Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Partners with Orca III

The groups aim to bring increased shark research and education to the Island.

David Bigelow's restorations of the Lydia aim to transform the boat into a replica of the Orca, Quint’s famed fishing boat, and will be used to study sharks. — Courtesy of David Bigelow

On Friday, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC) announced a new partnership with Return of the Orca, a group working to recreate the famous shark-hunting vessel from “Jaws.” The goal of the partnership is to provide shark research and education aboard the Orca III, the first-ever replica of the famous boat from the classic movie.

Through this partnership, both organizations envision a robust presence on the Island, where the Orca III will be used to learn more about the great white shark population’s presence in nearby waters. 

The initiative will expand AWSC’s reach on the Island, and will provide Return of the Orca with an experienced research and education partner that can provide real-world information about the great white shark population around Martha’s Vineyard.

“For us, this is a natural expansion on the work that we’re currently doing. We have a lot of different education programs in place, which include educating visitors at our Shark Center in Chatham. We also have in-school programs, and right now, clearly with COVID, we’re focused a lot on virtual programs, as well,” said AWSC co-founder and CEO Cynthia Wigren. “For us, having this really unique space to utilize and to be able to educate people on the Island, or visitors that are coming in, is a really wonderful opportunity.”

David Bigelow, the leader of the project to create the Orca III, shares Cynthia’s enthusiasm. “We believe that our partnership with the AWSC will complete the mission of the Orca III to provide people with real-world data and education about great white sharks,” Bigelow said in a recent press release. “By working with them to provide a learning experience for residents and visitors of Martha’s Vineyard, we feel highly confident that the research and conservation information shared with the public will foster respect for the species, as well as provide an understanding of how beachgoers can improve their safety as they enjoy the waters surrounding the Island.” 

Leading many of the great white shark research expeditions aboard the Orca III will be the state’s top shark research scientist, Dr. Greg Skomal. Skomal, a longtime partner of AWSC, credits “Jaws” with his early passion for learning about sharks.

“‘Jaws’ was a huge influence on me as a kid, and it partly led to my calling as a shark biologist,” Skomal said in the same press release. “We will finally be able to get a really clear picture of shark behavior around the Island, and I can’t wait to start the research. I’m really excited to be able to work with the Orca III as a platform for research of the shark population around Martha’s Vineyard.”

Wigren spoke to Dr. Skomal’s role in making the connection between AWSC and Return of the Orca.

“AWSC has been a huge supporter of Greg’s work for the past seven years. Education is another aspect of our mission, and Greg thought that it would be a really good connection,” said Wigren. “He connected me with David, and we had a great conversation about what David was trying to accomplish with this project, and it fit very well into the current work that we’re doing.”

Wigren also addressed the growth in attitudes about sharks from the release of “Jaws” to now: “There’s great potential here. Everyone loves the movie,” said Wigren. “Using a boat for research and education that, in the movie, was sent out to kill sharks was kind of a really great evolution in terms of where we’re at, with shark conservation being something that people are a lot more aware of and interested in.” 

The plan for the Orca III is to complete the boat’s transformation by November 2020. She will go through water trials, and then be dry-docked for winter storage until the vessel is ready to begin research and educational missions in the spring of 2021.