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Protecting the Great White Shark


Image courtesy of Unsplash

Great white sharks are found in Cape Cod, off the Farallon Islands, in Baja, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, and can travel anywhere from South Florida to Canada (Kibblehouse, 2021). These creatures are apex predators, meaning that they are at the top of the food chain. Great whites make sure that everything below them stays in balance and without them, ecosystems can become unhealthy and unbalanced.


In the past, sharks in the Northwest Atlantic were a very popular sport fish and a result of bycatch, which is why 80% of the great white population was fished out of the ocean. In 1997, great whites became a federally protected species in the United States. It wasn’t until 2005 that they became a state-protected species in Massachusetts.


The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is an organization that supports scientific research, improves public safety, and educates communities to inspire white shark conservation. They conduct their studies on the ocean side of the cape and inside Cape Cod Bay from July-October/November. The Conservancy tags Great Whites and takes video footage to learn more about their movements. They use a spotter pilot to locate sharks in the water from above. The GPS location is given, and a boat is directed to that location.


The first step in this research is to take video footage and identify it as a white shark. The great white shark Curly is the largest shark to be recorded at 18 feet and can be identified by a white marking on her gill slits. The team has been able to identify 450 individual sharks.


The next step is to tag the shark. The tag goes at the base where the dorsal fin meets the body and communicates with an acoustic receiver and buoy system, 200 of which are placed around Cape Cod. The real-time receivers are located at the head of Meadow Beach, Newcomb Hollow Beach, Lecount Hollow Beach, Nauset Beach Trail 1, and Chatham North Beach. Each receiver is located about 150 yards from the shoreline. In 2020, a new tag was used: a cat tag which is similar to a Fitbit on a shark. The devices take video footage and determine swimming speed, water temperature, and depth. It stays on the shark for 24 hours, then a satellite signal is sent to scientists to retrieve it.


Sharktivity is a free app that tracks the movement of tagged great white sharks. If you happen to see a great white at the beach or from your boat, you can report it on this app. They are often close to shore because they must eat and are following their food source: gray seals. Towns are making people aware of sharks with beach signs and purple/black shark flags. It is extremely rare for a shark to bite a human, but to stay safe you should stay close to the shore, adhere to signs and flags, limit splashing, avoid murky water, avoid isolating yourself, avoid seals, avoid schools of fish, and listen to lifeguards.


Some ways that you can help the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's mission are to spread the word, visit their shark center, order a license plate, volunteer, or donate. Great White sharks are extremely important for our oceans and without them, life in the ocean would be drastically impacted.

 

References


Kristen Kibblehouse, (02/07/2021). Sharks: Awareness Inspires Conservation.https://www.capecodmaritimemuseum.org/lecture-series



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