The Cape Cod White Shark Predation Study is a groundbreaking investigation into the predatory behavior of the white shark in the western North Atlantic. Study data indicates that white sharks off Cape Cod may hunt seals differently than in other known areas of seal predation. These white sharks appear to target prey in unique underwater environments that have not been studied or documented prior.
For over three decades, the predatory interactions between white sharks and seals have been examined at well-known white shark aggregations sites, such as the Farallon Islands in California and Seal Island off South Africa. These areas are characterized by sharp drop-offs in water depth which are thought to be crucial for successful predation. The underwater environment, however, is radically different where grey seals are commonly found in New England. The outer coast of Cape Cod features broad shallow areas featuring sandbars and sandy terrain. Here, the white shark has returned to successfully hunt the grey seal, but unlike all other well-studied research sites, without the tactical advantage of deep drops-offs and large changes in depth.
Preliminary observations imply that white sharks off Cape Cod may prefer locations for hunting seals based on conducive environmental conditions and underwater terrain, such as channels created by sand bars to facilitate their ambush attack. These potential “hunting grounds” may be frequented because of the underwater conditions and topography rather than solely on the presence of large aggregations of seals such as haul outs. Some of these locations may also be areas of high human density and activity.
With the potential for increasing white shark encounters with humans in this region, the risk of white shark accidents with humans is also likely increased. In addition to studying white shark predatory behavior, this study is quantifying and delineating the “high risk zone” for this area, taking into consideration factors such as depth or distance from shore where an attack could be considered highly likely. We hope that these findings will further public safety information and practices for this region.
Until recently, the western North Atlantic white shark was considered extremely elusive and difficult to study. For the first time, the predation tactics of these white shark are being documented and analyzed relative to the environmental conditions. Not only does this study provide new insight into the behavior of white sharks in this region - the findings have important public safety implications.