Great White Sharks Spotted Off Australia, Cape Cod

Great whites detected off Cape Cod; man attacked in Western Australia waters

June 21, 2012— -- On this weekend in 1975, sharks were getting a bad name from the premiere of the movie "Jaws." Today, as if on cue, there are two shark reports -- in very different parts of the world -- sending shivers down the backs of beachgoers everywhere.

Great white sharks have been spotted off the coasts of both Western Australia and Cape Cod.

Early Tuesday morning, a group of Australian surf skiers was paddling off Mullalo Beach near Perth when one of the paddlers' kayaks was attacked by a shark.

The attack threw the victim, Martin Kane, out of his kayak and into the water. His fellow paddlers came to his rescue and helped him safely get to shore, according to a statement from the the Western Australia Department of Fisheries.

Kane was lucky to get away unscathed. His surf ski, which appeared to be bitten in half, was later recovered by the department and examined to determine the cause of attack.

"It wasn't possible to conclusively tell what type or size of shark it was that bit the surf ski, however, from how the paddlers in the group described the sharks' size and behavior there is some suggestion it may have been a white shark," said Shark Response Unit manager Michael Burgess, in the prepared statement.

Meanwhile, in the Atlantic Ocean, two great whites were detected off the coast of Cape Cod by acoustic receivers in early June.

According to Greg Skomal, a senior biologist at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, those two sharks had been tagged by the department just last year.

Skomal said the number of white sharks detected in New England waters has been increasing since 2008, because of the region's increased efforts to protect marine mammals.

"The elbow of the cape has these large, dense concentrations of gray seals now, and these white sharks go to the area to feed," he said. "Because the seals are so abundant, now the white sharks are paying more attention."

Skomal said the gray seal population off Cape Cod has grown from 10,000 to over 300,000 since protections were put in place.

But the growth in population doesn't make it a seal feeding free-for-all for great whites.

"They eat one seal; it lasts them for two months. It's not like they need three square meals a day."

Skomal and his team have been tagging white sharks off the Eastern Seaboard, and particularly off Cape Cod, since 2009.

"We actually tag the sharks while they're free swimming," he said. "We place the tags while they're swimming in shallow water close to the boat."

Using a modified dart, Skomal and his team tag a shark's dorsal fin so they can track the animal's seasonal patterns of movement.

"It's kind of equivalent to getting your ear pierced," he said. "It doesn't have a lot of nerves or blood vessels, but there's lots of cartilage."

Skomal said beach goers need not worry about impending shark attacks. The seals are located in a national wildlife refuge that is difficult for people to reach.

"Sharks are not there to feed on people; they're there to feed on seals."