Buoy data shows white sharks cruise near Edgartown

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Shark expert Greg Skomal, shown here in a 2017 talk given on the Island, says data show great whites passing by the Island's coast.

Two data buoys deployed between spring and autumn last year revealed the presence of previously tagged great white sharks along the southern shore of Edgartown. The buoys were positioned off Oyster Pond and South Beach, the later location carrying some cinematic baggage. 44 years ago, actress and stuntwoman Susan Backlinie was filmed briefly clinging to a buoy off South Beach for the frightening initial scene of “Jaws,” a film long criticized for vilifying white sharks. The sharks detected by the data buoys weren’t hunting in Edgartown waters, state shark expert Greg Skomal said, but swimming through.

“This is really transient behavior,” he said of the short spells the buoys pegged the sharks nearby.

On July 7 the first shark pinged the South Beach buoy three times over the course of three minutes and was gone. The same buoy briefly pinged another shark on Aug. 12. About an hour later those sharks were picked up by the Oyster Pond buoy. What was curious about that, Skomal said, was the food concentrations, seals, are on the Cape and to a lesser extent, Nantucket, however the sharks were swimming from east to west. He wondered if they might be cruising toward Nomans Land or the Elizabeth Islands. The Oyster Pond buoy picked up four additional sharks on July 15, Oct. 29, Nov. 7, and Nov. 18. Given how late in the year the latter three pinged, Skomal said they were undoubtedly migrating back to southern waters.

While none of the pinged sharks loitered, he said if seals crossed their paths, things would be different: “They’re not going to pass up an opportunity to feed if it presents itself.”

The data is not available instantly. Instead, it is collected, and retrieved when the buoys are brought in after the season.

Skomal said the detection buoys were made possible by the generosity of Ben Ross. Edgartown fisherman Donnie Benefit, who deployed the data buoys from his boat Payback, said the buoys are dubbed Shark One and Shark Two. He said Ross likes gathering information about white sharks. Despite a life on the water, Benefit said he’s never seen a white shark. Skomal said he’d like to eventually set buoys off Squibnocket Point and perhaps elsewhere around the Vineyard.