Greg Skomal Loves Sharks

A great white shark.

A great white shark.

CHATHAM – How do you sneak up on a great white shark? Very carefully.

Greg Skomal, the state’s foremost shark expert, knows that firsthand. Working again with the nonprofit Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, he has begun year two of a population study on great white sharks in Cape Cod’s waters.

“Our primary goal this summer is continuing the research we initiated in 2014, and that is to try to get a population estimate for the number of white sharks that are around Cape Cod,” said Skomal, who works for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

The multi-year project is well underway. “We hope that over the course of the next year we’ll be able to actually provide some preliminary estimates for the number of white sharks coming to Cape Cod,” he said.

The first great white shark of the season was tagged earlier this week. Last year, 68 great whites were tagged in the area of Orleans, Chatham and Monomoy.

Skomal said that in past years when people asked him how many great whites were in Cape waters in the summer, he would estimate a couple or three dozen.

“So I was indeed surprised when our final tabulation came down to 68 individuals. I didn’t anticipate that many. Our next step is to extrapolate that number to a broader population estimate,” he said.

This year they are looking to see which sharks return to the region and to continue to try to get a handle on how many visit the waters off Cape Cod in the summer.

“It’s entirely plausible we saw 10 percent, 50 percent, who knows, 70 percent of the animals that are out here. But we’re be able to hopefully provide those numbers over the past year,” he said.

Skomal said he has learned a lot about the white shark over the past years of study. Since not a lot was known about great white sharks, “virtually anything we learned would be new,” he said.

One of the most remarkable findings, he said, was that sharks go great distances when they leave Cape Cod and dive to depths as great as 3,000 feet every day. The sharks also seem to come back each year, some of them with what Skomal calls “remarkable timing.”

As an example, he brings up a shark they call Julia, who has come back almost every Memorial Day weekend.

“We’re getting a sense of their local movements, where they like to spend time and when they leave. So we’re getting a really good look at their seasonality,” he said.

Most of the sharks arrive in June and July and leaving in October and November.

Listen below to Dr. Greg Skomal, the state’s foremost expert in great white sharks, as he discusses the latest research and population studies. And he will also reveal how to sneak up on a great white shark.
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