Researchers perform shark necropsy live on Twitter

This was no Halloween trick — researchers Monday performed a necropsy of a great white shark live on social media, hacking away at the dead animal’s body with a sharp instrument to better figure out what may have led to its death.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, which monitors and tracks shark activity off Cape Cod with state biologists, showed snippets of the necropsy — a process much like an autopsy, but for marine animals — using Twitter’s live-streaming app, Periscope.

The shark, a 12-foot male, had stranded on Nauset Beach Sunday, according to conservancy officials.

“Somebody saw the shark struggling in the water — in the shallow water — and it was in really bad shape when [they] first saw it,” said Cynthia Wigren, president of the conservancy. “We think it might have gotten in shallow water going after a seal, and wasn’t able to get itself back out.”

In the videos posted by the conservancy, state biologist Greg Skomal can be seen washing down the dead shark to look for identifying marks. The state and conservancy keep an index of sharks that have been tagged or filmed on video during their expeditions along the Cape Cod coastline each summer. Any marks would help them figure out if the shark was new to the area, or perhaps a subject that they’ve documented in the past.


After that, Skomal can be seen on video slicing carefully along the shark’s belly, its insides spilling out onto the ground as a group of people watch.

In the last clip — although short — someone can be seen slicing with a knife into the side of the shark’s head, in an attempt to remove its fearsome jaws.

Bystanders weren’t terrified, despite the gory process.

Members of the “The Gills Club,” a group that connects girls interested in sharks and science, even helped to remove the great white’s heart. Then they held it in their hands.


This isn’t the first time a great white has washed up on a Cape Cod beach late in the season. A dead 12-foot great white shark was found on Pleasant Road Beach in Harwich last year, in September 2015.

Members of the conservancy also broadcast that animal’s necropsy live on Periscope.

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.