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Chatham Conservancy Announces Shark Forecast Modeling

Sam Houghton
A life-sized replica of Curly, the largest shark tagged off the Northeast coast. It is 18-feet longing, and hanging at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in Chatham.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a non-profit research organization out of Chatham, announced a number of new initiatives this week aimed at better understanding sharks that visit every summer.

For one, researchers are collaborating with the state division of marine fisheries to deploy large balloons over local beaches. The balloons will be strapped with video cameras they hope will record hours of shark footage.

Right now, researchers rely on spotter planes for aerial footage. The latest technology will not only provide researchers with more and better data – they can zoom in on sharks, for example, and spend hours documenting – but the blimp cameras could potentially alert town officials if they do spot a shark over a beach.

This is just a pilot program at this point.

Credit Sam Houghton
From left, Atlantic White Shark Conservancy researcher Megan Winton and Greg Skomal, with Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

Another program is a new form of pinging devices. Right now, state fisheries have tagged hundreds of sharks. They’ve also deployed devices that pick up a ping each time one of these tagged sharks pass by.

But the problem is, researchers have to physically go to these devices to collect data. And sometimes they get lost in a storm.

This new technology will be able to notify researchers when a tagged shark passes by in real time.

Another new initiative is what the Conservancy is calling a white shark forecast model.

They received a grant from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's Sea Grant Program. They are basically compiling 10-years of shark tagging data, satellite imaging, water clarity levels, water temperature – all in an effort to forecast what conditions sharks prefer. They’ll use that data to provide a weekly map to town officials in order to alert swimmers and lifeguards where sharks could be.

Also, the Conservancy launched new private tours where visitors can get on a boat and, with the help of a spotter plane, find white sharks.

Sam Houghton left CAI in February, 2023, to become News Editor at the Martha's Vineyard Times.
He worked at CAI since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.