For the past couple of years, marine research organization OCEARCH has been getting up close and personal with Great White Sharks to learn more about their behavior. Just over a week ago, a crew led by OCEARCH Founder and Expedition Leader Chris Fischer tagged their first Great White of the season, all within eyeshot of Monomoy Island, Cape Cod. Her name? Betsy.
Weighing in at 1400-pounds and just over 12 feet long, Betsy is a female juvenile Great White. And since she's still growing and maturing, everyone on the team is looking forward to getting to know her patterns. You can hear more from Chris Fischer in a recent beachside interview, where you get the sense that this is something he's been working towards for quite some time.
The tagging process, as you can imagine, is no small feat. These guys are talking about luring an apex predator the size of a car into a submerged platform rife with hazards coming from all sides. Captain Brett McBride sums up the intrepid baddass-ery of "hand-lining":
"The first two minutes of a shark being on are the most dangerous--you’re standing inches from a coil of line that can catch your leg in a split second while trying to safely pull in an animal that’s 10-to-15 times your weight--while making sure the buoys are flying out without getting hit by what amounts to a cement soccer ball... Everything we do is to reduce impact to the shark--in essence, we agree to put ourselves at risk to avoid risk to them.”
The far-reaching study holds a promise as great as the sharks themselves. In addition to revealing the sharks' travel and migratory patterns, the data also sheds light on their biological makeup and how they interact with their environment. Six months ago, the same team a tagged mature, 14-foot shark named Lydia off the coast of Florida. Already, results gathered from tracking her has indicated that the the tagging process is less stressful to Great Whites than it is for other species.
OCEARCH has also unveiled some behavioral differences between these North Atlantic Great Whites and the Great Whites they've encountered off the coast of South Africa. Perhaps due to the lack of cage-diving off American shores, the sharks off the coast of Massachusetts are generally shy and tend to steer clear of boats and people. The crew was already a full 16 days into their expedition when Betsy took the bait.
With millions of sharks being killed every year, it's never been more crucial for us to understand and value these majestic creatures whose evolution spans back to the time of dinosaurs. As Fischer explains, we're starting to really see that these sharks "utilize the entire ocean. Their range is massive. They're the balance-keeper, the lion of the ocean. There is no other way to have a sustainable ocean if we lose the sharks."