Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Chasing the Last Dragons
A large male tagged earlier in the season is called Chex (nicknamed Darth Vader by the DMF Team). He is riddled with battle scars indicating that he is likely the dominant male white shark in the Chatham/Orleans habitat this summer season. The tag is visible in this image behind the dorsal fin.
I read a recent article in National Geographic Traveler about cage diving with white sharks in the Neptune Islands in South Australia. Local eco-tour operator Andrew Fox describes the experience his guests enjoy as "Chasing the Earth's Last Dragons". The phrase resonated with my own feelings of awe for these ocean voyagers.
Experienced naturalists and field biologists are a joy to be with. They can truly ignite a moment in the field with insight into animal behavior by orienting field companions to the possibilities while calibrating expectations with "what to look for...and what to avoid." A passion for the wild world just pours from these companions on hikes or longer expeditions into the wild and it can be the difference between an average experience and a special one. We have learned that there is absolutely no substitute for an experienced guide who is familiar with the area your are exploring.. And most if not all of these guides will tell you...that the odds of witnessing a truly magical experiences improve significantly the more time you spend in the field. Seem obvious? Easier said than done. A lesson learned often the hard way. Time in the Field. "You can't see them if you are not out there among them"... and conditions are not always ideal when the magic happens. Invariably, the fellow traveler who decides to sleep in and not take the early sunrise hike usually misses the one sighting that they had placed the most value on in planning their trip.
Time in the Field! Persistence paid off for us recently. After more than four seasons of scouring the outer Cape on our boat from Nantucket to Truro with binoculars, using various strategies to solicit the presence of a white shark and observe their hunting prowess we were finally rewarded with a magnificent white shark predation on a small grey seal in real time near the North Chatham Inlet here on Cape Cod. A true lesson in natural history and a reminder of the majesty of this predator in our midst.
A truly amazing spectacle that took less than 1 minute to complete. When the shark appeared finished we deplyed our decoy seal (made from pieces of synthetic carpet). A well placed toss and a splash solicted a return visit from the shark. NOTE: the shark is a male about 13 feet long tagged previously...nicknamed "Salty".
Salty sniffed this decoy and instantly realized that he had been duped. With a magnificent thrash of his tail he whacked the imposter hard and swam away.
Shot acquired while flying with spotter pilot Wayne Davis on one of our days off the water. Note: This is a favorite surfers break off of Wellfleet.
This haul out of grey seals off of Pilgrim Heights is presently the largest gathering of seals on the Outer Cape this summer.
Dr. Greg Skomal tags his 10th white shark off of Monomoy this week, a 14 footer nick named "Surf Hunter".
VIDEO: ATLANTIC WHITE SHARKS - THE QUEST FOR NUMBERS