Sharks in Newport? Recently placed device tracks its presence


When he marks great white sharks, Greg Skomal stands on the pulpit of a boat.

To illustrate to a reporter what this might sound like, he referred to “Jaws”.

“When Quint went to shoot the shark, he was at the end of the pulpit of his boat,” Skomal said during a phone call with The Daily News.

The similarities between Quint and Skomal fiction end there. Far from being a shark hunter, Skomal is a biologist in the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and an internationally renowned shark expert.

In 2009, he and John Chisholm were the first to successfully tag and track white sharks – the name scientists prefer to “great white sharks” – in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean using beacons. high-tech, according to the Massachusetts-based Atlantic White Shark. Protection.

Skomal collaborates with the Conservation of Atlantic white sharks on white shark research which began in 2019. With a focus on public safety, a major research objective is to better understand predatory behavior in the waters off Cape Cod.

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According to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, there has been an increased presence of white sharks near the shore off Cape Cod, linked to increased seal populations.

In 2018, a 26-year-old surfer from Revere, Massachusetts was fatally attacked by a white shark at Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, on the outer edge of Cape Town. Arthur Medici’s death was the first in Massachusetts in over 72 years and the only shark death nationwide in 2018, the MetroWest Daily News reported.

When he began his work with the state in 1987, it was “unheard of to even get a report on a white shark,” Skomal said.

Gregory Skomal answers questions from the media in 2020 after providing an update at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Shark Center.

Now, at least in the waters off Cape Cod, times have changed. But what does this mean for the Rhode Island coastline?

White sharks appear to be just passing by, with Rhode Island’s waters acting as “more crossing points,” Skomal said. There are “not many indications that there is a residence”.

Based on Rhode Island Atlantic Shark Institute There are plans to collect more data on shark activity in the state of the ocean. This year, the institute deployed the most acoustic receivers in its history (it was founded in 2018).

Acoustic receivers are attached to yellow buoys; they listen 24/7 to the acoustic pings of tagged marine life.

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When a tagged shark approaches about 2,000 feet from the receiver, the receiver documents the date, time and tag number, so researchers know which shark has passed.

Such tools give researchers insight into the density and movement of marine life.

“We’re really covering Block Island right now,” said Jon Dodd, executive director of the Atlantic Shark Institute. Last year, the Atlantic Shark Institute detected nine different great white sharks in Rhode Island waters; eight at Block Island and one at Point Judith.

“It’s the most we’ve ever detected,” Dodd said.

Until two years ago, there were no acoustic receptors in Rhode Island waters, Dodd said. According to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, an acoustic telemetry network was built in 2019, with some receivers managed by the state and others by the Atlantic Shark Institute.

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New this year, “we have one in place off Newport,” near King’s Beach, said Conor McManus, with the State DEM Marine Fisheries Division. There are a few acoustic receptors near Fort Adams State Park, and there are some in the Sakonnet River as well, he said.

McManus said that between the state and the Atlantic Shark Institute, there are between 20 and 30 acoustic receptors scattered throughout Rhode Island waters.

When it comes to spotting white sharks, “most of the activity we’ve seen so far” takes place off Block Island, McManus said. Although “we have certainly had fishermen report white sharks in their catches in this area (of Aquidneck Island)”.

Gregory Skomal, shark researcher in the Marine Fisheries Division, retrieves a detection buoy from the waters off the Outer Cape.

For the first time, the Atlantic Shark Institute plans to deploy SPOT (Smart Position or Temperature Transmitting Tags), with support from the state’s DEM Marine Fisheries Division. Beacons reveal the exact location of a shark each time it enters the surface of the water, for up to two years; it does not rely on the triggering of an acoustic receiver.

Dodd said if a person was having fun in Rhode Island waters, the first shark most likely to appear would be a blue shark. The second most likely, depending on the season, would be a mocking shark, followed by mako and porbeagle sharks.

So if someone surfs Easton Beach in Newport, will they see a shark?

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“No, I don’t think so,” Dodd said. “All we do is shed light on things that have been around for a long time,” but nothing has changed dramatically over the past ten or twenty years.

Cape Cod is an anomaly, however.

There, with the increase in the seal population, “these white sharks understand that this is an important source of energy for them,” Dodd said.

In Cape Town, Dodd, for his part, wouldn’t swim beyond his chest.


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