What the video of 2 great whites meeting off the Cape means to shark experts

“Anything that we observe these sharks doing, I think, will give us information that might be helpful to protecting swimmers and other beach users.”

Greg Skomal saw the video for the first time on Monday night. 

A drone operator had captured the dramatic moment two great white sharks crossed paths off the Chatham coast earlier in the day. 

“For me, it was pretty fascinating,” Skomal, who leads the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, told Boston.com of viewing the video for the first time. “Because we had been seeing a number of scars and wounds on white sharks that were clearly exhibited by other white sharks. But we’d never actually seen these interactions. So to actually get a video that shows a smaller white shark really approaching and appearing to be somewhat aggressive with another white shark gives us insight into how these kinds of wounding patterns may be happening.”

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The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy shared the video from Nate Jensen on Tuesday, announcing it as the “first footage ever” of such an interaction.  

Skomal and researchers with the conservancy plan to examine the video closely, looking for greater understanding of white shark behaviors. The first step, he said, will be to determine the sex of the two sharks in the video. 

“Anything that gives us a glimpse into how these sharks behave with seals — or even with each other like in this particular case — will give us a sense of how they behave or could behave with people,” Skomal said. “We’re going to use this drone footage to get a sense of what might be going on there. Is it aggressive behavior? Defensive behavior in some way? Or perhaps is it a smaller male trying to mate with a female and she rejects his intentions? Who knows. We’re going to keep looking at that, but anything that we observe these sharks doing, I think, will give us information that might be helpful to protecting swimmers and other beach users.” 

So far, it appears as if the two great whites captured in the video have not been tagged by Skomal and his colleagues. 

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“We’ll also try to see color patterns that might be indicative of who those sharks are and whether they’re in our database,” Skomal said. “The problem is with aerial footage, a lot of the color patterns that we use are on the side of the fish, and so with aerial footage we can’t always get a sense — we’re looking down on the animal. But one of them clearly rolls, which is interesting, so we’ll be able to get a sense of who that is, maybe. Maybe, if that shark is in our database.”

That effort to identify the sharks will take some time, he said, and, ultimately, what was at the core of the interaction could remain a mystery.

Skomal encouraged anyone who spots a shark in Massachusetts waters to share the photos or footage with researchers through the conservancy’s free app, Sharktivity, which provides information on white shark sightings and movements. 

“We know those things happen, but to actually see those events happen, is difficult,” he said of the dramatic video. “Because you’re dealing with an animal that lives in the ocean, it’s hard to see what it’s doing at any given time. It’s the reason why we use a spotter pilot. We’ve had a spotter pilot in the air for years, a decade, and he’s never seen this. So that gives you a sense of how rare it is to actually see sharks behaving naturally, particularly interacting with each other. We will see a shark eat a seal, but typically we don’t see that until the shark has already killed the seal. You got to be at the right place at the right time, and this drone operator was there.”

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According to the Sharktivity app, there have been 11 sightings of sharks off the Cape coast in the last 48 hours. On Monday alone, the conservancy said researchers tagged two white sharks off Nauset Beach and one off Chatham. They also witnessed two predations off Monomoy.