Great white sharks explained to Marion audience

Jun 28, 2018

Audience members cringed Thursday at footage of a great white shark chomping on a tracking device. Even from the vantage point of comfortable seats at Kate's Simple Eats, the teeth clearly meant business.

The underwater video was part of a presentation by Dr. Greg Skomal, a shark expert for the past 30 years who is currently working for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

Also a member of the Sippican Lands Trust's board of directors, Skomal spoke following the conservation group's June 27 annual meeting.

From Cape Cod area seal populations to shark size, Skomal addressed various concerns about the species. Here's some of what he explained.

Are there great white sharks in Buzzards Bay?

The last detected great white shark in the bay was in 1936 near Hollywood Beach, Mattapoisett. That was also the last recorded shark fatality in Massachusetts.

Among great white sharks tracked, some have rimmed the mouth of Buzzards Bay since then.

“Some of you who just wanted that question answered, you can get up and leave now,” Skomal joked. “I won’t get offended.” Nobody left.

Preferring waters between 58 and 67 degrees, it’s likely that sharks find the warm, shallow bay unattractive, Skomal said after the presentation.

Where do great whites go when they leave this area?

On the coast, great white sharks live in waters as deep as 200 feet. However, once sharks migrate back into the Atlantic Ocean, they can travel as deep as 3,000 feet.

It’s uncertain why sharks journey this far into the ocean.

Some scientists claim that the dip is mating-related, Skomal said -- but added “We [scientists] just make stuff up when we don’t know what they’re doing.”

Why is the number of white shark sightings increasing off Cape Cod?

Within two decades, the number of grays seals has steadily increased. As that population grows, sharks follow.

“If you have a great restaurant like Kate’s, you’re going to go to it and keep going to it,” said Skomal. Seals are sharks' simple eats.

How big do sharks get?

Skomal and other researchers at the Massachusetts Shark Research Program tag sharks as short as four feet and as long as 18 feet.

The average fully grown male great white shark grows to 12 feet. Females usually grow to 14 feet.

Typically, sharks don’t grow longer than 19 feet.

“The rumors of the 35-foot shark — those are just rumors,” he said.

When are sharks around Massachusetts?

While seals remain on the coast year round, the number of great white sharks in Massachusetts is typically greatest in August, September, and October. As waters begin to cool, sharks leave the area.