by Jerry Vovcsko
Massachusetts state shark scientist Greg Skomal helped tag a 14-foot, 1-ton female great white in the waters off Florida last winter. Since then, she's been on a nearly 20,000-mile voyage along the East Coast of the U.S., and then Newfoundland in January before turning toward Europe. Last week the great white shark (named Lydia by Skomal) was monitored within less than 800 miles of the English coastline. Although she had been heading north for around a week, if she does reach Great Britain it would be the first documented Atlantic crossing by a white shark, Skomal said.
Scientists maintain a shark tracking website that plots signals from Smart Position and Temperature tags, called SPOT tags, which are bolted onto the great white's dorsal fin after it is caught and raised out of the water on a specially adapted platform on a large research vessel. SPOT tags broadcast a locator signal to satellites every time the shark's dorsal fin breaks the surface. Skomal has either tagged or assisted in tagging 37 great whites in the four years since his first successful tagging off Chatham in 2009. All but Lydia were tagged in Cape waters, mostly off Chatham, where they prey upon seals in the largest gray seal colony in the U.S.
When Lydia's satellite tag popped off in June, analysis showed she was diving deep, as far down as 3,000 feet, and surfacing. Scientists believe that may represent deep ocean hunting behavior as the white shark pursues prey in the pitch-black depths of the sea, where the temperature can range between 37 and 41 degrees, and then surfaces to get warm again. Some sharks don't surface for months at a time and their SPOT tags can have long gaps between locations, but Lydia has a lot of satellite markings in recent weeks and that is one indication she is likely still diving and surfacing.
What does concern shark researchers is that few if any juvenile great whites – between four and ten feet long – have been spotted in the Atlantic. In almost all other areas of the world that have established great white populations, these juveniles can be seen feeding on fish in shallow waters. Some scientists worry that the lack of these younger sharks could mean the Atlantic great white population may be in trouble.
We can't seem to shed the cold weather here in New England just yet but water temperatures in Nantucket Sound have been creeping upward, albeit at a glacial pace. It's not terribly exciting to see temperatures of 36 and 37 degrees at the NOAA buoy in the Sound right now, but considering that we were looking at 33 and 34 degrees a couple weeks ago, the trend is in the right direction. Pretty soon the possibility of mackerel showing up around the east end of the Canal becomes a reality and it won't be long after that tautog anglers will be spotted working the waters around Cleveland Ledge and the Weepeckett Islands. And when April arrives we can get right down to the business of wishful speculation about what day the first striper scouts will show up in Buzzards Bay or over near the warm shallows of Poponnesset Beach.
Right now, though, the ice has pretty much disappeared from Cape ponds and we're sliding into prime trout-fishing times. PowerBait and shiners cause the cash registers to jingle at local bait shops and the fresh water scene lights right up this time of year. Bass and pickerel are also available and mid-Cape ponds that have been salmon-stocked over the years hold trophy specimens for some lucky angler.
I would be derelict, I feel, if I didn't say a word or two about the free-agent frenzy that brought former Seahawk Brandon Browner and Darrelle "I Am an Island" Revis
to the Patriots. I'm guessing Bill Belichick has seen a sea change in the way defenses need to be put together to counter run/pass quarterbacks and, presto, change-o, Revis-Island has surfaced here in New England. Now if he can get Tom Brady one or two more talented pass catchers, this could be a very good year for the Pats. Brady turns 36 and I turn 76 this year…so, c'mon, Bill…we're running out of time here. It's Super Bowl or bust!