Three Vineyard fishermen had a real-life Jaws moment last Friday morning when they encountered a great white shark circling a dead minke whale that had become tangled in lobster line in the area known as Devil’s Bridge off Aquinnah.
Jeff Lynch of Chilmark was out fishing with his friends Will Farrissey and Mike Capin, both of Oak Bluffs, when they found the 17-foot whale. Mr. Lynch notified the Coast Guard, who then notified the state environmental police, who later came to collect the whale and take it to Woods Hole for study. The three men had gone out early in the morning to fish for mackerel, which they had planned to use for shark bait later in the summer.
Mr. Lynch described the experience of watching the 20-foot shark, nearly the size of their 23-foot boat Scup Bucket, as it hovered around the dead whale.
“The shark wasn’t that interested in the whale. It just kept nudging the whale,” Mr. Lynch said. “It wasn’t aggressive. It kept coming over to me. For half an hour to 45 minutes it was following us around. It was so big. It was incredible, the size of its girth, not like any other big fish.”
Mr. Lynch also contacted Greg Skomal, the state shark expert.
State environmental police Sgt. Matt Bass was dispatched to recover the whale; he arrived on the scene at about 11 a.m. and towed it to Woods Hole. Sergeant Bass said he had two whale experts from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on board.
Mr. Bass said they brought the whale alongside the oceanographic dock at about 2:30 p.m., and were met by whale experts from the Cape Cod Stranding Network, a group affiliated with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. They planned to do a necropsy to establish the cause of death. On Wednesday this week, Jane Hoppe, an assistant stranding coordinator for the Cape Cod Stranding Network, said that the cause of death was still undetermined.
Last Friday, Mr. Skomal said when it became apparent that the whale was being towed to Woods Hole, there was no longer any reason for him to make the trip to Aquinnah to look for the shark. The shark was likely only in the area because of the dead carcass, he said.
“What was surprising to me was that the great white shark was in that area this early in the season. They usually don’t show up until June,” Mr. Skomal said.