Cape Cod, MA– A surefire way to avoid shark encounters is to remain on the sand. But that’s a sad trade to make, giving up that refreshing ocean water out of an inflated fear of shark attacks (which are still, despite last year’s two attacks, extremely rare). Most waders don’t give any serious thought about the odds of being attacked by a shark, or if we do, we’re willing to take the risk while playing it smart. Don’t swim out too far, stay where your feet can touch the bottom, avoid the seals. (Unfortunately, just because you don’t see seals, that doesn’t mean there are no sharks.)
Great White sharks may accidentally attack humans, most likely mistaking them for seals. They are frequently sighted off the coast of Cape Cod (this summer, check out Sharktivity, a shark-tracking app by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy). Last summer, there were two scary reminders that Great Whites are also making Cape Cod their summer home, alongside millions of tourists (literally millions -- it’s estimated that over four million people visit Cape Cod each summer).
In the first shark attack on the Cape last August, William Lytton, a 61-year-old from New York, was seriously injured when his leg was bitten by a shark at a Truro beach. Lytton was swimming in water 8 to 10 feet deep. When he felt the shark’s jaws on his leg, he punched it in the gills, remembering from a nature documentary that this was a sensitive spot. He nearly died from blood loss, and had to be placed in a coma for two days after he was helicoptered to Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Lytton faced six surgeries and weeks of physical therapy to recover.
Then, in September, 26-year-old Arthur Medici died as a result of his injuries from a shark bite when he was boogie boarding off of Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet. While bystanders administered first aid and made makeshift tourniquets, it was not enough to save him. The last time someone died from a shark attack in Massachusetts was in 1936.
Cape residents and surf shop owners are determined to take steps to reduce the risk of shark attacks this summer, as reported by The Boston Globe. Some steps already taken include stocking medical kits with tourniquets and hemostatic bandages to reduce blood loss, as well as the installation of emergency call boxes in beach parking lots. (Cellular service is spotty in some areas.) Cape officials have asked the Woods Hole Group consultancy to study the effectiveness of shark deterrents or monitoring devices including barriers, nets, sonar buoys, or drones. Some have pointed to the rising seal population as the cause of an increasing shark presence on the Cape, and have proposed controlled culling of the seal population. But this would require changes to the federal law which grants seals protected status.
The group will present their findings in September, which will be too late to make an impact on this tourist season. Some surfing shops and instructors are worried that business will suffer, so they are taking matters into their own hands. Katy Weeks, the owner of Sugar Surf Cape Cod, a surfing school in Wellfleet, purchased devices that attach to surfboards and release an electric signal that is supposed to repel sharks.
“Yeah, people are worried, but I think it’s about people not being super-educated. Nobody should be going deep — that’s where it starts to get dangerous,” said Weeks.
Even following last year’s two shark attacks on Cape Cod, the odds of swimmers being attacked by a shark are still extremely low. But Cape residents want to go a step further and are actively investigating options to prevent shark attacks. We may see some of the changes on the beach this summer, as some like Nauset Beach in Orleans have already banned surfing for safety reasons.