Dartmouth gets into Shark Week at lunchtime seminar

Jul 31, 2019

Mass Audubon’s Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary almost needed a bigger boat for Shark Week on July 31, marking the occasion with a well-attended lunchtime seminar on Atlantic white sharks at their Stone Barn on Horseneck Road.

Kristen Kibblehouse, Community Educator at the Chatham-based Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, led the seminar with a presentation on recent research into white shark populations off the coast of Massachusetts.

The AWSC — a non-profit organization whose mission is to support scientific research and public safety and education to help conserve these impressive creatures — is currently finishing a five-year study using tagging and identification to count the number of white sharks in the Northwest Atlantic.

The study was conducted by the AWSC along with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and UMass Dartmouth, and aimed to find out both the population of white sharks and their movements around Cape Cod.

According to Kibblehouse, a population estimate will be released by the end of this year.

She noted that during the course of the research, scientists tagged 177 white sharks and visually identified over 300.

It is the first study of its kind in this area for white sharks, or — as they are more popularly known — great white sharks, which are a protected species here.

Shark sightings have been steadily growing in Massachusetts in recent years, culminating in last September’s fatal shark attack off a Wellfleet beach in Cape Cod.

Beaches all across the Cape have been evacuated repeatedly this season due to shark sightings.

AWSC has even developed a shark-tracking app, called Sharktivity, where people can report shark sightings.

So those who participated in the lunchtime seminar were curious to learn more.

During a dynamic Q and A session after her presentation, Kibblehouse answered a host of inquiries on topics that ranged from acoustic buoys to surfers, seals, migration patterns, and more — including a question about the number of white sharks found in Buzzards Bay (not very many.)

“White sharks are this apex predator in our ocean, and they’re quite a hot topic nowadays,” said Kibblehouse. 

“So I completely get the curiosity that people have and wanting to learn more about them, because we are seeing them here now.”

Some of the participants voiced concerns with safety, as sharks are now coming closer in to shore more often.

“There are concerns, which is completely valid,” Kibblehouse explained. “You take the same concerns when you go hiking in Yellowstone with bears.”

Ultimately, she said, it’s encouraging that people are coming out to talks like this one to learn more about the animals.

Most were impressed with the talk. “I didn’t realize they were tracking [sharks] so well,” said Westport resident Richard Ilgen.

Dartmouth residents Phil and Marie Hall both said they thought the seminar was “very informative.”

“It was nice to see how many sharks are there,” said Marie.

When asked if they were worried about sharks, however, Marie didn’t mince words. “Yes,” she said decisively, followed by a chuckle with her husband, who swims regularly. “You have to be careful.”

“Awareness is the thing,” agreed Phil. “Actually I’ve been swimming for years, but now I’ll go in waist deep rather than over my head.”

Marie added, “If they tell you there’s a shark sighting, get out of the water!”