Great. White. Shark.
The Terror and the Thrill
Depending on your nature, your current shivers are either borne of terror or thrill. And whether you are a sharkophile or sharkaphobe, you will be happy to know there are people in this world willing to do such crazy and brave things like tagging a 14-foot shark with an electronic tracking device.
One of them is Gregory Skomal, Ph.D., who will be Wednesday evening's lecturer at the Jefferson Education Society. Register here.
Skomal, senior fisheries biologist with Massachusetts Marine Fisheries and head of the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, will present "JAWS' Revisited: New insights into the Ecology of the Great White Shark." He is author of The Shark Handbook and has appeared in films and television documentaries, including programs for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, ESPN, and numerous television networks (think: Shark Week).
What is helping scientist gain new insights is advancement in tracking technologies, and a newly reliable population of white sharks in the western Atlantic Ocean off of Cape Cod. "This is cutting edge research that will not only help us understand the importance of white sharks in the ecosystem but also will have implications and applications for all ocean conservation," says Skomal.
His multimedia presentation will introduce us to the latest tracking methods, show how sharks are being tagged and followed using acoustic telemetry and satellite-based technology, and what new things are being learned about their ecology and life cycles.
White sharks are known as apex predators, sitting at the top of the marine food chain. Without them, the populations of seals and sea lions – and other shark prey – would grow too large, causing an unbalance that could have a detrimental impact on the entire food web, as well as threaten commercial and recreational fisheries.
Tagging a shark takes, according to Skomal, "a well-trained, coordinated team, concentration, good hand-eye coordination, and a little bit of luck." What does it feel like to tag a shark? "Exhilarating."
Shark scientists and conservation organizations are sharing what they know with the public through presentations like this one and through online programs that help people learn more from the comfort (and safety) of their keyboard. Their goal is dispel the myths about white sharks, reduce the fear, and create a greater understanding of sharks' importance to the marine environment. You can read more about shark research at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy website, and watch videos of research in action, as well as track tagged sharks at Shark Tracker, an interactive map that allows anyone to follow the movements of white sharks anywhere in the world.
"With education, fear can turn into fascination," says Skomal. "The more you know about sharks, the less likely you are to be afraid."
So, if you have selachophobia or galeophobia (fear of sharks), this could be your opportunity to take a step towards alleviating that fear. And for you sharkophiles, this is going to be, well, "Jawsome."