Jon Dodd was in Connecticut on June 12 when he received a text that stopped him in his tracks. No, it wasn’t about renewing the warrantee on his car. The executive director of the Atlantic Shark Institute (ASI) in RI had just learned that a juvenile great white shark was in a fish trap inside the Harbor of Refuge at Point Judith. Capt. Ian Campbell and his crew of the F/V Buckeye out of Galilee were bringing up his fish trap when they discovered the seven-foot female.
“I couldn’t dial him up fast enough,” Dodd said.
The catch marks the first time a great white has been tagged with an acoustic transmitter in RI waters.
ASI has placed nine receivers in the waters off Block Island to receive signals from the transmitters.
“Each time a tagged shark passes within 500 – 800 yards of our receiver, the receiver will record the day and time it swam by,” Dodd said. “These tagged sharks are critical to researchers. Fewer than 300 white sharks have been tagged in the NW Atlantic using this technology and the vast majority of those have been adult and sub-adult sharks.”
The acoustic tag will last for 10 years and will allow ASI and researchers to follow her movements.
“That’s what makes this work so exciting and so important”, added Dodd. “These young-of-the-year (YOY) and juvenile white sharks aren’t easy to find, tag and release, so every one of them is really important if we are to understand how size, age and sex plays a role in what they do and where they go.”
Prior to the capture, ASI had recruited two local fishing captains to help out with tagging, should the opportunity present itself. Dodd explained where and how to tag a shark and gave transmitters to the captains.
“The reason I did that was because maybe once a season, they’ll get a white shark that will come through, and I wanted to engage these guys in an effort to partner with them and prepare them to tag a white shark,” said Dodd. “It was a case of preparation meets opportunity.”
At this point, the project has fewer tagged juveniles than adults.
“As a result, each one of these juveniles is an important addition to research,” he added.
Dodd says many of the tagged adults are in Cape Cod waters feeding on gray seals.
“These seals can go into the hundreds of pounds. The sharks need to be formidable in size to deal with that kind of prey,” said Dodd. “But in the case of this seven-foot female, we’re going to be able to track her movements for 10 years, as she comes and goes in her annual migrations. It’s going to be really neat because 10 years from now her migration will most likely be very different than it is today. And that’ll be neat to see and observe over time as she gets larger and more formidable and can deal with prey the size of some of those large seals.”
It might also be worth noting that Salty Brine Beach faces the Harbor of Refuge, which might make people a bit uncomfortable. Dodd feels that this is only proof of what’s been suspected for a long while.
“What’s interesting is that these sharks have been doing this for a long time, right? This is not the first time a shark has been in the harbor, nor is it the first time other sharks have gone by Block Island,” said Dodd. “The interesting thing is, as technology advances and our ability to track these sharks grows, we can begin to determine where they’ve been all this time. I think that’s the fascinating thing about this.”