Great Whites detected off Rhode Island coast for first time
By: Brittany Comak
NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WLNE) - For the first time in Rhode Island's recorded history, the state has scientific evidence of not one, but two Great White sharks swimming off the coast.
"We've known for many years that all kinds of different sharks frequent our waters," said Rhode Island DEM Spokesperson Mike Healey. "So now we have more than just anecdote. We have scientific data saying, 'Yes, great white sharks do travel through our waterways.'"
Prior to the new technology, now being used by the Department of Environmental Management and the Atlantic Shark Institute, documented sightings were simply based on eyewitness accounts.
"They really can't go from New York to Massachusetts, or New York to Maine without going through Rhode Island and some of these other waters so we think it's been happening a long time," said Chairman of the Atlantic Shark Institute, Jon Dodd.
Now there are a dozen acoustic receivers along the coast constantly listening for the ping of one of these tagged predators. Both sharks were detected in July.
"It's a needle in a hay stack to detect an animal that's in the wild and this one was a real big step for the state," said Executive Director of the Atlantic Shark Institute, Joe Romeiro.
One of the sharks was an 11-foot male shark that visited the Block Island Wind Farm, while the second white shark was a 12-foot female that visited the Southwest Ledge.
"Whether that shark passed ten minutes ago, or three months ago, we're going to be able to retrieve that data when the time comes and we'll be able to go back and determine where, when, why, what it was," explained Dodd.
Environmental officials say it's important in terms of conservation efforts for a species that was once on the brink of extinction, and also as a matter of public safety.
"Use that technology to be able to warn swimmers at beaches, 'Okay, now's not a good time to be in the water because a great white shark is within a mile or so of the beach,'" said Healey.
Those with the institute think these two detections are just the tip of the iceberg. They expect there will be even more evidence of great whites swimming nearby when they check the receivers again in November.
They hope to add more receivers off the coast for next year.