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  • John J King II

Wild Cape Cod Notebook

The last six weeks of summer have been a blur of intense activity on the Outer Cape Cod area. Emotional highs and lows and the awe of natural history in action have provided opportunities to witness some unique beauty here. Thought I would leave you a few impressions of a Cape Cod summer in the field as I now take a two week break to travel west. Most of our time in the field here as been in support of the white shark population study being directed by Dr. Greg Skomal, pictured here in a rare moment sitting in the skipper's perch on the research vessel. It is a true pleasure to work with this dedicated and talented scientist helping with his ground breaking study of Atlantic white sharks.

One highlight was showing a little six year old shark enthusiast her first white shark very up close and personal. Another was to witness a white shark chase a seal literally onto the beach in a failed attempt to make a kill in the area of Monomoy we call shark cove. Similar attempts may have led to the two strandings we have witnessed this summer.

There has been much speculation among the biologists studying white sharks here on Cape Cod as to whether these white sharks breach either in pursuit of prey or for other reasons. This behavior is often observed in False Bay, South Africa near Seal Island but until recently experts had not observed this behavior in Cape Cod waters. That changed a couple of weeks ago when on one quiet morning north of Chatham we apparently startled a 13 ft shark in 12 feet of water causing it to breach immediately in front of the vessel the shock and delight of all on board. Though the event was not captured by our cameras the below image I took in South Africa a couple of years ago will give you an excellent idea of what we witnessed. And of course now the rumors of white shark breaching off the outer Cape have been confirmed with an actual sighting!

Another highlight was when our spotter pilot Wayne Davis reported the sighting of the rarest of the great whales on the planet, a young Northern right whale - seen here well out of its normal summer range. There are less than 500 of these animals left in the world. Wayne's images of the young whale next to the research vessel are here. Our report was eagerly welcomed by the regions marine mammal scientists who have been busy identifying this animal from markings on the whales head.

Working our way north one day searching for white sharks we came upon an ocean sunfish or mola mola. Curious voyagers in all oceans. And, we also witnessed a large pod of 8 -10 Fin whales feeding near the top of the Outer Cape near Race Point.

Finally, we managed to take a day to get in some birding in the Monomoy NWR to observe some of the migrating shorebirds that are passing through on their southerly voyage to feed on our rich mud flats.

On another August morning I was able to join a friend and his family for an early morning run to find bluefin tuna off of Chatham. No tuna on this day but a glorious sunrise. Both humpback and minke whales were observed feeding on sand eels about 5 miles off shore too!

On a very sad note recently we were called to work with colleagues and members of the beach public in a nearby town to rescue a stranded adult male white shark that had beached itself in a falling tide. Despite some heroic efforts the shark was not revived and instead it was brought in to Chatham so that scientists could perform a necropsy. Adult white shark specimens are very rarely observed by shark biologists so much can be learned from studying this 14 foot mature male shark estimated to be 1500 - 2000 lbs. A magnificent predator even in death.

white shark

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