Shark Week: The Podcast

S2 Ep.3: Shark Species Collide in New England’s Yearly Shark Vortex

Episode Summary

Every summer, over 30 species of sharks converge off the coast of southern New England, creating a dangerous shark vortex. As the shark vortex retreats in the fall, sharks battle it out for dominance in the icy waters. Dr. Greg Skomal and Joe Romeiro braved rough oceans and fierce predators to capture new footage of the phantom shark in those waters, and reveal which shark reigns supreme in the vortex.

Episode Notes

Every summer, over 30 species of sharks converge off the coast of southern New England, creating a dangerous shark vortex. As the shark vortex retreats in the fall, sharks battle it out for dominance in the icy waters. Dr. Greg Skomal and Joe Romeiro braved rough oceans and fierce predators to capture new footage of the phantom shark in those waters, and reveal which shark reigns supreme in the vortex.

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Find episode transcript here:

Episode Transcription

[MUSIC PLAYING] LUKE TIPPLE: Good day, everyone. I'm Luke Tipple. Welcome to The Daily Bite. Today, we're diving into the Shark Vortex with Dr. Greg Skomal and Joe Romeiro as they hunt for three of the Atlantic Ocean's fiercest and fastest sharks.


NARRATOR: In the summer, off the coast of New England, one of nature's greatest unseen dramas plays out.


JOE ROMEIRO: Here it comes, here it comes! [LAUGHS]


NARRATOR: When two ocean currents collide, igniting an explosion of sea life that draws thousands of sharks. But come fall, everything changes.


LUKE TIPPLE: OK. So Greg, Joe, welcome to The Daily Bite. Thanks so much for your time today.


GREG SKOMAL: Great to be here.


JOE ROMEIRO: Good to see you, Luke.


LUKE TIPPLE: Same. So Greg, let's start with you. Perhaps you can explain to people what is the vortex and what is it caused by.


GREG SKOMAL: When we talk about the vortex, we're talking about really the change of seasons that occurs here off the coast of New England. Every year, this cycle that we get, that is absolutely amazing. And think of it as warm water pushing up into the Gulf of Maine, and carrying with it, all kinds of marine life-- which includes a number of species of sharks, which, of course, we're highlighting in this film-- and gives me, as a scientist, an incredible opportunity to study these creatures and figure out how they interact not only with each other but also with the vortex itself. How do they live with this incredibly dynamic environment that just repeats itself year after year after year?


LUKE TIPPLE: So when you talk about the warmer water pushing up and bringing stuff with it, are you talking about animals migrating with it? Or is it a nutrient push that's coming up? Like explain exactly those dynamics to people.


GREG SKOMAL: Well, what we have here along the Eastern seaboard of the United States is this really cool Oceanographic feature called the Gulf Stream. And on the Gulf Stream is just, as you can imagine, it's basically-- it's a hot water river that runs along the East Coast of the US and passes very, very close to New England. And of course, here in New England, we have seasonal changes that occur. And our coastal waters, which interact with the Gulf stream, also warm.


And so animals that are, for the most part, restricted to lower latitudes-- they met over winter in the Gulf of Mexico, or in the Caribbean, or all Florida, Georgia-- they'll follow this great push of warm water. Some cases following and being in the Gulf Stream and other cases just moving along the edges of the Gulf Stream. And what happens as you get this explosion of hot energy into New England with really cold productive waters that we have here, you could get an amazing amount of production at all trophic levels.


So from the plankton all the way up to the big sharks and whales, literally explodes in New England seasonally. And it just becomes an incredible life experience in terms of all kinds of action. And sharks are part of that action.


LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah. So with that push and the new animals and the new prey and everything else, are they pushing animals out? Or is it-- is the cold period of time for you guys kind of lacking an abundance of animals?


GREG SKOMAL: Well, as we settle into a New England winter, a lot of marine life just virtually disappears. And yes, we have invertebrate species that hang around. We have a few hardy fish species that hang around, including one of the sharks that's featured in this film. But for the most part, a lot of animals move south are offshore. And so we go from having very little life to exploding in the spring and summer.


LUKE TIPPLE: So it's obviously a hugely productive time of year for everyone, from fishermen to tourists who are coming for the warmer waters, to filmers and cameramen who are going out to do it. And it's so productive that, Joe, you went and bought a boat just to get out there more often.


JOE ROMEIRO: Yeah, we actually went aboard our boat for the whole show. And it's kind of like Greg's boat-- almost, because Greg really is-- you were driving it, you were doing everything through the whole show, Greg. Like trying to get us through it all.


GREG SKOMAL: Well, I really appreciate it, Joe. [LAUGHS]


LUKE TIPPLE: Oh, Joe, I remember you called me-- I think we spoke, what, about a year ago, right? And you said, oh, I'm getting this boat, and it's going to be super sick. And this is the first time I've seen it on the water on a film. And it was pretty impressive. Tell me a little bit about it.


JOE ROMEIRO: Well, it's actually like me and my wife got started to think about getting her a while ago. And then we ended up putting a bunch of different tools and other things onto it and then building it out to being like a really built out research vessel and kind of something that could just be more dynamic for scientists and other people as a platform but also really just kind of like a film studio on the water. And that's really what we built out there. And it has a really aggressive name but a really secretive meaning to it. So--




LUKE TIPPLE: Well, this is a forum for secrets. What's the secret?


JOE ROMEIRO: Well, I named it after my wife. But why? It's like it's this little tiny beautiful fish that's able to sit amongst all this ornery animal and be able to not only do well but thrive. So the boat's named after Lauren, and we kind of just-- we use her all over New England right now. And right now, the water is starting to build up again, and we're at the precipice of the vortex.


And Greg will tell you this is very unique to this area. We get all the endothermic sharks that exist in the Atlantic. There are 5 of them out of 500 of them. The only one that doesn't show up doesn't exist in this ocean. So it brings them all here. And the uniqueness of the area of being having cold and warm water, and then these animals having the advantage to be able to work in both, it just makes the whole area like this playground for these fish.


So I'm lucky enough I can sit there, and I can follow what Greg's doing. And he can point out directions and stuff. And we get on to him, and we find these sharks, and film them in unique ways, and get to see these unique animals. So we've been very lucky so far. And the boat's helped us get to all that luck.


LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah. Well, I mean, there's luck and there's also skill and water knowledge and knowing what you're doing when you're getting out there. And we've seen the vortex before in the warmer months. But this is the first time you guys have gone out and tried to film and get work done in the fall. So I'm curious, how do you go about going out and finding the warmer water in the colder periods of time? Are you kind of driving aimlessly or do you have some type of tip-offs from fishermen?


JOE ROMEIRO: Well, we have actually what's called SST charts, which are a sea surface temperature charts. And we can kind of follow the animals from there. There was a NOAA paper that came out about eddies and how swirling warm water may trap big life and how the sharks actually integrate with that life. And that's more or less what we're looking at-- how these animals are moving around the coast, and what, how they use them, and the temperature range of what brings them in, what brings them out. And I feel like we're pretty fine tuned as to what we know of how they move in and how they move out.


Greg's had plenty of experience with the phantom, the porbeagle. And that shark, I can tell you, is elusive, hard to find, and one of those animals you will only really find here-- I mean, here in England, really. There's only this hemisphere of the world where that animal exists and kind of-- at a certain time of year, it rains here. And it's kind of just-- we think about the summertime, and whites, and makos, and everything else that comes in here. And everything's so super dynamic with the whales that we forget about this Cold King of the ocean, that while we're all at home shoveling snow, these animals are out there just being sharks. It's a cool story.


LUKE TIPPLE: Greg, let's talk about that time of the year. So when it starts getting colder and the warm water is receding down south, what type of sharks are left behind? What do they have in common? And what species are we seeing?


GREG SKOMAL: Yeah, it's really-- the transitional seasons are a lot of fun for us up here. We know what settles in during the summertime. But as they arrive and as they leave, those transitional periods are really quite dynamic here. Remember, the Gulf Stream, which is-- here in New England in the summer is about 100 miles offshore, there's eddies that spin off that Gulf Stream and come up onto the shallow continental shelf, which characterizes the Eastern seaboard of the US.


And animals remain in those vortices, those eddies. And they utilize them. And so you could have an eddy that spins off of the Gulf Stream late in the season-- October, November-- holding some of these warm water species within it as it spins out into cold water. And of course, when warm water clashes with cold water-- cold water is loaded with nutrients-- you get this explosion of life. And these animals interact with that explosion, and they see it as incredible foraging opportunities.


So you'll get some cold water species like blue sharks that'll stick around into October. You'll get makos and white sharks that'll stay here into November. And of course, the phantom shark, the porbeagle, which Joe references, will persist throughout the entire wintertime. And what's really cool about that shark is that it has such what we call an incredible thermodynamic capacity. It's endothermic to the extent that it can keep its body, itself warm even in cold winter temperatures when all the other sharks have to take off.


So they'll persist in the wintertime throughout the year in some of the coldest waters that you'd ever anticipate seeing sharks in. And it is at that time of year that we really want to study them because they're doing things that other animals can't do.


LUKE TIPPLE: So if the endothermic sharks are sticking around when the cold-blooded sharks have to move away with the warmer water, does that mean there's more prey for them? Or does it become more competitive in the colder time of year?


GREG SKOMAL: Well, it's a great question. I think it's less competitive because it gives them a bit of an advantage. They're able to stick around longer and exploit three dimensional space in better ways than some of the cold-blooded sharks, the ectothermic sharks. We tend to think about cold water in a horizontal plane.


But keep in mind, these animals live in a three dimensional space. So we got to think about temperature changes with depth as well. So think about these endothermic sharks being able to not only go north, south, east, and west, but from the top down to depths as great as 2,000 or 3,000 feet, that's cold water down there. And they can stay a little bit longer. They could exploit some of those food resources that their competition can't handle.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, as we'll see in the show, the action gets pretty fierce during that time of year. Let's check out one of those clips.




JOE ROMEIRO: All right, divers are in.


NARRATOR: On Joe's last dive in the spring vortex, he caught a large male mako exerting his dominance--


JOE ROMEIRO: Oh my God! One just bit the other one!


NARRATOR: --attacking one of its own kind.


JOE ROMEIRO: The mako sharks are very territorial, and they seem very agitated and aggressive towards each other when they come together.


NARRATOR: It was the first time this behavior had ever been filmed.


LUKE TIPPLE: So Joe, you spent a ton of time out there. It's pretty rare to see a mako attacking one of its own. Walk me through that moment what was going on. What caused that to happen, do you think?


JOE ROMEIRO: Well, it's not rare to see them be aggressive towards each other. These animals are pretty territorial. We see it with white sharks, where they kind of seem to push each other off. It's just those moments where these animals actually clash. But it raises a lot of questions like-- the mako that bit the other mako was a male mako, and the other-- the one that he bit was a female. So I asked a question like, what was that for? Was that aggressive, get off my bait? Is this kind of like one of those areas where the dynamic is, where there's actual food sources, will males and females come together and interact with each other in certain ways?


No one can be really sure. I mean, you look at it and you know that it's just unique because these two animals just ended up coming close with each other. Something that just-- its whole life is keeping an eye on its space, keeping other things out of that zone, and making sure that it stays safe that when something gets within it, it's kind of a big deal. And they were both kind of focused on that prey source. So as the female approached, the male grabbed her. But I noticed the male started moving over to her gills, and that raised the question, was this truly aggression? Or was this something else? Like-- I don't know.


It seems like there's all these theories about mako sharks maybe being able to mate and really latch onto the side of the gills so the male may be able to breathe through the mouth of the female. Maybe Greg be able to talk more about this. But from what I see in the videos, they raised more questions than it answered about them. I've seen them be aggressive with each other quite a bit. But to see them actually grab each other, that's a total different story.


Greg, you've told me stories about makos found inside of other makos. So it's like-- it seems to me like these larger ones may eat smaller ones at times, whatever opportunity. I don't know if they're living or-- but they-- I have seen them chase around. I have seen them try to kill smaller ones, so the questions are up. Greg probably has more answers to this than I do. But it raised questions for me.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, I'd love to hear Greg's thought on that. That seems fascinating, the idea that they could latch onto gills and perhaps breathe through the female's mouth. What's the theory behind that?


GREG SKOMAL: Well, that's-- yeah, that's-- it's interesting. We, the scientists-- we see scarring patterns on sharks, many, many different species, including whites and makos, and others. And then we try to figure out, OK, where did you get that? Why did that happen? Is it an attempt at mating? Is it some territorial competition? These kinds of social interactions are really tough to actually observe. And what Joe captured with that video footage is some of the actual direct observations of a social interaction or some kind of attempting-- attempted predation. We don't know, and we probably won't know from just that single clip.


But the more Joes that are out there getting these kinds of little tidbits of information that you're sharing with scientists, the more we try to piece it together and figure out exactly what's going on. Is this strictly social? Is it territorial in some capacity? Or is that shark just basically saying, hey, I'm an open ocean predator, and you're potential prey item, and I'm going to bite you? We'll never know that. But I really appreciate him. We're seeing more and more of these clips come in the more time that the Joes in the world spend underwater. And I tell you, I really appreciate it even though, as Joe suggested, it raises more questions than it provides answers.


LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah. Well, Joe you're spending a lot of time out there. In some of the other Daily Bite episodes, we've been talking about the sexes of sharks and where they're hanging out. And there's research to show that the males of some species are hanging out deeper than the females, and there's a bit of segregation going on. Are you seeing makos of different sexes mixing fairly regularly? Or do you see them separated?


JOE ROMEIRO: It's hard to say because honestly, I think the more we spend time with sharks-- it just seemed like in the beginning, there was a lot of things where I felt like there were a lot of answers coming in. And then after five years, there were more questions. Now, it kind of feels like after 10 years, I may not know anything. Where you sit there and you look at one population, you really study it. And then you go to the Pacific, and the exact same fish in the exact same temperature is acting completely different and doing things that the other ones don't do.


There's a mentor of both of us, named Wes Pratt, who had a lot of theories of how male and female blue sharks move around the coast and stuff. What we see here is makos of female and male both intermingled. But a lot of them are somewhat juvenile except for off the coast of the Gulf, where it seems like larger females seem to be-- this is like a shallow, almost nesting ground for smaller makos from what I can gather. There's no book evidence to say this. This is just my personal observations.


And the male blue sharks are the only sharks we really see for blue sharks. We rarely see a female. I've seen about eight or nine of them out of the 12 years that I've been out there. One of them was one that we actually tagged Greg. One was another one that-- we had two of them last season that we filmed that had bite marks all over and fresh bite marks that were just recently done. So there's definitely seems to be some drive or some segregation with large populations of males during-- at least this time of seasonality, where they seem aggressive enough to the females where they separate.


And there have been females found close to shore. At deep levels, I found them at sites where I don't see any other sharks, like they seemingly know that area is safe. And then peculiarly enough, I see-- in England, they had a whale carcass that they had. And they were showing all these blue sharks eating it, and a producer friend of mine would show me the footage. And every single shark was female. Every single shark was female. Every single shark over here was male.


And it theorizes to me that possibly, this is drive in the migration of males pushing females. It's something to look into. I mean, they come up with new stuff with blue sharks every year, where it's like-- we know migration patterns. It's really knowing behavioral patterns that are the little nuances that at least excite me as a filmmaker and excite me as a person that's very involved in science.


But it's something where Greg talks about. We bring the information to him. We sit there and have lunches and talk about it all the time, like what shark nerdiness we have in us, and what we see and what we don't, kind of come up with little theories that lead to experiments that these guys do. And then they come up with scientific papers that say it to the world. But it all starts like this, little sparks of little knowledge that you see and you kind of gather through everything. You go all over the place and do the same stuff. You see some stuff just being out there.


And if there's one thing the people-- saying that if a tree falls in the forest and no one's here, does it make a noise? There's enough people out there. You'll hear it. You just got to be out there to get it.


LUKE TIPPLE: In the show, you talked about makos being the first and the firms that leave the vortex. Can you explain that to us?


JOE ROMEIRO: And they're the-- they seem to be the most warm-tolerant ones to the vortex. There was a period though during the shooting-- we never captured on camera because we were just like woke up during it. And we had a very, very large mako and really cold temperatures that made no sense at all, like some lost fish-- and Greg, you and I have seen some lost fish before where they make no sense there. They end up sometimes on beaches. Sometimes just reported great whites, makos, threshers, all these animals seem to seemingly get trapped or fall outside of that stuff.


So it goes back to where this encampment of how these vortices work, which are just circles of warm water. If you've ever poured cream in your coffee and watch how it swirls, that's what we're talking about-- that trapped warm water around the swirl, how it encloses. And that goes back and forth on both levels as these currents fight. So it's like waging war between these two different fronts. But right there at that front, it's just explosion of life there. So we get pretty lucky at seeing those kind of small little encounters and stuff.


LUKE TIPPLE: It's obviously a very dynamic environment. But Greg, perhaps you can give us kind of an overall view of endothermy, the species that are of-- that are in that group that you guys are seeing, and the hierarchy for when they tend to leave the vortex.


GREG SKOMAL: Yeah, sure. Endothermy is just a highly evolved attribute that is incredibly rare in the fish world. There's only one other group of fishes, and that's the highly derived tunas. The tuna fishes that have endothermy, that and the landed sharks. And then when we talk about the landed sharks, we're talking about the members of the species Lamnidae. And as Joe indicated, we get many of them here right off the coast of the East Coast of the US and up in New England seasonally.


And that includes the white shark, the mako, and the porbeagle shark, as well as the long-finned mako, which is a really poorly studied deep-water species that would really be an amazing fish for us to encounter and is incredibly rare. But all those species occur here off the coast of New England-- again, seasonally. And as I said earlier, the one that sticks around through the winter and well into the winter is the porbeagle shark. And that's the one that's typically is thought to have the highest endothermic capacity. It means it can raise its body temperature in really cold water.


And the way these animals do it-- and I don't want to get too far in the weeds here-- but they're able to-- we all generate heat, including animals that live in the ocean. And many species, most species of fish will lose that heat at the gills. But the way makos and their relatives retain their heat is they're very, very complex circulatory system that allows warm heat that's generated by the body that's passing in the blood to go through this net of vessels that exchange the heat with blood that's going into the body so that heat, in essence, is retained within the body. They also have the capacity to heat their eyes, their brain, as well as some of their major organs.


And so if you can raise your body temperature, of course, it allows you to exploit different areas, different niches that might be colder and not available to species of sharks that are ectothermic. And so when we look at the capacity of these animals to do that, as Joe indicated, makos appear to be the first to leave as things begin to cool down. He also said that maybe some of the larger makos might stick around, and we would expect that because it's thought to be that bigger fish, like big coolers, can retain heat a lot better than smaller fish.


So the smaller makos will take off. And what will follow the makos is the white sharks. And the white sharks might stick around as late as early to mid December. And again, those are the larger individuals before they begin to take off. And they'll begin moving offshore or down south off the southeastern United States like the makos will. And as I've said a couple of times, the porbeagles will stick around well into winter. They'll stay in the Gulf of Maine. They'll move as far south perhaps as North Carolina.


We've tagged some porbeagles that will move South. But they will stay in those colder areas, and they can tolerate the cold weather. And that allows them to basically have that environment to themselves in terms of foraging opportunities.


LUKE TIPPLE: So speaking of feeding opportunities, made a comment that I found pretty fascinating, that white sharks might be using the vortex as a way of maturing and scaling up their feeding appetite and going after different prey could you explain that to me.


GREG SKOMAL: Yeah, white sharks are really an amazing animal that we've spent a lot of time with the last several years. And there's-- [LAUGHS] Joe said this earlier that the more we study them the more questions we seem to have, and it's a pretty well studied species on a global scale. But when we look at the white shark moving up into New England in the summertime, it's really quite fascinating. The smaller white sharks, they go through a diet shift. So smaller white sharks less than 3 meters or 9, 10 feet long will focus primarily on schooling fish, fish that live on or close to the bottom, maybe invertebrates like squid.


But as they get bigger, they go through this kind of pubescent phase, where their body shape changes. They get more muscular. They get stronger. Their jaw musculature changes. And even the shape of their tooth changes with something really sharply pointed to a really triangular, serrated cutting tool, which is really well adapted for killing big prey. And it's at this phase in their life that they start augmenting their diet with scavenging whale carcasses and eating the blubber off whales to attacking and killing seals or in other parts of the world, sea lions.


They'll also attack and kill dolphins and porpoises. And so that's a really cool time because you're in the vortex in New England, we've got seals. We've got dolphins. We've got porpoises. And we got lots of whales. So in essence, the vortex really offers these-- the white shark all kinds of really rich feeding opportunities.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, you guys are out there looking for those types of feeding opportunities. And with all these hundreds and thousands of hours on the water, they're always hoping for something spectacular. And this trip paid off with a pretty spectacular predation.


JOE ROMEIRO: These sharks come here all the time, cold weather.


GREG SKOMAL: Joe! We got a predation right there!


JOE ROMEIRO: Predation! On our starboard, 2 o'clock.


GREG SKOMAL: He's got it. He's got it in his mouth


JOE ROMEIRO: See that happened so fast, man.


GREG SKOMAL: Shark just was right on it.


JOE ROMEIRO: I don't know. It kind of happened so fast, I-- I didn't really get a good look at it. It looked like from the dorsal fin maybe a 10, 12 foot sub-adult. I wouldn't be surprised if that shark's getting its first taste of seal before it's too cold to hang out here anymore.


LUKE TIPPLE: So that was pretty amazing, Greg. How rare is it to see predations out there?


GREG SKOMAL: Well, we are on the water quite a bit, and we've got, for the most part, thousands of seals with hundreds of white sharks. And then one would anticipate that every day, I'm going to see a white shark attack and kill a seal. But that is not the case. We actually don't get to see it very often. I think in the last 10 years, I've probably seen it less than 20 times. So this one day we were out on the, boat Joe and I-- boom! That happens.


This is the luck that Romeiro brings to the table. That's why I like to work with him. You're with Joe, you're going to see something cool and exciting. And that day we saw a white shark attack, and kill, and go after a gray seal. And to see this is to really appreciate the speedy-- the power or the strength and the amazing aspects of white sharks, how they go about their business doing what they need to do and that's feed.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, when you guys saw that predation, Joe, you mentioned that you thought that-- I think you said you wouldn't be surprised if it was a sub-adult getting its first taste of seal. What led you to that conclusion?


JOE ROMEIRO: I mean, it's just kind of the ever-growing feeling of that time constraint. It didn't look a really large, super large white shark. And it was pretty cold out, and those animals are starting to drive-- as Greg says-- from size limits, from small to large. And judging by the size of the animal, it was just like-- at least it felt like that. There was nothing to indicate to me besides it was a smaller animal. And I was like, it's definitely on its way out of here. And it's like, it may be the first one he'd ever caught. Who knows?


LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah. Well, you talked about the notion that their time is limited at certain times. Are you seeing the season for these sharks being a bit longer, or perhaps shorter, or affected by things like global warming? Is the vortex lasting longer, for example?


JOE ROMEIRO: Definitely. To me, I see that. I don't know if-- Greg, if you're seeing that. But I see some definite temperature change. I-- I kind of attribute it to global warming, because-- I mean, we all argue about it back and forth. But I think there's no real-- no argument within the science community that something's happening here. And it definitely seems to be extending.


And there's a period in the center now, almost like an eye in the storm, where it gets to be so warm that we're seeing animals like tiger sharks, blacktip sharks, and animals that you would relatively associate at least in the Gulf Stream offshore-- way offshore or down south. Not so close to in-shore New England waters. So that shows an encroachment of very warm water. And it's been a swing up. I mean, I've only-- we have 10, 12 years out there. It doesn't really show a global trend, but there definitely seems to be a swing up in the last times.


LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah. Greg, can you elaborate on that? What's the data showing us in terms of changes over seasons in years and perhaps decades?


GREG SKOMAL: Yeah, it's no doubt that we're seeing climate change here in New England. As a matter of fact, the Gulf of Maine is warming at a rate higher than almost any place else on Earth. And the Gulf of Maine is-- as I've alluded to throughout this conversation-- the home of the vortex is where all this life explodes every year. And so as that warms, we're going to see a change-- and we are beginning to see a change in the composition of the species that occur here.


Now, what's really fascinating is what we're going to see in terms of the endothermic sharks, because remember, they can have a very, very broad temperature tolerance. The range in which they inhabit is very different or much broader than what some of the ectothermic species. So the questions we have is, how much will climate change impact these endothermic sharks versus these ectothermic sharks?


And for me, what I want to be watching is the prey base. What is the prey doing? What are the seals going to do? What's the bluefish, which makos love-- what are they going to do? What are these other species going to do in response to climate change? And how are these top predators going to get access to them? Are they going to follow them as they move farther, farther north into these higher latitudes?


And what's going to happen with these vortices? What's going happen with the vortex? Are they going to be far shorter in duration? What are they going to be clashing into? Who knows? Who knows? But as far as I'm concerned, it's an oceanographer's-- this is a dream in terms of being able to study what's going on. And I love the fact that we work closely now with oceanographers to get a sense of how that's impacting these species.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, I guess that begs the question of what's driving the migrations because we're talking about seasonal or annual events. So is it your thought that the migration is driven by prey availability and then following the prey where it's going? Or is it being driven by the temperature of the waters that they like to live in?


GREG SKOMAL: Well, it's a bit of all of the above. And it's also driven, in part, by-- and Joe alluded to this-- in terms of blue sharks mating opportunities. You've got an explosion in life that occurs here in the summertime that leads to the entire food web growing. And then for a shark, for a top predator, which is what these sharks are, those are opportunities that should be taken advantage of. They have the capacity to migrate great distances, and that's exactly what they do.


They follow this warm water and knowing very well there's going to be great feeding opportunities. But those feeding opportunities might also cascade into reproductive opportunities. Hey, we're all hanging out in this great restaurant. We're having a great time. We all happen to be mature animals, boys and girls. Let's see what happens at that point. And in the case of the blue sharks, we know that there's some mating that's going on. It's been demonstrated a couple of papers that have been written. I think in terms of some of these lamnids, we don't know. But we really need to find out.


LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, you mentioned the Gulf of Maine is warming at a rate higher than anywhere else on Earth. Obviously, that's probably not because there's more sun shining on Maine. What is causing it to warm more than anywhere else?


GREG SKOMAL: Yeah, I mean-- basically, it's climate change, right? We're seeing this pattern of global warming as temperatures rise at higher latitudes. And in the Gulf of Maine, I know it's wide open to the Atlantic. But if you really look at the topography, the depths in the Gulf of Maine, it almost acts a little bit, to some extent, like an enclosed body of water. And as a result, it will warm at a higher rate than the open Atlantic will. And that's exactly what's going on.


LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, so it's able to trap sort of more of that warmer water that's coming in. And it's just sort of builds and builds on itself, right? So Joe, once we've seen the makos and the great whites move on and move south, we're left for the porbeagle. I know that they are a ghost shark and really elusive. But are they-- would you consider them kind of a year round residents of the area?


JOE ROMEIRO: They are. And honestly, they seem to kind of occupy a lot of different areas along that-- the New England coast. It's one of the sharks-- it's like it may be-- we call it the ghost and the phantom. But that's only relative to being able to find it. Animals so in tuned to knowing when you're around, what you're doing. And we see that with basically the DNA pool of the animals.


You pull out the animals that are bold and the animals that are like-- get there first, and you're left with the meek and the weak. Animals that don't want to show themselves. So that starts to show in the animal's behavior. A lot of the animals seem to know-- or it may be just something through time that they know what people are, and they know how to stay away from us. But it seems like that shark knows what we are and seems to know every single time someone touches the water with a lens.


So [CHUCKLES] it's very smart. And it seems to escape a camera at all seemingly-- it looks like the ring, just a little blur, a fade. And there was a shark there. But that shark seems to be very difficult. I mean, we're getting stuff of them now, and we're seeing footage of them now. But it's just-- it's still one of those sharks that's dastardly in avoiding us, too.




LUKE TIPPLE: So you guys definitely went on a mission on this trip. And you headed up north on the hunch that there might be some bigger porbeagles up north. It was snowing, the conditions looked horrendous up there. What made you think that they'd be up there that far?


JOE ROMEIRO: Well, we know they were pushing up that far. James had tagged a few that were pinging in areas where we sort of track them down. But it seems like those animals were moving at such a rate that they were jumping all over the place and following the food sources. And it was really kind of following the food sources. And then not only them, but seeing how they were reacting. So sometimes, you just walk into a place and you can tell everybody's nervous, something's going on there. It's kind of what it was.


We'd walk over to these food sources, like Greg says, and you look at them, and you can look at a pile of seals or a pile of fish and be like, they're acting relax, might not be anything here. If they're acting tense, maybe a reason. So you see behavior in those prey items. And eventually, that trickles down to what you sort of sense of the area. And the porbeagle is one of those animals, where it seems like we're starting to be like the old trail riders, where we have to hunt and look at tracks in what direction and how north they moved.


It's not so simple as just putting bait in the water and expecting to trick an animal. It's smart. They know what we-- so yeah, it's hard. It's hard animal to get.




LUKE TIPPLE: Well, the efforts heading north and into the snow and the horrible cold paid off because they managed to capture one of the largest porbeagles that they have seen. Let's listen to the clip.








JON DODD: [BLEEP] you had it. OK, good. Reload, reload, reload.


NARRATOR: Porbeagles are all muscle. The 500-pound shark easily slips their grasp.




JAMES SULIKOWSKI: It's coming back. OK. It's coming back.


JOE ROMEIRO: I got it over its head.


JON DODD: On its head? Flip it.


JAMES SULIKOWSKI: Pull it tight!


JOE ROMEIRO: Oh, we got it.


LUKE TIPPLE: So Joe, you captured about a 10-foot pregnant female, is that right?


JOE ROMEIRO: She was huge. We got to be able to measure, but it was slight-- I personally never seen one that large. I was there when-- I remember the state record a few years ago when they caught one, and it was like 300 and something pounds. And this thing definitely looked larger. But it could be time of year. It could be anything to do with that. And figuring out by her size, there was more to the story than just she's long. It was like her body weight and her girth had a lot more story there.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, tell me about that discovery you guys made because you're out there ready to look for pups. So what did you find?


JOE ROMEIRO: Well, one of the biggest reason is like-- we were out there to-- yeah, basically find out the connection between we were-- the first vortex show, we found where the pupping grounds were for these sharks. Then we wanted to find out the mothers, where they were. And then really, James was really interested in finding out the connection between those two, and why that really was putting itself together. So we had to sit there, and it raised a lot of questions for possibly more stuff to be done out there, because we now know that there's females here that are pregnant.


We sonogrammed one for the first time ever in history in the wild. We ended up putting a fin mount camera on it, seeing how it judged the water. The water got so cold that it registered everything on the camera as everything else. While we were having camera troubles, battery troubles with the freezing cold water, this animal was taking this thing into like territories, where we were not ready for. And we made some discoveries as far as like where the big females are, where the babies are, where the pregnant females are.


Now, we're trying to figure out what's the connection. If all this is going on here, do they really migrate across overseas to all this stuff? And as Greg has indicated, it seems like they just-- they're more or less keep in the New England area. Now, do those populations intermingle overseas? That's other questions. In some, species male sharks travel thousands of miles while females will travel hundreds. That could be more to spread out the DNA.


Greg would definitely speak more on this than I can, being-- but mine's based mostly on observation on what these guys are telling me, that this area holds a bigger story here for the porbeagle than just they come here at certain times a year and do stuff and then leave. They may be spending most of their lives and this may be a proper gaining ground like the Gulf of Maine.


We're talking about this critical area where these animals that don't exist anywhere else may not be able to survive, especially temperature gives up and that nursing area disappears. And like Greg also indicated, the depth there is not enough to indicate 5,000 feet of depth, so these animals can go and stay there and get into cold water. So what happens to them once that water warms too much? That's something to look at.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, I think that's a great question. Greg, what happens when the water warms up too much? Do the porbeagles move further north? Are they moving away or do they adapt?


GREG SKOMAL: Yeah, that's a question that I don't know the answer to. And I don't think anyone does. And certainly none of us want climate change to happen because it's going to be a very disruptive-- but it'll be very interesting to see what these endothermic species do. It'll probably change their latitudinal distribution to some extent, because that seems to be the most common effect of what happens with climate change, with many species of fish.


So will they go even further north, which would allow them opportunities to exploit other species that are moving that way as well? So their prey base will keep moving north. But how will it impact? And Joe talks about this a little bit. How about-- will it impact their basic natural history?


One of the things we're always trying to find out-- and James has done a great job teasing out some of this with porbeagles-- is you want to know where the males and females are getting together. You want to know where females are giving birth to their young. You want to know what that gestation period is. You know this, Luke, right? You want to know this information so that you can help protect the species and conserve it at sustainable levels.


And so the more we know about those basic life history attributes, the better prepared that we are or the more effective will be at protecting the population as a whole. And Joe talks about maybe they stay in the Western Atlantic. And I think that probably is the case, based on our tagging data. So they're not mixing with West-- the Eastern Atlantic population. So we have to manage that population very discreetly.


And now, we've got this wrench being thrown in the works with climate change. And we've barely figured out where these things are normally happening. And we've got to try to project whether they might happen 10, 15, 20, 50 years from now. So unfortunately, I don't have a great answer to that question. But I think the people that take over after Joe and I retire hopefully will be able to answer some of them in the years to come.


LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah. So is the data right now-- tagging data and stuff-- is that showing that the porbeagles tend to stay at least somewhat in the area rather than migrating massive distances like the makos and whites?


GREG SKOMAL: Yeah. They cover a fairly broad area in the northern latitudes. So they'll go up to Newfoundland. They'll go out east, Grand Banks, in the Gulf of Maine. It even expands south to as far South as North Carolina. So they will cover a broad area, but they'll stay in those cooler latitudes. And that really is a testament to their ability to regulate their body temperature.


LUKE TIPPLE: So Joe, what's next for the Vortex? What are you guys going out to do next?


JOE ROMEIRO: Right now, we're actually heading offshore, and we're doing stuff out near the Gulf Stream. And we may be looking for other phantoms and other things that may be around out there. There's a lot to explore around the area. And now that we've kind of gone within it and know the epicenter, it's kind of radiating out and seeing a lot of exciting stuff, Luke. There's a lot of stuff in the horizon, a lot of stuff that I'm sure Greg is onto right now, that is all keeping all of us hush-hush till next season.


LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, because we're basically at the beginning of your season now, right?




LUKE TIPPLE: And is the whole COVID thing, is that affecting you guys getting out? Or do you just go out and do the work?


JOE ROMEIRO: We're keeping pretty quarantine. We have a little closed in group here of just a few people, so we're able to do our stuff. And we've all been-- have the community and tested. We just have really-- we follow the procedures, and we're doing the best we can. It's definitely not a free-for-all with everybody. But I know Greg's got the same sort of outfit with him, a very tight-knit team of people that stay all close together.


And they're not-- we're not taking a lot of risk because the smallest little thing can affect the entire season. It can affect a lot of people. So even as it starts to relax, I think it's always smart within boats, where we can't get within 6 feet of we-- we can't really help 6 feet of distance. So with that, it's always a concern. It definitely raised a lot of stuff. But you adapt like the sharks, and you try to get it out there as much as you can. We do our stuff, and we're hunting them as much as they're hunting fish.


LUKE TIPPLE: I like that. Greg, what's on the cards for this season? What are you hoping to do, or find, or tag?


GREG SKOMAL: Well, yeah. You mentioned COVID. Obviously, we're a little bit delayed with our field work. We put out a lot of acoustic receivers for the tagged white sharks we've got, which numbers well over 200 now. And so it's been slow to get them out. So I'm hoping over the next two or three days, we get the rest of those out. And then we're going to start our white shark work probably mid-July.


And again, like Joe, we're going to use a very tight, small team. We're going to try to social distance on a boat as best we can. And we're getting a bunch of different technologies out this year. We've got not only live receivers but we've got a virtual positioning system, where we look at scale movements of white sharks around swimming beaches. We've got the camera tags that Joe has been using as well. We got a number of those. We got some really cool aerial technology. So I'm excited to get out, because it's been a really long winter and spring, sitting at home.


LUKE TIPPLE: I think everyone's feeling that. [LAUGHS]


They said the live tracking notion-- I know that that's kind of gotten into sort of the public zeitgeist as perhaps the sold to white shark things-- could you tell me a little bit about where that technology actually is?


GREG SKOMAL: Well, we're using-- there's a couple of different live technologies now, as you know. There's satellite link technology, where if you strap a tag to the shark's fin, if it comes to the surface, it'll transmit to a satellite. And then you get that position within a couple of hours, and you can put that out on some platform. I work closely with the animal telemetry network, for example, and we can put those data. You could follow our white sharks on that website. And that's great.


One of the things we're doing with white sharks around Cape Cod, where the-- which is a fairly recent aggregation site, is we're putting an acoustic buoy that will transmit a warning to a lifeguard right on the beach within seconds of picking up one of our tagged sharks. And so that allows lifeguards to get a sense of how frequently white sharks are in the area and what kind of steps they can take in order to enhance public safety. And that's all through cell phone systems.


And that data will also-- those data will also go up on the Sharktivity app, which the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy maintains. So getting the information out there for public safety purposes but also just to educate the public is something we're all trying to do a little bit better.


LUKE TIPPLE: As someone who's definitely on the ground, making all that stuff happen, are you seeing much of a change in public perception towards the presence of white sharks? Are they getting excited about it now? Are they more scared about it? What do you see changing?


GREG SKOMAL: Well, for me, personally, I've done this for over 30 years, and I've been pretty fortunate. An interesting time to live because the technology has exploded over that time period. And Joe can attest to that, you too as well, Luke. And so public attitudes-- when I was a young guy like you, Luke, where basically the only good shark is a dead shark.


But I've been able to see the attitude towards sharks really change. And it's because of media outlets like Discovery Channel with Shark Week, and guys like Joe, who are bringing sharks into our homes, and social media outlets, and conservation groups, and scientists, who are willing to share their data, and guys like you, Luke, who are going out and translating those data into information that the public can digest. It raises the respect for these animals. And with that respect, comes this desire to conserve. And I've really seen a nice change in attitudes over the course of my career.


LUKE TIPPLE: That's fantastic to hear. Before we sign off from The Daily Bite here, is there anything you guys would like to plug? Any exciting projects coming up?


JOE ROMEIRO: Greg, I'll let you plug your stuff first. [LAUGHS]


GREG SKOMAL: No, we're just cooking away on our white shark work with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, and working with the Animal Telemetry Network, and really trying to educate the public, and do the research needed to learn more about these animals. But I appreciate the opportunity the Discovery Channel and you've given me, Luke, here today to share this information and get it out there to the public.


LUKE TIPPLE: That's rad. Joe, what do you got for us?


JOE ROMEIRO: I, too, also appreciate the Discovery Channel for letting us get out there and doing all the stuff we have. This year, I'll be going out on the Wafish. And my team will be looking for sharks all throughout the New England coast, and studying a few different things, and filming a couple of different projects. You can follow us on 333 Productions on Instagram, on Facebook. And myself and everybody on the team are on there as well. And we'll be doing a lot of stuff. So that's pretty much it besides new stuff coming out on Shark Week next year.




LUKE TIPPLE: Well, that's always good to see. The Shark Vortex shows are always fascinating to me. You guys definitely killed it with this one, so thank you for that. Dr. Greg Skomal with Joe Romeiro, thanks so much for your time today. Really appreciate you stopping by The Daily Bite. For everyone else out there, happy Shark Week.