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Tracking Great White Sharks With Ocearch
The Ocearch team has conducted expeditions around the world in an effort to gather more data about great white sharks.
On Aug. 20 a plane flying low over Monomoy Island, off the Massachusetts coast, spotted a dark shape in the water, not far from where a group of seals were moving in and out of the surf.
The pilot radioed the crew of nearby anglers and said, “I’ve got one very tight to the beach.” With that news the crew mobilized its fishing platform, a Contender 28 Tournament with twin 300 hp Yamahas, within range.
Using an elaborate bait-and-switch technique, the crew on the Contender teased the fish until it moved in just behind the transom. At that moment one of the crew members pulled a decoy, meant to resemble a swimming seal, out of the water while another threw in a tuna head impaled with a giant Mustad Perfect Circle 27/0 hook and a stainless-steel chain leader. The fish ate the tuna head and started peeling out coiled rope. Suddenly, that dark shape exploded out of the water, looking about the size of a Subaru Forester. It was a 14-foot-long great white shark. All of 2,300 pounds. Now all they had to do was steer the fish back to a research vessel so one of the team, Capt. Brett McBride, could jump into the water with it.
For the crew aboard the Contender and the Ocearch ocean research vessel, this was a very good day. This is what Ocearch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to studying the world’s largest marine animals, does. It has conducted expeditions all around the world, including Australia, South Africa and here, in Cape Cod. It’s a thrill ride, but that’s not the reason crew members do it.
“People’s perceptions of sharks are driven by emotion, and there’s a lack of data,” explained Chris Fischer, the group’s founder and expedition leader. “We give scientists access to these animals so they can gather the data.”
Two days after the Ocearch crew hooked this shark within spitting distance of Cape Cod, they invited us on board to describe the work that goes into catching such a spectacular animal, and hopefully to provide us a front-row seat to catching another one.