Getting foxy in Woods Hole

Skulk of foxes near Woods Hole ferry terminal draws attention and speculation.

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A fox is spotted near the ticket shack at the Steamship Authority's Woods Hole terminal. - Tina Miller

Fox sightings in Woods Hole are on the rise, particularly near the Steamship Authority terminal.

West Tisbury resident Tina Miller saw one at the SSA ticket shack as she rolled up just before 8:30 pm Wednesday.

Pie in the Sky employee Paul Evans told The Times he and other employees have seen them, too. Last Friday he saw a fox and kits on a lawn across the street from Pie in the Sky.

“I sit here at the front desk,” Woods Hole Inn assistant manager Kaylee Kosta said. “Pretty much at the same time of day, I see the same fox crossing School Street.”

Kosta said she’s heard of numerous sightings from guests, fellow employees, and people around town. “They just do their own thing,” she said of the foxes.

With docked ferries often left with vehicle doors open overnight in Woods Hole, whether foxes have snuck in, or could stow away and cross to the Vineyard, were questions The Times posed to the SSA.

Spokesman Sean Driscoll wrote in an email that Assistant Port Captain Charles Monteiro told him, “It’s extraordinarily rare that a wild animal would be found on board.”

“One would hope that they wouldn’t be able to stow away,” Suzan Bellincampi, director of Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, said. Bellincampi noted that if a breeding population were to take hold on the Vineyard, it could have “a lot of implications” for ground-nesting birds and be a nuisance to poultry farmers.

“One animal does not make a breeding population,” she said. “A breeding population is very different from one or two animals.”

Though rare, it’s not unprecedented for an animal to sneak aboard a ferry. “He remembers a skunk once, about 30 years ago,” Driscoll wrote of Monteiro. “Roughly 20 years ago, there was a pair of dogs — Bull and Bear, they were dubbed — who would wait for the boat on the Island, ride over to Woods Hole (getting treats and love from passengers and crew all the while), and then catch the boat back later that day. No one was ever particularly sure where they came from, but they became a fixture for a time.”

Fossil records indicate both red and gray fox lived long ago on the Vineyard, Bellincampi said. More recently, in 1825, the Island population was extirpated. Foxes were reintroduced in the late 19th century, she said, only to die off again in 1905.

Now and again Bellincampi said she receives unconfirmed reports of fox and coyote on-Island. Thus far, she’s only seen dead coyote that have died attempting to swim across.

“They’d definitely be pests in neighborhoods,” she said, if foxes made it to the Vineyard. They would root in garbage among other things, she said.

Bellincampi said it’s a matter of when, not if, for foxes or coyotes to appear back on the Island. At least for now, she said, “I’m used to life without foxes.”