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Researchers from the state Division of Marine Fisheries and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy tracked a great white shark off the coast of Chatham.
Researchers from the state Division of Marine Fisheries and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy tracked a great white shark off the coast of Chatham.Atlantic White Shark Conservancy

When researchers are out bobbing in a boat off Cape Cod, scouting for sharks, there is not much down time.

The crew, which includes Greg Skomal, a senior biologist with the state Division of Marine Fisheries, is always preparing for a shark sighting and checking high-tech devices to see if any large animals may be lurking under the waves.

But when they come into contact with more than a dozen great white sharks in a single day, as they did on a trip Thursday, the pace quickens and all hands are on deck, said Cynthia Wigren, president of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

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Conservancy members and Skomal found themselves darting back and forth in a small vessel off the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham, chasing down leads on sightings that were called in from a spotter plane.

During the 4½-hour excursion, researchers identified 16 sharks in different spots off the shoreline, and received a ping from a 17th that had an acoustic tag attached to its fin during a previous encounter.

“It was a lot,” said Wigren. “It was a very busy day for us.”

Wigren said the number of sightings set a record for the season.

At one point during the day, the pilot flying above Wigren’s boat located seven great whites spread out in the area, all within the pilot’s view.

“This was the biggest day of the season in terms of the number of sharks that were identified,” Wigren said. “We even had two sharks that swam by the boat at the same time, one from one direction and one from the other.”

The conservancy and Skomal go out twice a week in the summer to track sharks. Typically, they see five to 10 sharks per trip.

On Monday, they returned to the same spot, but with large swells and murky waters, they were able to spot only seven sharks.

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“Swells make it difficult for the vessel captain to stay next to a shark, as he is also maneuvering through waves,” Wigren said.

While no sharks were tagged during either trip — the setting and timing need to be perfect in order for Skomal to pin a tag — researchers recorded underwater footage of each of the encounters.

The footage is sent back to land, and the sharks are given nicknames before they are catalogued by experts.

Last September, researchers saw 16 sharks in the same area on two occasions.

Wigren said because of the high activity they have seen this season, the number of sightings could grow even larger next month.

“We will see what the rest of the season holds,” she said. “Maybe there is some reason the activity is higher this year.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.