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Shark's allure proves irresistible

State environmental officials work to keep 1,700-pound great white safe from curious boaters and spectators.

By ERIC GERSHON

STAFF WRITER | September 26, 2004

NAUSHON ISLAND - The shark now living in West Gutter, a salty lagoon near this private island, is without doubt a big fish in a small pond.

greatwhite26.jpg

A 14-foot female great white shark was still swimming around a lagoon off Naushon Island yesterday. State environmental officials may try again to shepherd her to the open Atlantic. (MASS. DIVISION OF MARINE FISHERIES)

And the pond, by the way, was a popular swimming hole before the 14-foot, 1,700-pound lady great white arrived last week.

"No swimming today," said Raymond Pontieri of Woods Hole, who idled near the site in his boat, Cory's Toy, with his 10-year-old son, Cory.

In fact, since the shark first appeared early last week, someone had posted a bright yellow sign on the private pedestrian bridge overlooking the lagoon.

"No Swimming," it says above the unmistakable outline of a predaceous-looking fish. "Risk!"

The shark has quickly become an irresistible curiosity for the privileged few with access to the private island and for the greater number of people with boats.

By 10 a.m. yesterday, more than two dozen people lined First Bridge and faced the lagoon. Behind them, a half-dozen boats floated above a sweeping tide that flowed beneath their hulls. "It's probably going to be a zoo later," said Ralph McCracken as he and a friend departed the site in a rubber inflatable that was much smaller than the shark they'd just seen.

Water Log

  • Tuesday: First known sighting of shark off the Elizabeth Islands.

  • Thursday: State official becomes first to tag a great white in the Atlantic.

  • Also Thursday: An emergency regulation enacted forbidding the attempted taking of a great white shark in Massachusetts waters.

Throughout the morning the shark, as yet nameless, put on a show, exposing its trademark dorsal fin and long lash of a tail every few minutes.

It thrashed against the base of the pedestrian bridge once, but mostly it swam circular laps of the lagoon.

"It's like Disneyland," said Greg Joyce, 31. Although he may have mixed up his theme parks. The mechanical great white used in the "Jaws" movies is actually an amusement park thrill in the Universal Studios parks.

Gregory Skomal, a shark expert with the state Division of Marine Fisheries, identified the fish as a great white shark, and later tagged it with a data-gathering device. It was the first time an Atlantic great white shark had been tagged with such a gadget.

Skomal and a crew of other scientists and experts arrived at the lagoon mid-morning yesterday to continue observing the shark.

They hope it will escape to open ocean on its own, but may try to herd it out if necessary. An early attempt to drive the animal back to ocean water failed.

greatwhite26b.jpg

A 1,700-pound great white shark has drawn many curious onlookers since her appearance off Naushon Island last week. Yesterday, spectators watched her swim around a lagoon that is 20-feet deep at its lowest point. (Staff photo by STEVE HEASLIP)

"I bet you he's stuck," said Bob Robbins of Falmouth, a spectator who said he often swam in the lagoon as a child. "The island kids still do," he said.

Scientists speculate the shark chased prey into the lagoon - which is 20 feet deep at its deepest point - on a high tide and will probably need another unusually high tide to get out.

Although the shark - which has apparently not been able to find its way out to Martha's Vineyard Sound, or has not wanted to - may find enough to eat inside the lagoon, local waters will eventually become too cold for comfort.

The travels of great white sharks are a relative mystery, but experts say it is not uncommon for the sharks to follow their prey to North Atlantic waters in August and September, when the water temperatures are to their liking. Then it is likely they travel south to more temperate waters. The sharks are found year-round in waters off Australia and South Africa.

It is hoped that the device Skomal tagged this shark with will reveal more about the behavior of great white sharks in the Atlantic.

With yesterday morning's tide, the shark could have slid beneath the bridge, out of the lagoon, and into adjacent Hadley Harbor, though this would only have worsened its situation. The shark would then have to take a more roundabout route to the ocean.

Joyce expressed sympathy for the sea creature.

"It's got to be pretty scary for her, especially with all the boats," he said from the deck of his 21-foot Sea Craft.

Massachusetts Environmental Police are trying to minimize stress on the shark by keeping spectators out of the lagoon. Only scientists and state environmental officials are allowed inside that perimeter.

Joyce and a friend, Joe Pearce, 30, were on their way from Woods Hole to a campsite on Washburn Island in Waquoit Bay and decided to take the detour to Naushon to check out the shark.

Pearce gleefully described a recent nighttime encounter with three large bucks on a Colorado highway. Now he imagined a photo-op with a great white for his collection of nature photographs.

And lo and behold, he got it.

From The Cape Cod Times

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My boyfriend was going to pay someone to take him out there in a boat today. But the fisheries departement is keeping boats away. So he didn't go.

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