More Money for Shark Research

Editorial by Tim Wood, Cape Cod Chronicle

Recently, State Shark Expert Dr. Greg Skomal tagged the 16th great white shark of the season, beating out the previous record of 15 sharks tagged in a single year. Skomal and his team have identified at least 60 individual white sharks over the past few months, probably more by the time this sees print.

By any measure, this first year of a multi-year population study of the predators along the Cape’s eastern coast was a success, due to the efforts of both the scientists and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, which has funded everything but the salaries of Skomal and his colleagues. It’s probably not unusual, but it does seem a shame that a world-renowned scientist can’t get his own governmental agency to support research that everyone agrees is serving an important purpose.

For beach managers in Chatham and along the entire Outer Cape, having better knowledge of the approximate population density of great white sharks here is critical to managing beaches. These are some of the state’s most important natural, and tourist, resources. Virtually all of them are within the Cape Cod National Seashore -- either within the seashore boundary or owned outright by the federal government -- and that agency, too, has a vested interest in this study. Perhaps our legislators, at both the state and federal level, can help come up with some funding to assure that this study continues, rather than rely exclusively on the White Shark Conservancy to cover the cost of research trips, tags and spotter plane time. That organization and its director, Cynthia Wigren, have worked tirelessly to raise the necessary funds, estimated to be at least $50,000 this season alone. Continuing the study long enough for the data to be of value will be expensive.

Chatham and the Outer Cape has gained a lot from the presence of white sharks, in terms of attracting visitors who spend money while hoping to get a glimpse of the elusive predators. Investing more public funds in the study, especially if it leads to real-time tracking of the dozens of tagged sharks along the outer shore, is well worth considering.


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