PROVIDENCE — Maybe great white sharks can host a podcast.
The sound-emitting tags researchers affixed to the dorsal fins of the first two great white sharks ever tagged in Rhode Island waters will track them for at least 10 years, providing scientists with a rare look at their whereabouts during their wonder years.
Fewer than 300 great whites have been tagged on the East Coast with acoustic transmitters, said Jon Dodd, executive director of the South Kingstown-based Atlantic Shark Institute.
“That’s what makes this work so exciting and so important,” Dodd said Wednesday. “These juvenile white sharks aren’t easy to find, tag and release, so every one of them is really important if we are to understand how size, age, and sex play a role in what they do and where they go.”
On the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, Dodd discussed in-depth why tagging sharks is important, how he became fascinated with the toothy dark-water creatures, and how the health of great white sharks reflects the health of the ocean.
Dodd worked with a couple of fishermen in the Point Judith Harbor of Refuge that periodically ran into great whites. He was intrigued.
“So I met with them,” Dodd said. “We worked together on tags and tagging technologies and tagging methodologies and in the hopes that a white shark would show up. And just so happened that on June 12, the 7-foot female decided to chase fish into a fish trap in Point Judith, and they were ready. They had the technology, they had the training, and we were ready to go. ... When he called, I was elated. We should be able to track her for the next 10 years or so and see where she goes and what she does.”
The white shark could run into an acoustic array anywhere from Maine to Canada, and way down to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
“We’re going to see her as she makes her seasonal migration up and down the East Coast and into the Gulf of Mexico for a long time,” Dodd said. “And it’s kind of neat, because she’s technically a juvenile. And as she gets older, we may find her doing things that she doesn’t do today. So we’re really interested in seeing what that’s going to look like.”
Great whites live to almost 70 years old, according to Dodd, who came face-to-face with his first shark fishing with his dad on a wooden boat out of Stonington, Conn. They caught a dogfish shark, which is very common in Atlantic waters.
“But it was a shark,” Dodd said. “We were so excited, of course, we had to bring it home and then everyone from the neighborhood had to come by and see the shark.”
The shark was sick, and it died. It was front-page news right around the time “Jaws” hit movie screens. The movie took place in the fictional town of Amity Island in New York, but it was filmed in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
“So it was a pretty significant event and kind of lodged my interest, Dodd said. “I guess, pushed my interest into hyperdrive, I’d say.”
Dodd found beauty in the face of the so-called killer that to this day scares some from local shores every time a fin sighting is reported.
The shark population around Rhode Island is a mixed bag, like anything else, according to Dodd. Dogfish sharks are plentiful and sustained, while the mako shark, heavily targeted for their fins, are struggling.
Dodd also discussed how the shark populations can paint a picture of climate change and how that’s affecting the ocean, what the movie “Jaws” did to his career, and how he involves Rhode Islanders in his work. Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player below: