On Monday, May 5, 2014 at 7:00pm, the Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) hosted the fifth and final presentations associated with our 2014 Winter & Spring Lecture Series at the Orleans Yacht Club. John King, explorer, photographer, author and Chatham conservationist entertained the 50 attendees with his presentation entitled “Close Encounters of the Ocean Kind.”
John, who describes himself as not-a-scientist, began his presentation explaining that he is more of an entrepreneur with a diverse resume and strong ties to Chatham that span many generations. John explained that after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he spent more than seven years working as a commercial fisherman on vessels in Alaska. He eventually returned to his roots in Chatham after concluding a twenty-five year career in the biopharmaceutical industry and has been active in various pursuits, working to make a difference in the community, including serving as a Director for the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.
More recently, John and his wife Pam, have been pursuing a lifelong passion to experience and record the earth’s wild places and wild things through photography. John noted, “There is so much to see but so little time, so I just wanted to get after it.”
With that, John jumped into his presentation, which focused on Apex Predators. So what is an “apex predator” (also known as alpha, super, top or top-level predators)? John described them as predators with few to no predators of their own, residing at the top of their food chain. Some examples, which John illustrated with photos from his own collection, are the Stellar’s sea eagle, the sea leopard, African lion, silverback gorilla, leopard, jaguar, and blue whale. While not all of these species mentioned can be found on the Cape, John reiterated more than once how Cape Cod, no matter the season, “always has something going on.”
One large species that Cape Cod is well known for is its local whale population. One of those, which John showed in close-up pictures, is the Right Whale. The Right Whale is one of the world’s most endangered species. However, just this past year, a very rare congregation of about 70 North Atlantic Right Whales gathered in Cape Cod Bay. The small group represents approximately 20 percent of the endangered species’ worldwide population. John went on to talk a bit more about the different whale populations that can be found off the shores of Cape Cod, including the sperm whale, humpbacks, and even a pod of orcas.
John then moved on to talk about the rise in the gray seal population on the Cape, in particular around Monomoy Island and in a cove in Chatham that has more recently being referred to as “Shark Cove”. This cove is where much of the shark tagging has been done by Greg Skomal and his team with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. As John has traveled the world he has spent a lot of time in areas with very high seal populations and thus with the attendant large shark populations, such as near Cape Town in South Africa, where one of the islands is aptly named Seal Island.
What John said he found very interesting is how the great white sharks in South Africa have very different hunting habits when compared to the ever-growing population around the Cape. In South Africa the sharks have adapted to focus on the smaller, younger seals. On the Cape, it appears the sharks will not only go after the smaller seals, but also the larger adult seals, which can be difficult and dangerous, and often less successful. While John didn’t claim to know why this was happening, he thought it could simply be that the sharks are learning to hunt in shallower water on the Cape. Since the water is shallower, the great whites have less opportunity to attack from below and thus they need to take advantage of any feeding opportunities that arise.
John wrapped up his presentation by showing a video of the present he gave his wife Pam for a recent birthday. Any guess? How about a trip to swim with Great White Sharks in the Pacific Ocean! During the video Pam was seen no more than a foot away from the mouth of the shark, “safely” enclosed in a steel cage.
In closing, John stated, “What we save, saves us.” To follow John’s adventures, go to his website blog (http://blog.commonflat.com/ ). Or, purchase his book entitled, “Wild Cape Cod, Free by Nature, which was published by Schiffer Publishing in 2012. This book, which is made up of amazing, up-close shots of wildlife, can be found in most local bookstores.
Special thanks to the Orleans Yacht Club for hosting OCT’s Winter/Spring 2014 lecture series and to all those who attended and supported the lectures. For a full list of our up-coming educatinal walks and talks please visit the “Walks & Events” drop down menu on the website. To see out Spring 2014 Newsletter go to the “News” drop down menu on th website.