the population of great whites off New England was small and fragmented.

According to a story published on the topic by Tech Times, “According to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, the visitor turned out to be “Scratchy,” a 13-foot male great white that was fitted with an electronic tracker on to monitor its activity in August. However, he was first identified by the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Department back in 2014.”

While great white sharks are not known to frequent the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the state marine fisheries division said several of the ocean predators have been seen swimming around Monomoy Island, which is located off the coast of Chatham, Cape Cod. The area is known for its large population of gray seals. Marine researchers have identified and tagged as many as 80 great white sharks off the coast of Cape Cod from 2009 to 2015.

However, the return of the seals in droves is also attracting many sharks to the area to look for food. Researchers say they have spotted 68 great white sharks around Cape Cod in 2014. This figure ballooned to 140 individual sharks in 2015. The hordes of seals are also a cause of concern for local fishermen as they have been consuming too many of available fish stock in the region.

A report published in Capecodtoday informed, “The 2016 shark research season is officially underway. On Thursday, researchers from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWHC) and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries hit the waters off Cape Cod in search of white sharks. Although they didn’t see any white sharks, they did pick up some activity on receivers deployed off Chatham, according to a AWSC release.”

Two of the receivers, one off Monomoy Island and the other off the Chatham Harbor Inlet, pinged a shark called Scratchy. Scratchy is a 13′ male white shark, first identified by the state’s top shark expert Dr. Greg Skomal in 2014. Skomal caught up with Scratchy again in August 2015 and tagged him, the release said.

His tag being detected by the Chatham receivers on June 11, makes Scratchy the first check-in of the season. Skomal tags the sharks with acoustic tags, which are picked up by the receivers each time the shark passes. Although acoustic tags provide good information, it is not real-time. The data captured by the receiver must be manually downloaded by researchers every several days. The receivers only shed light on the activity of tagged sharks. Sharks without tags are also likely to be passing by the receivers undetected.

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