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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.
The End Game
As they brought in the 14-footer, the Ocearch crew lowered the platform off the vessel’s starboard side. McBride jumped onto the platform to guide it on board and cover its eyes with a black towel. From that moment, the team of scientists on board had 15 minutes to perform 12 scientific procedures.
“It’s like being at a stoplight for 2 1/2 hours and then suddenly have it go green,” said Dr. Greg Skomal, the senior fisheries biologist for Massachusetts Marine Fisheries, in a video interview about the process.
Skomal and other marine biologists from around the country are thrilled that Ocearch provides them these close-up opportunities to study the great white that otherwise would not be possible.
As soon as McBride had the shark subdued, the crew raised the platform and the scientists worked with the efficiency of a NASCAR pit crew. One put fire hoses on either side of the shark’s mouth to run salt water through its gills. Another moved in to draw blood samples, another to run an ultrasound to determine if the shark was pregnant, and others to affix satellite-tracking tags and an accelerometer.
All this was to learn as much as possible about a creature everyone fears, yet no one knows much about. What they’ve learned through tagging is that the sharks tend to move through Cape Cod waters in pods of three or four. Some stay for the season; others migrate up and down the coast and as far out as the Sargasso Sea. Are they breeding off Cape Cod? How many are there?
After the 15 minutes were up, the scientists had collected more data to provide those answers. And after the shark swam away, they could call this one by name: Katharine (after Katharine Lee Bates, the Cape Cod native who wrote the song “America the Beautiful.”)
When we boarded M/V Ocearch two days later, Katharine could be seen on the satellite tracker, surfacing several times only five miles south of Monomoy. Every future move she makes will bring more answers, and that’s what it’s all about. “We have to solve the fundamental parts of their lives,” Fischer said, “so we can protect them.”
No sharks came into view on the day we spent aboard, but reliving the experience of Katharine proved exciting enough. And for that one day, at least, the seals swimming in the surf at Monomoy Island were safe.