Great White Shark Population Off Cape Cod May Double, Expert Says

Over the past decade, Cape Cod has become a somewhat unlikely hotspot for great white sharks, representing one of the premier locations for the species to gather worldwide. While their numbers reached record highs last season, one of the country’s leading shark experts has asserted that the itinerant population of white sharks which visits the region each year could potentially double in the near future.

That outcome is possible, according to Dr. Greg Skomal, a researcher with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries who recently completed the second year of a population study focused on the cape’s great white sharks. Dr. Skomal noted that the local white shark population “continues to go up and it will continue to do so in the near future.” He pointed out that the region has the potential to eventually rival South Africa, where the white shark population is estimated to number around 700 individual animals.

According to the Cape Cod Times, Dr. Skomal has asserted that there may already be as many as 300 white sharks visiting Cape Cod each year, with some of the animals simply passing through while others take up a kind of temporary residence. Last year, scientists working with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy identified 120 individual members of the species during their research season. Of that number, 80 sharks were first time visitors to the area. Photographed by a spotter plane from overhead, 24 of those white sharks were fitted with acoustic tags.

Great white sharks have been spotted in other regions of the world recently, notably causing particular concern in Australia, where an unusually large specimen was identified, as the Inquisitr has previously reported. In Cape Cod, however, the research season has passed with the advent of colder weather, leading the local white sharks to seek out warmer locales for the near future. Sharks tagged in the cape have been recorded by acoustic receivers in several other far-flung locations, as distant as Jupiter, Florida, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Cape Cod’s massive gray seal colony guarantees that the white sharks will come back when the water temperatures rise, however, as it makes the area the largest gathering spot for the species in the Northern Atlantic.

Last year, the conservancy worked to help pass a series of regulations aimed at protecting both the cape’s growing shark population as well as beachgoers. More recently, a working group tasked with ensuring public safety has focused on education as a means to protect white sharks and humans from one another. Leslie Reynolds, chief ranger for the Cape Cod National Seashore, has noted that park personnel are planning an educational video which will air in the region as well as warning signs and flags that will alert beachgoers to the presence of sharks.

While the number of sharks migrating to the cape has increased each year, swimmers and surfers are undeterred, and their numbers continue to rise as well. In addition to education, effective and timely warning systems have become a paramount concern. Atlantic White Shark Conservancy President Cynthia Wigren noted that her organization has been working on a smartphone app that would perform just such a function, alerting beach managers (and eventually, perhaps the general public) to the close approach of a tagged great white shark. While that app is still in development, Dr. Skomal noted that specialized receivers should be ready for deployment this summer, enabling public safety personnel to be alerted the moment a tagged great white shark nears the shores of Cape Cod.

[Photo by Travelbag LTD via Flickr | Cropped and Resized | CC BY 2.0]