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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

But we're gonna need bigger boats

Researchers examine a great white shark that washed up on 
Goosewing Beach in Little Compton earlier this month. 
The shark was estimated to be 13 feet long, 
weight about 1,600 pounds
By MICHAEL LOMBARDI/ecoRI.org News contributor

Summers here in New England bring a few things for shark lovers — summertime blues off the Rhode Island coast, Discovery’s “Shark Week” and, in recent years, the great white, making “Jaws” a reality.

With great white sightings off Cape Cod making national news headlines in recent summers, I often field inquiries about my own experiences with sharks while diving. In the tropics, with clear water, sharks can be seen as a fairly common occurrence. 

I’ve spent enough time there to encounter numerous species — reefs, lemons, nurses, bulls and hammerheads. Each has its own unique set of behaviors, and each interacts with humans just a little differently.




Now, of course, I’ve spent far more time diving here in New England, and while I have seen sharks here, it is a much rarer occurrence. Does this reflect the numbers in the local population, or the fact that they are more difficult to see? 

The population consideration may be a factor, but the latter — visibility — quite likely trumps the rest. In colder North Atlantic waters visibility through and in the water can be limited due to turbidity and other environmental factors. Frankly, if it’s dark, it is harder to see. The sharks are there — that is for certain.

Recent excitement about great white sightings around Cape Cod is indeed great press for our toothy friends — ideally it will stay in a positive light. Better understanding their movement patterns is critical in ensuring human safety. The ability to observe these animals more frequently and closely is due to heightened investments into overflights and improved camera technologies. They have indeed been there right along at some scale.

These sharks are not man-eaters, but they are indeed wild animals and very large predators. We must exercise the same cautions that we would on a safari — observe from a distance, and respect the animal in its natural habitat.

Don’t be afraid, but use common sense and show respect for these creatures — as they are critical for our own survival here on the Blue Planet. And remember not to fall victim to the “seeing is believing” mantra. Just because these sharks are out of sight, doesn’t mean they should be out of mind.