Understanding the Great White shark - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Understanding the Great White shark

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Great white sharks are the stuff of legend, buoyed by the movie "Jaws" in the 70s. Even though that movie was filmed off the east coast, there was never much worry about great whites lurking in the waters there. Until recently.

In the last couple of years, the fear has grown with each sighting, each tagging, each attack, prompting one of the world's most ambitious great white shark projects ever.

There is still much to learn about great white sharks. But scientists do know what is attracting them to coastal waters – seals. Thanks to years of legal protection, the seal population on both coasts is rising.

"The fact is maybe we're seeing a lot more now because they are swinging by to have a look at the seals too," says Chris Fischer, Ocearch Founder & Expedition Leader.

After tagging the most great whites ever last year, a team of researchers converged on Cape Cod again this summer for what they called the largest great white shark expedition ever.

Led by a non-profit organization called Ocearch, an all-star team of scientists ventured out every day using this shark-hunting ship. The Ocearch vessel is 126 feet long and has a custom hydraulic lift and research platform.

"And this lift will go like a big forklift into the water and bring the shark up on to the lift. It will bring the shark out of the water and we will climb on and climb on the lift to do our research. We will have 15 minutes to achieve a lot of science."

After the great whites are coaxed on to the platform and lifted out of the water, the platform becomes a laboratory at sea.

"It's a female, it is a female and we are taking blood and we are going to be showing that with five or six other laboratories who are looking at a slew of different information so we can find out what's in the blood," says Heather Marshall, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

The shark is also tagged -- but with a tracker that only gives its position.

"The accelerometer is different, it tells us what the shark is actually doing when it's in these different areas. It does that by recording every single movement the shark makes, every tail beat every change in pitch or posture so we can find out what the sharks are actually up to," says Dr. Nick Whitney, Mote Marine Laboratory.

But finding and tagging great whites isn't easy.

Or common. It was a month-long mission with a goal of tagging up to 20 sharks. They tagged only two.

"It's fishing that's what it is, when you are fishing. You are not always catching but I'm glad we caught a couple," says Dr. Greg Skomal, Lead Scientist, Mass Division of Marine Fisheries.

The researchers will be at it again next summer hoping for better luck the third time around.

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