Bryan Legare, Center for Coastal Studies
Manager, Shark Ecology Research Program
Cathrine Macort, Center for Coastal Studies
Provincetown, MA - The Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown has received major funding from the National Park Service and the State of Massachusetts to establish a new Shark Ecology Research Program.
The foundation of the program is an ongoing study conducted by Bryan Legare, a seascape ecologist in the Center’s Marine Geology department.
Legare is examining the relationship between white shark behavior and habitat use in the shallow nearshore waters off the Cape Cod National Seashore to understand how sharks use the environment.
For the last three summers, Legare has deployed a dense array of acoustic receivers in a study area at Head of the Meadow beach in North Truro; he added a second array off Nauset Beach in 2020.
The receivers record the acoustic signal of previously-tagged white sharks as they pass through the area, allowing scientists to generate the tracks of individual white sharks. Those tracks are then compared to detailed, 3-dimensional images of the seabed collected during side-scan sonar surveys of the area by the Center’s Seafloor Mapping Program, as well as data on oceanographic conditions such as speed and direction of currents, tides, wave conditions and turbidity.
Analysis of the sharks’ movements relative to the physical environment and the submerged sandbanks and troughs determines which areas they prefer to travel through, at what time of day, and in what sea conditions. Ultimately, this work will help federal, state, and local officials develop science-based management strategies to minimize potential interactions between humans and sharks.
This innovative study was initially developed by the CCS Geology Department in collaboration with State shark biologist, Dr. Greg Skomal. Local businesses and community members also threw their support behind the project, hosting fundraising events and providing opportunities for Legare to engage with the public at venues in Provincetown. A contract with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MA DMF) allowed Legare to expand the project into the nearshore waters off Nauset Beach in 2020.
The recently announced three-year, $386,000 award from the National Park Service will increase the number of Cape Cod National Seashore beaches included in the study to five, and extend the work through 2024. The Shark Ecology Research Program will also receive an additional $75,000 from the State of Massachusetts via the DMF.
“This program developed directly out of questions the local community has over the re-emergence of the white shark population along the nearshore waters of Cape Cod” said Legare. “As we share space with sharks, seals, and other wildlife, the best course of action is to understand their role in the ecosystem through interdisciplinary science; to understand how these organisms use resources, move among to grow and survive in the habitats we share.”