Shark expedition launches from Woods Hole, Mass.

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July 30, 2013, 6:35 pm
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(NECN: Greg Wayland) - "We embark today on the most ambitious white shark expedition in American history."

In search of a bounty of information on an awesome, though much feared, and deeply mysterious fish.

"This particular project will be the most in-depth study of Atlantic white sharks conducted to date," President of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Susan Avery says.
     
And it will be conducted board the 126-foot non-profit M/V Ocearch shark research vessel out of - of all places - Utah, with an expedition leader out of Kentucky, embarking on a sunny Tuesday afternoon from Woods Hole to waters off Chatham, Cape Cod under the flag of the Explorer Club, joining resources of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Marine Labs and universities up and down the U.S. East Coast.

The plan is to catch, tag, bio-sample and release as many as 20 great white sharks during a month-long expedition.

"It might surprise you that despite their size, we know surprisingly little about the ocean's large predators," Avery says.

"We're going to learn about its life history, how it lives from day to day, feeding ecology," Mass. Marine Fisheries Senior Scientist Greg Skomal says.
     
Experienced crew members will do the tagging. We asked crew member Whitey Evans how long it takes to take the fish once on board.

"Like three minutes, probably," he said, smiling.

Those who do that job find it rewarding and exciting, if a little nerve-wracking at times. Crew member Brandon Eyre took us through the procedure.

He said he actually stands over the shark, some of which, in his experience, have run to 18-feet and have enormous girth.

"You're actually leaning over it, putting the tag right in the fin, right about here, you know because that's a big fish," he says.
   
Fear of the great white, says expedition leader Chris Fischer, amount to fear of the unknown.

"The unknown was the massive void in the murk of the ocean creates a fear that when we go out there and collect this data and start to solve the puzzle of their lives, facts come in," he says.

And those facts, he feels, can wipe from our mind the odious theme music from: "Jaws" and replace it with greater understanding and sympathy for this magnificent predator.

Skomal notes that the expedition will also study the great white's migration patterns and movement and when it likes to be close to shore, as it has been recently, feeding off seals.

As for the mood of  the sharks, we're told they'll usually be relaxed when pulled on board for tagging. Eyre has tagged scores of them before.

"If there is a shark in distress, they definitely have a different smell to them, and I haven't smelt that in this ship for quite some time," he says, laughing heartily.

Tags: massachusetts, Cape Cod, Greg Wayland, Woods Hole, Great White sharks, Cape Cod great white sharks
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