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Researchers out to find great white sharks in ‘Jaws’ territory off Cape Cod

Posted at 10:35 PM, Jul 31, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-31 22:35:49-04

(CNN) — The largest great white shark expedition in U.S. history is at sea off the coast of Massachusetts — the same waters fictionally terrorized by the most infamous great white of them all in the film “Jaws.”

“Expedition Cape Cod 2013” is led by OCEARCH, a nonprofit that researches and tracks the migration of sharks, among other things, on its Global Shark Tracker website.

OCEARCH researchers, who set out on Monday, will spend the next month trying to capture, tag and release 20 great white sharks in the water off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts — an area that has seen an uptick in shark visits in recent years.

“The increased summertime population of great white sharks off Cape Cod has drawn significant science and public safety attention,” said Greg Skomal, who is heading up the team of researchers. Their study will seek to find out why

Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the New England Aquarium in Boston, says the increase in shark sightings in that part of the world is actually the result of a very good thing: the return of an ecosystem.

White sharks love to dine on gray seals, and gray seals eat fish — the very same fish Massachusetts fishermen were trying to catch. It was custom for them to be shot on site a generation ago, explains LaCasse.

That stopped in 1972 with the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. But the damage had already been done, the gray seal population had been nearly wiped out, and the great white had to seek dinner elsewhere. Those that remained became the target of fishermen, thanks to Hollywood. “There was a dramatic reduction in the population of great white sharks in the wake of ‘Jaws,’ ” LaCasse told CNN.

Now, several years later — about enough time for a seal population to regenerate and for great whites to be attracted by a food source — “Jaws” returns for a sequel, sort of.

But not everyone is headed north for a summer on the Cape — “Lori Anne” is a female shark that OCEARCH tagged near Cape Cod last June. According to Global Shark Tracker, Tuesday she turned up off the coast of West Palm Beach, Florida.