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Great white sharks have yet to arrive in force

A sign in Chatham warned beachgoers of the presence of great white sharks last year.Julia Cumes/8.1.2817707491

The Memorial Day weekend may kick off a summer of beach visits for most people. But it doesn’t mark the beginning of great white shark season.

State marine fisheries scientist and shark expert Greg Skomal said Friday, ahead of the long weekend, that beachgoers can enjoy the chilly ocean temperatures without much worry of any ocean predators nearby.

“Very rarely do the sharks arrive this early,” he said. “The last two summers they really didn’t [arrive] until mid-June, and the bulk of the sharks came through mid-to-late July and August and September. It’s early.”

Great whites are often attracted to the Chatham area, near the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, which includes an 8-mile stretch of islands where an abundance of gray seals congregate, and lounge along the beachy shorelines. The seals make a tasty meal for the sharks.


Looking ahead to the shark season, which can last until December, Skomal said he expected, based on previous summers, seeing “a bunch of sharks” over the next couple of months.

“We anticipate that we are going to see what we have been seeing — the same general trend of sharks, the peak season likely being August,” said Skomal.

Last year, state wildlife officials working with members of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy were able to identify 141 individual great white sharks in state waters. Researchers were able to tag 24 of them.

Skomal said every season can be different, but he believes the trend is toward more sharks.

“It will be interesting to see if it plateaus, or continues to increase,” he said.

Experts will continue their mission of tagging sharks this summer, to determine where the animals spend their time in Massachusetts and where they go when they leave here. They also plan to expand the range of their acoustic shark detection devices, which are attached to buoys, to get a better picture of the sharks’ movements. The receivers on the buoys detect sounds emitted by the transmitters on tagged sharks.


Earlier this year, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a non-profit, announced the rollout of an app in July that will send notifications to people’s smartphones when there has been a confirmed shark sighting. The app will also offer other features, including safety tips and a place for people to upload their own sightings, which will need to be reviewed by officials.

The last fatal shark attack in Massachusetts was in 1936. In 2012, a swimmer suffered a non-fatal bite in Truro.

Researchers tagged Mary Lee, a great white shark, off the coast of Cape Cod in 2012. OCEARCH/shark73

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

Correction: Because of an editing error, the caption of a photo in an earlier version of this article incorrectly provided the date in which the white shark Mary Lee was tagged.