Great white spotted in Long Island Sound

By shark-tracking research group
Thu, 05/23/2019 - 6:30pm
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The same type of shark that frightened movie audiences in the 1970s was spotted not too far from Block Island on Monday morning — a real-life version that created somewhat of a stir when it was tracked swimming close to the shore in Long Island Sound.

“Be advised! For the first time ever, we are tracking a white shark in the Long Island Sound. 9’ 8” @GWSharkCabot is just off the shore near Greenwich. Follow him using the browser on any device at ocearch.org.”

That tweet was posted by the nonprofit organization called OCEARCH on Monday at 1:33 p.m. OCEARCH said the shark was first pinged just off the coast of Greenwich, Conn. on Monday at 10:50 a.m. Researchers say the shark had been tagged off Nova Scotia last September with a digital tracking device, and had since traveled as far south as Florida.

The tracking of the white shark garnered so much public attention that the organization’s tracking webpage became unwatchable.

The apex predator tracked by OCEARCH on Monday is a 10-foot long, 500-pound male great white shark named Cabot. According to the University of Connecticut, the last recorded shark attack in Long island Sound occurred in 1961, a non-fatal incident.

The question then becomes: is there any chance the shark could be headed toward Block Island?

Chris Fischer, Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader of OCEARCH, said, “Cabot was passing by Massachusetts now. He’s north bound. White sharks can travel 100 to 200 miles per day.” Fischer spoke with The Times via telephone on Wednesday.

As for the danger, Fischer said OCEARCH feels “an obligation to let people know that a shark is in the area — to be advised that there’s a white shark in their area.” However, he said the risk to people is nominal. “You’re more likely to win the lottery, or drown, than be attacked by a shark,” he said, while adding that, “People have realized that we’ve been swimming with white sharks and not much has happened.”

“The filmmakers who made ‘Jaws’ leveraged the fear of the unknown,” said Fischer. “The reality is that the story doesn’t represent the truth about white sharks at all. People should be terrified if we lose our white sharks. If we lose the sharks the whole ecosystem collapses.”

Fischer said that white sharks are an important contributor to the balance of the ocean’s ecosystem. “If the system loses the white shark it’s bad for the ecosystem.” He said this could impact Block Island, such as when seals feel no threat from a shark, and begin eating all of the fish.”

“That’s why OCEARCH does what it does,” said Fischer, who noted that his organization conducts “research on white sharks to figure out how to keep the ecosystem in balance. That’s how our organization began. And then we found ourselves in the middle of this shark world.”

Sarah Callan, Assistant Manager of Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program, echoed Fischer’s sentiments. She said the local seal population on Block Island has increased, which could conceivably attract sharks, but “we haven’t seen an increase in shark predation in our coverage area,” which is Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Fishers Island.

“We have had seals in our coverage area all year round,” said Callan. “Water temperatures are changing, bringing different species of fish into the area. And we have seen an increase in the timeline that seals have been hanging out on Block Island.” A large population of seals can be found congregating at the north rip of Block Island, just north of the North Light.

As Fischer noted, that’s a good sign, because it means the white sharks are in the area, preventing seals from spending more time in the water, eating too much fish, keeping nature in balance.