There has been a lot of fuss n’ holler here in New England for a few years now about the growing population of great white sharks off Chatham on Cape Cod. This is, after all, Jaws country. So, some people start wondering whether it is safe to continue going back in the water while others are off making T-shirts like this one or mugs or toys or anything else that might net them a few bucks.
As is so often the case, the facts dispel the concerns. Firstly, you cannot walk from the Chatham beaches to Monomoy Island without getting your feet wet by crossing on the backs of the sharks. In fact, most of the people who go looking for them don’t find them. Secondly, the sharks that are there are not cruising the shallows near the beaches looking for tasty, slow moving humans in bathing suits. They are after the seals and it is the booming seal population that has led to the increase in the number of great whites in the area. In other words, it is a classic example of nature doing its thing. An increase in the population of a species leads to an increase in the corresponding predator’s population.
Now, all of this is not to suggest that the beach closings that have become a periodic event each summer are unwarranted. If a shark is spotted in the area, officials try to get everyone out of the water quickly and keep them out until well after the shark exits. Rightly so. After all, you never know what a human being might do. People do things like jump off a moving train into the zoo habitat of a Siberian tiger, for example.
But I would suggest that more careful thought should be given to what the scientists are doing out there in their boats while they study the sharks. I read this article about a research vessel that is new to Chatham waters, the a-bit-too-cleverly-named Ocearch. Like other vessels that are there, the Ocearch is busy finding and tagging great whites so that the population can be better tracked and studied.
Fine. Better than fine, actually, because they are attaching a tag that pings a satellite every time the dorsal fin breaks the surface and you can see online where the sharks have been. This, of course, is tremendously helpful to those folks standing at the waters edge wondering if they can go swimming.
(Man staring out to sea, inflatable sea horse tucked under his arm.) “Is it safe, honey?”
(Woman whips out her smartphone from somewhere in her bikini.) “I’ve got an app for that.”
But, the intrepid crew of the Ocearch are doing other things as well:
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.
Now…if I were a shark, I think I would probably take exception to that. Give me a tag on my dorsal fin and it’s like a piercing, right? I’m hip. I’m edgy. But, you start messing with other stuff?
Well. I’m a bit concerned the sharks may reevaluate their level of interest in dining on slow moving bipeds.
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