White Sharks Congregate In A New Atlantic Hotspot

Great White Shark at Guadalupe Island, Mexico - Photo by Gerald Schömbs at Unsplash

White Sharks Congregate In A New Atlantic Hotspot

It turns out that the most recent and maybe most dense great white shark hotspot is in the northern Atlantic seas near Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

In order to establish what they claim is the first estimate of white shark abundance ever produced in the western North Atlantic, a study team engaged in an extensive “mark-recapture” survey. Eight years of investigation and analysis have now yielded the information that between 2015 and 2018, almost 800 distinct sharks visited Cape Cod.

"Great White Shark - Photo by Gerald Schömbs at Unspalsh"
“Great White Shark – Photo by Gerald Schömbs at Unspalsh

Megan Winton, a research scientist for the American nonprofit organization Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC), oversaw the long-term study along with renowned shark expert Dr. Greg Skomal of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and Prof. Gavin Fay of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST), where Winton is pursuing her PhD.

The researchers desired precise data to support conservation and management actions since Cape Cod has been showing signs of being a white shark aggregation hotspot during certain seasons.

Initially, 393 unique sharks were identified by their various physical characteristics using photographs and video recordings. However, the researchers conducted a thorough mark-recapture study since this method did not fully account for the great whites’ migratory behavior.

With this method, several individual sharks are captured, tagged, and then returned to the community. The percentage of tagged sharks in each group that is caught for tagging is recorded, and the larger the population, the less probable it is that tagged sharks will be recaptured.

Great white shark researcher Megan Winton (SMAST)
Great white shark researcher Megan Winton (SMAST)

The process of creating a solid model that would take into account shark migrations into and out of the investigated region, as well as differences in residence and habitat utilization, included 130 study visits in all. The sharks often come in the summer and early fall when the water is at its hottest, leading to the “superpopulation” estimate of 800 individuals.

In more recent tagging procedures, an accelerometer and camera were attached to the shark to follow its movements at all times.

“We’ve found that white sharks are more intelligent, more social and more numerous than previously known,” says Winton. “Cape Cod is the only area in the region where researchers can feasibly monitor the population, and our estimates suggest that the Cape is among the larger white shark hotspots worldwide, which is good news from a conservation standpoint

Since shark sightings have increased over the previous ten years in the area surrounding Cape Cod, worries about public safety have been raised, particularly when a death occurred there at the conclusion of the research period in 2018. The team emphasizes in its paper that there is still little great white shark danger to recreational water users.

With seals and other tiny marine animals as their main sources of food, the sharks come. The rebounding population of grey and harbour seals on Cape Cod, which had been almost driven to extinction in the area before the US Marine Mammal Protection Act went into effect in the early 1970s, is likely to have drawn them in greater numbers. The number of these seals in the area is now estimated to be between 30 and 50,000.

View “first-of-its-kind” 3D shark models.

The World of Sharks website of the Swiss-based Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF) now features brand-new interactive 3D white shark and manta Ray models on a variety of platforms. By rotating what SOSF refers to as its “first-of-their-kind” models online, visitors are encouraged to learn more about the biology The website includes infographics, podcast episodes, species cards and topic pages. “We wanted World of Sharks to be the ultimate shark FAQ – created to answer all the questions people want to ask about sharks and rays,” says CEO Dr James Lea. “The key to all our understanding of sharks – why they do what they do and what is needed to help them recover – relies on there being a foundation of basic, reliable life history information.”and evolution of sharks and rays.

Great white shark (Byron Dilkes / SOSF)
Great white shark (Byron Dilkes / SOSF)

The University of Massachusetts’ Digital Life Project created the 3D models in cooperation with the SOSF. They are open-access and available for free viewing and download for personal use.

The 2003-founded SOSF’s declared mission is to safeguard the health and sustainability of the seas for future generations, as well as the people who rely on them.

Advanced techniques ensure that model sharks are true to form and also represent genuine movement, says the SOSF
Advanced techniques ensure that model sharks are true to form and also represent genuine movement, says the SOSF

It maintains permanent research and teaching centers in the Seychelles, South Africa, and the USA, and it supports research, conservation, and education initiatives across the globe with an emphasis on endangered sharks, rays, and skates.

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