Project Weather: Sharks of the Cape | NECN

Project Weather: Sharks of the Cape

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    NEWSLETTERS

    OCEARCH, world's leading expedition for great white shark science, researches off coast of Cape Cod (Published Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014)

    (NECN: Tim Kelley) - The OCEARCH team was out in the waters off of Cape Cod for a full month, eyes peeled on the seas for the elusive great white shark.

    "There has got to be a thousand seals on the beach right there, and it's the seals that are drawing the sharks close to shore, giving us predictable access to them for the first time in this part of the world," said Der. Greg Skomol, a marine biologist from Massachusetts Marine Fisheries.

    Sixteen days into the month long expedition, the call came in: several sharks were circling the Contender. After more than an hour of wrangling, one shark took the bait and was guided to the OCEARCH shark lift where the science team quickly got to work.

    Within 20 minutes, they had done 12 scientific procedures to the 12 foot 7 inch long, 1,400 pound female, including attaching tags that will track her movements for the rest of her life.

    Then, the newly named Betsy was set on her way.

    This isn't the only shark the team has gotten off Cape Cod. Last year, they tagged great whites Genie and Mary Lee, who have already provided a great deal of data for the scientists.

    Mary Lee has provided her own surprises. Last fall, instead of heading south, she turned around and went north later in the season. Her moves started a conversation among scientists and beach goers that OCEARCH team founder, Chris Fischer hopes changes the attitude toward sharks.

    "Right now, a lot of fear around sharks is based on the unknown," said Fischer. "When you don't know what's going to happen it's scary. As we put data into the life of the white shark, the facts behind where they are going and what they are doing and when they come and go, people start talking about the sharks with a tone of curiosity. 'Why are they here, where is Mary Lee going? Where is Betsy going?' That's totally different than, 'AH! Run! Shark!'"

    All of the information about the sharks is given away for free. Fischer calls it the Google model for science. He hopes that will help replace the fear of the great white. He's even pushing it forward with the naming of one shark.

    "I was thrilled to name a shark after my mom and everyone really seems to connect to that," he said of Mary Lee.

    Still, there is much more to learn about the great white, their movements...and even where they begin their lives.  In fact, New England native and lead OCEARCH scientist Skomal says that's his most burning question - where the sharks are breeding. Fischer thinks he has a clue.

    "I think they are breeding here," laughed Fischer. "But I am an explorer. I'm allowed to guess. Skomal's the one who has to prove it. It's up to him to do that. And we have to deliver more sharks for him to pull that off."

    The team hopes that research collected off Cape Cod will help them identify that breeding ground, which they say could unlock the life history puzzle of the great white.

    "Sharks are the lion of the ocean," said Fischer. "They are the balance keeper. The Apex predator ... There is just no robust path forward for the ocean without the sharks. So we must understand the lives of the sharks so we can look after them."