Apparently, New Englanders aren’t the only species loving Cape Cod — Great white sharks do it too.
A new study of the Sanctuary for the Atlantic great white sharkUMass Dartmouth and the State Department of Fisheries have determined that the cape is one of the largest white shark hotspots in the world.
The study estimated that between 2015 and 2018 around 800 great white sharks visited the waters off Cape Cod. This is the first estimate of the abundance of great white sharks in the western North Atlantic, the study said.
“It’s only a small fraction of the population, but until now we didn’t know anything about the numbers of great white sharks here in this part of the world,” says a longtime great white shark researcher Greg Skomal said NBC10 Boston.
To arrive at their estimate, the researchers created a new statistical model that took into account the sharks’ migration patterns. They then used over 2,800 videos from 137 research trips to track the sharks and their movements.
Ultimately, the researchers identified nearly 400 individual sharks and, using the new model, estimated that the actual number of sharks that visited Cape Cod during the four-year study was about 800.
The study says its findings will support great white shark conservation efforts because researchers now have a basis against which to assess the current great white shark population.
Great white sharks are an endangered species, with the world population believed to be less than 3,500. The greatest threat to their survival is shark hunting by humans and entanglement by fishing gear.
Great white sharks come to Cape Cod in the summer to hunt seals, but this hasn’t always been the case. according to Scientific American. There has been an increase in the last decade as the gray seal population in the area rebounded with the introduction of the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, the magazine wrote. Before the law was passed, seals were commonly killed by fishermen.
Cape Cod now joins the ranks of great white shark hotspots like South Africa, central California, Guadalupe Island in Mexico and the Neptune Islands in Australia, Scientific American reported.
Great White Shark Conservation Efforts
Scientists for the Conservation of the Atlantic Great White Shark Megan Wintonthe lead author of the study, said WCVB that the study also found that the great white shark population is increasing every year. She said she’s encouraged by the number of sharks coming to Cape Cod and that the study tells a conservation success story.
“We have sharks that respond to the presence of seals and do their feeding in those areas,” Skomal told NBC10 Boston. “It points to the recovery of an ecosystem, and I think that’s good news.”
Still, Skomal told the news channel, even if the shark population has been increasing since 2018, it is likely to be declining if it isn’t already.
“Eventually, given the fact that it’s a limited area with limited carrying capacity, we think the population is likely to stabilize at a fairly constant level,” he said.
What more great white sharks mean for the Cape
Winton clarified that the estimated 800 sharks do not enter Cape Cod waters all at once.
“I really want to stress that the risk of anyone out there having a bad encounter with a shark remains low. They’re very cautious, selective predators,” she told WCVB.
Those concerned about Cape Cod’s growing great white shark population are encouraged to download the conservation reports Sharktivity app. The app tracks real-time shark sightings in New England by researchers and civilians.
Each year, the app’s reports temporarily close beaches as authorities try to keep swimmers safe.
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