First Great White Shark Of The Season Detected Off Cape Cod

The first great white shark of the 2016 season has been detected off the coast of Cape Cod, marking the return not only of the species to New England waters, but also of this individual shark to the region.

The white shark was detected both last weekend and again on Thursday morning by a specially configured receiver situated off South Monomoy Island in Chatham, according to Boston.com. The device is designed to read electronic tracking tags, one of which was affixed to the shark by researchers last August. At that time, they bestowed the name "Scratchy" upon the animal, ostensibly due to the number of scratches on its body, most likely the result of predation attempts on seals. The shark was first photographed by Dr. Greg Skomal and his team, who are conducting a five-year-long population study off the cape, in 2014.

The conservancy announced Scratchy's detection with a tweet on Thursday, according to the Cape Cod Chronicle. That day also happened to mark the opening of the third year of the population study, during which Skomal's team will embark on bi-weekly tagging and research expeditions. While the first white shark wasn't detected in the region last year until June 22, previous years have seen the itinerant shark population return much earlier in the season. According to Dr. Skomal, white sharks have been detected off the cape as early as Memorial Day in some years.

The prior two years of the population study have met with definite success, as the Inquisitr has previously reported. In total, 141 different great white sharks have been identified by the research team, who record the animals using GoPro cameras before analyzing the footage. The distinctive features of each shark allow researchers to identify them and count the sharks separate from their brethren.

The 2016 research season will also see the launch of a new smartphone app, designed to alert the public to sightings of great white sharks around Cape Cod. The application, which is still in the beta testing stage, is called Sharktivity, and will allow beachgoers and boaters to access real-time information about the animals. Though the app will only be available for the iPhone at first, the data will also be made available in real time on the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's website.The application will allow members of the general public to submit shark sightings, though they will first be vetted by experts in hopes of avoiding hoaxes. Each town located in the Lower Cape will designate two officials who will be responsible for posting reports through the application. In addition, the system will require users who submit sightings to include their phone number, as well as prompting them for a photo of the shark in question. Though the possibility of a hoax is very real, the application also documents the location of the phone making a report, allowing program managers the ability to quickly filter out any submissions made well away from the shoreline.

While Sharktivity is currently awaiting final approval by Apple, the conservancy hopes to launch it as early as July 1. In addition to the application, officials are also launching a new communications network designed to expedite information sharing between a working group of researchers, first responders, and beach managers. New color coded warning flags featuring the image of a shark will also fly over beaches on the cape when appropriate, alerting beachgoers to the potential presence of dangerous marine life. Purple flags will be flown at all times, and a red banner will be hoisted following a confirmed sighting of a great white shark in the area.

[Photo by Elias Levy - Own Work via Flickr | Cropped and Resized | CC BY 2.0]