Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Dives into New Study

As the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) study to determine the number of white sharks that move and congregate along the coast of Cape Cod nears completion, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC), the region’s leading white shark non-profit organization, is set to continue their collaboration with DMF on a new wave of research to better understand shark behavior.  

Since 2014, AWSC has provided funding and resources for DMF research, led by state marine biologist Dr. Greg Skomal, to get a more accurate picture of how many sharks take up seasonal residency in the waters off Cape Cod.

The results of the population study are expected to be released soon.

The next phase of white shark research, which will begin this summer and once again be led by the DMF, will focus on white shark movement and behavior with a special emphasis on public safety.

“We will continue to support Dr. Skomal’s tagging efforts which will expand into Cape Cod Bay to further our understanding of white shark movements throughout the region,” said Atlantic White Shark Conservancy CEO Cynthia Wigren.

The study will not only provide solid scientific data but also information that can be used to enhance public safety.

“From a public safety perspective, it is critical to get a better idea of hunting and feeding behavior. If sharks are feeding at certain times of the day or stages of the tide, for example, we can use that information to identify periods when the risk of interactions between sharks and recreational water users may be highest,” Wigren said.

“DMF and AWSC-funded research being conducted over the next five years actually consists of several different studies that all seek to improve upon and refine the answers provided by the research that's been conducted to date,” said Atlantic White Shark Conservancy staff scientist Megan Winton, who has worked closely with Skomal on the population study.  

Winton said the new shark behavior study, which is a collaboration between DMF, the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, and AWSC, will involve deploying tags that contain accelerometers similar to the small devices found in smartphones that allow for axis-based motion sensing. The accelerometers will record fine-scale movements of white sharks and give researchers a more detailed picture of their behavior.

“Data will be used to estimate feeding frequency; identify environmental conditions that relate to feeding; and will be combined with population estimates to determine how many seals are being consumed by white sharks in the region,” Winton added.