Metro

This great white shark travels with some baggage

In 2016, OCEARCH researchers tagged Mary Lee, a Great White Shark.

The great white shark that made an appearance near Eastham and Barnstable this week was at the center of a feud last fall between state researchers and a private group who were simultaneously conducting research on the abundance of ocean predators off Cape Cod.

On Wednesday, a transmitter affixed to the dorsal fin of an 8-foot-long great white, nicknamed “Cisco,” after the Nantucket beer company, was picked up in Cape Cod Bay.

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The animal was first tagged in October by OCEARCH — a nonprofit that travels the globe studying marine wildlife — during an expedition off Nantucket.

But the vessel’s presence last year was somewhat unwelcome. Before arriving in the area and setting up shop in federal waters, OCEARCH had been denied a permit — more than once — to tag sharks in nearby state waters.

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At the time, biologists from the state Division of Marine Fisheries were in the midst of the third year of a five-year shark population study off the Cape Cod coastline.

State officials, working with the nonprofit Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, feared that OCEARCH’s methods of attracting sharks — using “chum” and a seal decoy — would throw off their ongoing project by altering the natural behavior of the animals. The state prohibited chumming in 2015.

They also worried that OCEARCH’s use of a lift to bring the sharks out of the water to tag them would cause the animals to flee, post-capture.

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“We’re scared to death of introducing any bias into [our own research], so we are being very cautious,” state biologist Greg Skomal, who is leading the population study, told the Globe at the time.

The state does not use attractants in their research, and instead relies on a spotter plane and a small boat to track sharks. When they approach an animal, they record it using an underwater camera and try to tag it using a long rod with a device attached at the end.

Despite being denied access to state waters, however, OCEARCH still turned up.

The group applied for and was granted a permit to traverse federal waters by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Highly Migratory Species Management Division.

The permit allowed for the group to tag sharks between Nantucket and Cape Cod as long as they remained outside of state territory, which stretches three nautical miles from the coast.

The situation escalated when OCEARCH saddled up at the invisible line that divides the two areas.

Members of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, which is helping to fund the state’s research efforts, claimed on Twitter that OCEARCH came within a half-mile of state waters, “closer to Cape Cod than ACK and compromising an ongoing population study.”

If you’re worried about spotting Cisco on the Cape this weekend, don’t be. The 360-pound shark has left the area. By 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, he’d already made his way north, where his tag was detected off the coast of southern Maine.

OCEARCH’s Global Shark Tracker has data on nearly 200 sharks, including Cisco, and links to the shark’s personal Twitter feed.

Cisco is not the first tagged great white to return to the region this year.

According to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a shark named “Scratchy,” who they tagged in 2015, arrived off Chatham on June 2.

“ ‘Scratchy’ was the first shark detected for the second year in a row,” the conservancy said on Twitter.

Researchers from the state and conservancy hit the waters on Thursday to begin the fourth year of their study, marking their first expedition of the season.

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