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3 great whites are ID’d off coast

Tags put on 2 sharks; some beaches closed

Scientists tagged this great white shark and another off Chatham yesterday. Scientists tagged this great white shark and another off Chatham yesterday. (Greg Skomal/Massachusetts Division)
By Meghan E. Irons
Globe Staff / September 6, 2009

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The fisherman had just one shot to mark the great white.

Captain Bill Chaprales walked to the front of his 22-foot harpoon vessel, raised the 12-foot-long tagging pole, and threw it purposefully onto the back side of the enormous shark, which was 4 to 5 feet below the surface.

Tagged.

“He did it in one shot,’’ said state biologist Greg Skomal, whose team tagged two great whites yesterday. “We don’t swing the bat unless it’s a strike. It’s got to be a perfect shot.’’

As Chatham officials announced they were closing all of the town’s East Side beaches, state marine biologists were pulling off the high-tech accomplishment out on the ocean.

The first shark was tagged at 9 a.m. near the southern tip of Monomoy Island, off Chatham. A second was tagged at 3:30 p.m. about a mile north of the first - each with a single move. A third was also spotted but not tagged.

“They were right around a 1,000 pounds apiece,’’ said Chaprales, a 58-year-old tuna fisherman and lobsterman from Marstons Mills, a village in Barnstable.

Chaprales said he had worked with biologists at the New England Aquarium years ago to tag other species of sharks and bluefin tuna.

“We’ve done this before,’’ he said. “It doesn’t hurt the sharks.’’

The tagging occurred days after officials set out to identify the species of five sharks seen about a mile off Monomoy Island last week. As of yesterday, marine scientists had identified three great white sharks in that area.

The tagging marked a major high-tech accomplishment for state marine biologists.

Though other types of fish have been tagged with pop-up satellite devices like those used yesterday, this was the first time biologists used those tags to study the movements of the great white in these waters, Skomal said.

The tags are programmed to pop off the two sharks on Jan. 15 and rise to the water’s surface. Data gathered until then will be transmitted via satellite to Skomal, who will track the animals’ movements.

Skomal calls the device “the latest and greatest’’ technology in tagging great whites and said it that will provide data such as the depth and temperature of the water in which they travel.

Skomal and his team - an assistant at the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries, a graduate student, and Chaprales - headed out on the ocean at around 8 yesterday morning. Pilot George Breen of Falmouth aided in the search, hovering above in a spotter plane. Chaprales’s son, Nick, drove the fishing vessel, the Ezduzit.

The sunshine was brilliant. The sea was calm. Perfect conditions for finding sharks, Skomal said.

One hour into the search, Breen spotted a great white near Monomoy Island and notified the team on the boat.

They headed for the spot, and Chaprales sprung into action.

“We screamed and hollered and yelled’’ as Chaprales hit right on target, said Skomal.

“I used Billy because he’s a professional,’’ he said. “He knows how to hit his mark without hurting’’ the animal.

Ian Bowles, the state’s secretary for energy and environmental affairs, was on the boat when the second tagging was done and called it remarkable.

“Obviously the great white shark is a creature that evokes a great deal of public interest,’’ he said. “I’m proud that Massachusetts is taking the lead . . . to better manage these species.’’

Yesterday was not the first time a great white shark was tagged in Massachusetts.

In 2004, state biologists tagged a great white that swam into a salt pond at Naushon Island, off Cape Cod. But the tag malfunctioned and gave no information, Skomal said.

State marine officials said shark sightings are common off the Massachusetts coast and urged swimmers and boaters to use caution, though attacks are rare.

Nevertheless, Chatham officials announced yesterday that until further notice, swimming will be prohibited on North Beach, Lighthouse Beach, South Beach, and Andrew Harding’s Lane.

Many residents and visitors seemed unfazed by the sightings.

“I had a couple of them [guests] laughing about it,’’ said Samantha Stone, assistant manager of Bradford Inn of Chatham. Most didn’t believe it was a great white shark.’’

Judy and Bob Powell took four tourists sailing off Monomoy Island yesterday aboard their yacht but stayed near the Chatham coast - and away from the open ocean and seals, which are favored prey for sharks.

“My guests here on my boat right now are dragging their feet in the water,’’ Judy Powell, owner of Chatham Sailing Voyages, said by phone yesterday afternoon. “We don’t see fins. And I don’t think they are worried at all.’’

CeCe Fucher said customers at the Ben Franklin Store on Main Street have not been talking much about the shark.

“There’s more reaction [over the presence of] news reporters than the shark,’’ said Fucher, Chatham, 23.

Globe correspondents Caitlin Castello and Michael Corcoran contributed to this report.