Great white sharks have shown no sign of skipping their annual visits to Cape Cod waters to hunt for prey. And researchers say previously unidentified sharks as part of a five-year population study continue to flock to the region.
According to data recorded last year during ocean expeditions led by state shark experts and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, researchers identified 147 great whites swimming off the coast from June through October. Of those predators, 89 were considered “new” sharks, meaning they had not been documented before.
Those numbers are in line with data from 2015. It was then that 142 individual sharks were identified by researchers — 101 of which were considered “new.”
“We kind of hope that we are seeing a lot of the same repeat customers and starting to get a strong handle on the population,” said Greg Skomal, a biologist with the state Department of Marine Fisheries. “But we are still seeing a good proportion of new individuals. That means the population may be large.”
The latest data was released Monday, during a meeting of the regional Shark Working Group, comprised of the conservancy, Division of Marine Fisheries, beach managers, and officials from the Cape Cod National Seashore.
The conservancy, a non-profit, is primarily funding the study. It includes going out on the water twice per week to videotape and tag with acoustic devices as many sharks as possible.
Although the number of sightings over the years has increased, swimmers should have little to fear. The last fatal shark attack in Massachusetts was in 1936, Skomal said.
Non-fatal attacks are also rare. Only a handful have been recorded statewide in the last century.
The most recent attack was in 2014, when a pair of kayakers off the coast of Plymouth were knocked into the water by a great white, which bit into one of the boats. No one was injured.
Two years prior, a man swimming in Truro was bitten by a great white, but survived.
Skomal said the latest raw data doesn’t change any risk levels at this stage.
“The best way to avoid any kind of interactions with these sharks is through public education,” he said. “And that’s been a big push from the working group, the towns in these areas, the conservancy, and [state researchers].”