NEW YORK—The end of summer brings relief for some in Cape Cod after the area saw an increased number of shark sightings in the last few months as well as the first great white attack in Massachusetts since 1936. Now, a new mission is underway to learn more about the sharks’ habits. For the first time last week, a group of fisherman and scientists successfully caught, spot-tagged and released a white shark in the North Atlantic Ocean, off of Cape Cod.
CBS News special correspondent Jeff Glor joined OCEARCH, a group of scientists, at sea as they attempted to tag white sharks with GPS tags so they can track their migration and breeding patterns. Despite the notoriety and widespread fear of sharks, scientists have acquired astonishingly little information about their numbers and day-to-day habits.
“I think everybody on the boat felt like this was the most important shark we’ve ever caught,” OCEARCH co-captain Brett McBride told Glor of the shark the team caught last Thursday.
Chris Fischer says he founded the non-profit OCEARCH with the goal of uniting the world’s best fisherman and the world’s top scientists in an effort to study and protect sharks.
Fischer estimates there are “hundreds” of sharks off the coast of New England,” and said “they’re supposed to be a a lot of sharks in the ocean. They’re the great balance keeper.”
“We don’t know where they breed, we don’t know where they feed, we don’t know where they give birth,” Fischer told Glor. “So until we figure that out, we can’t even put policy in place to protect them.”
Fischer believes that their techniques are more humane than previous practices. “Back in the day, when these scientists wanted to learn about white sharks, they would go out and kill them all and sample them. Now at least we have a system where we let them all go alive.”
This system involves affixing satellite-enabled tags to the sharks’ dorsal fins. Once sharks are tagged and released, they can be tracked in real-time, anywhere in the world for five years.
For his part, McBride claims the work is “not as dangerous as it looks” and maintains “I’m not a thrill seeker...I’ve got to go home to a wife and kids...I’m not going to go home with just one less arm.”
In Cape Cod, OCEARCH has partnered with Dr. Greg Skomal, of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. Skomal is also seeking answers to the recent uptick of shark activity in his area and says there has been little focus on finding out any real information about sharks.
“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why they occasionally bite people and not necessarily how they live,” Skomal told Glor.
After the group caught and spot-tagged a great white shark last Thursday—who the group named Genie—for the first time ever in the North Atlantic ocean, Fischer gushed about the importance of OCEARCH’s work.
“The ocean is getting hammered, it doesn’t have a lot of time left,” he said. “It’s the one place where I find real clarity and peace. And, if we don’t do it, then who?”