You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Catalog: Cape Cod’s Great White Shark Population Keeps Growing

By Melisa Cristina Marquez.

Cape Cod, known for its scenic Americana coastline and quaint towns, has also gained recognition in recent years as a hub for shark research. Specifically scientific research revolving around one of the most iconic species: the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy has been diligently tracking these creatures, and their latest update reveals that nearly 100 ‘new’ great white sharks were identified in 2023 alone, bringing the total cataloged population to over 700 sharks over the last decade.

“Individual white sharks travel thousands of miles along the eastern coast of the United States and Canada over the course of the year,” explains AWSC Senior Scientist Megan Winton. One notable addition to the catalog is the massive 14-foot white shark LeeBeth, tagged in December by Chip Michalove of Outcast SportfishingLeeBeth made history by venturing into the waters off Matamoros, Mexico — marking the furthest westward movement of a white shark ever tracked into the Gulf of Mexico.

Identifying and cataloging individual sharks is no small feat. So, how do researchers ID and track these elusive predators? AWSC researchers, in partnership with organizations like Outcast Sportfishing and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, rely on a combination of underwater video footage and public contributions to the White Shark Logbook. By meticulously analyzing each shark’s unique characteristics—such as coloration, markings, and dorsal fin profiles—researchers can distinguish between individuals and track their movements over time. This process allows for the identification of ‘new’ sharks and the tracking of their movements over time.

According to Winton, in 2023 alone, the AWSC team identified 36 new individuals from footage captured during research trips off the Cape, while also documenting the return of 44 sharks identified in previous years.