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In Mass., A Bid To Tag Great Whites

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In Mass., A Bid To Tag Great Whites


In Mass., A Bid To Tag Great Whites

In Mass., A Bid To Tag Great Whites

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Beaches in Chatham, Mass., have been closed after the sighting of great white sharks in the waters of the area, but scientists in the area are tagging the animals. Greg Skomal, a marine biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, says the sharks are being drawn by a large grey seal colony. Bill Chaprales, a commercial harpoon fisherman, says they have to get 4 feet from the shark in order to tag it.


The beaches of Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod remain closed to swimmers. That's because great white sharks have been spotted close to shore. It may be scary for some beachgoers, but it's been a great opportunity for biologists. They've managed to tag five sharks with sophisticated electronic devices to track migratory patterns.


Greg Skomal is a marine biologist with the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries. Welcome to our program, sir.

Dr. GREG SKOMAL (Marine Biologist, Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries): Nice to here, thank you for inviting me.

ADAMS: Tell us where you are, please, and about the vessel you're on.

Dr. SKOMAL: We are on the fishing vessel Ezduzit, which is a commercial vessel. And we're about a quarter mile off the Coast of Monomoy Island, where we've tagged five sharks with the aid of Captain Bill Chaprales and his crew.

ADAMS: Why now? Why are the great whites coming that close to shore, do you think, this September?

Dr. SKOMAL: It's a great question. And I think the most motivating factor is the presence of a fairly sizable grey seal colony that has recently rebounded over the last decade in this area. Sharks are finally catching on that there's a viable and readily available - a food resource for them.

ADAMS: You went out this morning early?

Dr. SKOMAL: Yup. Billy left the dock about 7 a.m. and he had the first shark tagged this morning at 8:30 and had two more sharks tagged over the course of the next couple of hours. So it's been a very successful day.

ADAMS: Could I speak with Captain Chaprales, please?

Dr. SKOMAL: Absolutely, I'll put him on right now.

ADAMS: Thank you.

Captain BILL CHAPRALES (Ezduzit, Commercial Fishing Vessel): Hello.

ADAMS: Captain, hi, it's Noah Adams, congratulations.

Capt. CHAPRALES: Thank you, thank you.

ADAMS: Would you describe the process? This is, basically, it's sort of an old-fashioned harpoon device with a high-tech tag on the end of it, right?

Capt. CHAPRALES: Yes, that's correct.

ADAMS: How close do you have to get?

Capt. CHAPRALES: Oh, we've got to get pretty close, or at least for the shark to be at least four feet under the surface. This morning, the first fish we tagged, we were over in six feet of water right on the surf. So, we had to watch out not to bottom out. But it was a nice tag, and we were able to get out of there before we went aground.

ADAMS: Well, congratulations. Let me speak again, please, to Greg Skomal.

Capt. CHAPRALES: Yup, all right, nice talking to you.

ADAMS: Thank you.

Mr. CHAPRALES: Standby.

Dr. SKOMAL: Hello.

ADAMS: Now, describe for us, please, Mr. Skomal, these tags - I have read that they are in place and that they will pop off and rise to the surface in January and transmit information to you in your laboratory?

Dr. SKOMAL: Yeah, that's how the technology works. They archive temperature, depth and light level information and stores those data in its little computer chip. And then at a time programmed by us, which in this case is January and February and now May, those tags will come off the sharks, float to the surface and transmit those data to a satellite which then relays them to me, telling me what it did after we tagged it.

ADAMS: You know, back when you were in college studying biology for the first time, I bet if somebody would've told you that you would have something like this to use, you would've said no, no way.

Dr. SKOMAL: Yeah, when I was an undergrad, we didn't have personal computers. So now I'm putting computers…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SKOMAL: …on white sharks. It's the most amazing thing. And I'll tell you, if anyone told me I'd be doing this, not only putting computers on sharks, but looking at them and studying them and playing with them like we have, I would've said, no, forget it.

ADAMS: Greg Skomal, marine biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. Thank you for your time, sir.

Dr. SKOMAL: My pleasure, thank you very much.

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