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International consortium to study great white shark behavior in Atlantic Ocean

A great white shark swims close to the shore in Chatham in 2016.
A great white shark swims close to the shore in Chatham in 2016.Wayne Davis/AP/FILE

The great white shark now has an international consortium of governments, universities, and private groups — including authorities from Massachusetts — studying the fearsome predator’s behavior in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.

The sharks have returned to coastal New England and southern Canada in increasing numbers during recent years, sometimes leading to fatal interactions with humans it encounters who are swimming or surfing in the ocean.

Among other completed and forthcoming research the consortium plans to use hundreds of receivers to acoustically track great whites from Rhode Island to Canada in hopes of eventually creating “shark forecast maps” that will alert swimmers when shark activity along beaches is at its most intense, said Megan Winton,chief research scientist for the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy which provides the popular SHARKTIVITY app.

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“The results of all of these projects are being used to identify areas and conditions during which white sharks are most likely to overlap with recreational water users and will provide science-based information to improve public safety practices,” Winton said in a statement

She added “For Cape Cod, data collected ...[may] produce ‘shark forecast’ maps that can be used to alert beachgoers when conditions indicate a high probability of white shark presence.”

And while the peak beach season in Massachusetts is long over, the great white is still here as a fisherman in Wellfleet discovered Sunday when he recorded a shark eating a seal in the Cape Cod town’s harbor, a video he shared with the conservancy.

The nonprofit conservancy is now banding together with 12 others, including the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Canada’s Fisheries and Ocean Canada department, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s Apex Predator Program.

Gregory Skomal, the state’s shark expert will be a participant, he confirmed in an e-mail to the Globe.

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The other participants are: the Maine Department of Marine Resources; the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management; the Center for Coastal Studies; the New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources; the UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science and Technology; the New England Aquarium; Arizona State University; and the Atlantic Shark Institute.

“Using the collective knowledge and resources of the group, the consortium will not only advance the current knowledge of the species, but also enhance public education and safety within this region,” the organization said in a statement.

Fatal shark attacks were rare in New England, but in Maine this past July, 63-year-old Julie Dimperio Holowach was fatally injured while swimming in Harpswell and Arthur Medici of Revere was killed in 2018 while boogie boarding off the shores of Wellfleet.

According to the International Shark Attack File maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the number of “unprovoked” shark attacks worldwide has steadily escalated over the past 30 years, totaling 799 between 2010 and 2019.

“Human-wildlife conflict may pose the greatest threat to the long-term conservation of white sharks,” said Cynthia Wigren,chief executive officer of the conservancy said in a statement. “These robust research studies will benefit both the public and the white shark species.




John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.