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‘Jaws’ pays visit to the Bay State

A 14-foot great white shark made its way into coastal waters, offering a rare glimpse of the predator

A 14-foot great white shark made its way into coastal waters, offering a rare glimpse of the predator

Although the movie came out in 1975, there was a lot of “Jaws” talk around southeastern Massachusetts in late September.

That’s because a 14-foot great white — the same species featured in the Hollywood film — found its way into the shallow waters of the Elizabeth Islands and into a cove on Naushon Island.

The shark finally left for open water two weeks later through the inlet between Naushon and Monohansett islands, after the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries used high-powered fire hoses, nets and electronic repellant devices to “coax” the shark out. The last confirmed sighting was Oct. 4 by a news helicopter, which reported losing the shark when it was about 250 yards from shore.

The female great white, first spotted Sept. 21 by a fisherman, likely entered an inlet during a period of high water — perhaps lured by seals or some other food source — and was unable or unwilling to find its way out. Weighing around 1,750 pounds, she was swimming freely and didn’t appear to be sick or injured.

Great whites, which tend to be solitary predators, are common in deeper waters of the continental shelf but are known on occasion to enter shallower coastal waters. Sightings, however, are considered unusual. The last known sighting of a great white off Massachusetts was two years ago, and that was in federal waters.

Researchers say the surprise visit provided a rare opportunity to study the animal. “It’s fabulous,” said DMF marine biologist Greg Skomal at a Sept. 24 news conference in Woods Hole, Mass. “You don’t get chances like this very often.”

Skomal was able to fasten an electronic tag to the shark near its dorsal fin. The 6-inch cylinder periodically will record the temperature and light level of the water, as well as the shark’s location and depth. The tag is programmed to detach from the shark April 1 and should float to the surface. The data it recorded then will be transmitted to researchers by satellite.

“We will increase our biological knowledge of the white shark significantly with this single tag,” Skomal said in an e-mail. “It collects depth and temperature data, which will allow us to characterize the shark’s ecological habitat. We will also be able to re-create the movements of this shark over the next six months. This will provide insights into the migratory movements and winter habitat of this species.”

The shark may have been deterred from leaving the cove because of its shallow opening (3 to 5 feet deep depending on the stage of the tide and moon phase). Officials had hoped she would leave on her own and even tried to lead her out with bait, but she continued circling and didn’t follow the boat.

Great whites are apex predators with no known predators of their own, except humans. As with much of the life history of great whites, little is known about their reproductive biology. Most sharks display slow growth and small brood sizes that can lead to disproportionate impacts from fishing, leading federal and state fisheries managers to introduce conservation measures for the fish, according to DMF officials.