Science: Researchers Tag Great White Sharks off Cape Cod


The scientists and fishermen on board the Ocearch, a repurposed crabbing vessel, received word that their scouting boat had hooked a great white shark, sparking a flurry of activity. They were about to get up close and personal with the animal, more than 2,000 pounds and nearly 15 feet long.

The Ocearch crew tags great white sharks in an unorthodox way. Unlike Skomal's team, which has tagged a dozen great whites off the Massachusetts coast with harpoons, Chris Fischer's Ocearch crew baits the fish and leads them onto a large platform that lifts them out of the water for tagging and collecting blood, tissue and semen samples.

Ocearch, a nonprofit research organization named for a combination of "ocean" and "research," is crewed mainly by sport fishermen. Now, Ocearch has come to Cape Cod for a few weeks, minus the reality show and plus local scientists, to help shed light on the sharks' migration patterns, protect breeding and birthing sites, improve public safety and raise awareness about the threatened species that is a rising presence in the area.

Ocearch's real-time satellite tags last five years. Each time sharks' dorsal fins breaks the surface, the tags ping a satellite and mark an online map, accessible to researchers and the public. The work is dangerous for both man and fish. One shark died on the lift in South Africa. The crew tries to return sharks to the water within 15 minutes.

The great white is the "lion of the ocean," keeping seal, squid and fish populations in check, Fischer said. But it's also the shark that people are most interested in, making it a gateway for ocean conservation and advocacy, he said. Catching a shark starts with chum, drawing sharks to the boat by placing whale blubber and other shark favorites in the water a mile out from the ship.




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