Goodness, gracious, great whites around us

Sharks ping buoy deployed off South Beach.

Greg Skomal and members of a Discovery Channel film team prepare to tag a large white shark in shallow waters off Chatham. Three tagged sharks were recently detected off South Beach. — Photo courtesy of Greg Skomal

Well, it’s confirmed, there are great white sharks in the waters surrounding Martha’s Vineyard.

A detection buoy that was deployed about ¼ mile off South Beach in July with the help of Benjamin Ross of Edgartown detected three great white sharks, Greg Skomal, the state’s leading shark expert, told The Times. Without more data points, which Mr. Skomal and his team with the Atlantic White Conservancy are still collecting, it’s hard to analyze the information too much. The sharks have to get within a couple of hundred yards of the receiver to ping, he said.

“It’s hard to get a sense of where they are going,” Mr. Skomal said. “These sharks are moving through the region, based on detections. It doesn’t seem like they are staying in the area very long.” As Mr. Skomal points out, that’s good news for those who like to use South Beach for recreation.

One of the sharks, a 12-foot male named Sean, was detected Aug. 3. It’s a longtime visitor to the Cape, having been tagged by Mr. Skomal and his crew back in 2014. The shark also showed up on Aug. 17 and Aug. 24 off Nauset and Chatham beaches, he said.

The two other sharks detected were just tagged this year, and their sexes are not yet known. Other data collected may make that clearer, he said.

One of them, a 12-footer tagged Sept. 5, was detected three times, on Oct. 25, Nov. 8, and again Nov. 9 — an indication to Mr. Skomal that it was starting its journey toward warmer waters. An interesting note is that this shark returned to Chatham on Oct. 27, where it likely sought to snack on a seal before leaving.

A third shark, an 11-foot great white, was detected on Nov. 11. That shark was tagged Oct. 11.

It’s a possibility that the two sharks detected in October and November were just passing through, Mr. Skomal said.

Since Mr. Skomal began his research on great white sharks in earnest in 2009, more than 100 great whites have been tagged. Most of the sightings have been near Chatham and Orleans, but the buoy deployed is part of an effort both privately and with public agencies like harbormasters to track the ocean giants.

He said most of the great whites leave the area in the first two weeks of November when the water temperatures start to drop. Great whites have been detected as far north as the Gulf of Maine, he said.

“It was likely leaving the region,” he said of the third shark. “I’m wondering if ones seen in November are sharks that are hopping on I-95 and heading south as they work their way out of the northern latitudes.”

In the coming year, Mr. Skomal, with the help of Mr. Ross, is planning to add more receivers off Martha’s Vineyard. He would like to add them near Chappaquiddick and Aquinnah, he said. There is a cost associated, but Mr. Ross has generously donated the ability to deploy them with the help of Donnie Benefit.

The early detections are positive for the Island that brought the world “Jaws,” but more data is needed.

“Few detections from a few sharks is likely transient behavior,” Mr. Skomal said. “It likely means they’re not looking to set up and live in that area.”