Cape Cod’s Newest Tourist Attraction: Great White Sharks
With an increased seal population comes the seals main predator....
Three great white sharks were spotted in recent days off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, generating understandable concern among swimmers, boaters, and lifeguards. But the season’s first arrival of the notorious predators has not caused panic or distress in area communities. On the contrary, the summertime presence of the great whites has increasingly become a tourist attraction, luring shark-seeking visitors from far-off destinations and providing a boost to local economies.
This is particularly true in Chatham, which is regarded as the best potential viewing area. That’s because the seasonal abundance of gray seals, which represent the primary food source for the great whites, is most evident beyond Chatham’s shores.
“The seal population has reached some critical level that the likelihood of seeing a white shark now has increased,” Greg Skomal, a shark expert at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, told Bloomberg News.
The Bloomberg story explained how Chatham, located about 75 miles south of Boston, at first was unwilling to accept fame as a shark-related tourist trap. The notorierty began to build about three summers ago, when shark sightings noticeably increased.
“We wanted to be known as a nice, quiet, laid-back community,” said Mike Ambriscoe, the Chatham fire chief. “We’ve been having this problem where sharks have been visiting us. It certainly does put us in the limelight.”
Chatham, a town of about 6,500, will not forget the shark warning issued to swimmers by the U.S. Coast Guard last summer, just as the July 4 holiday weekend got underway. That news opened the tourism floodgates. Business boomed in stores and restaurants, and snarling traffic jams were attributed to shark-seeking visitors.
Nobody complains about a boost in business, but it would seem unsettling for town leaders for that boost to be credited to predators that can measure 20 feet and weigh 4,000 pounds.
“The first year this all happened, I was really nervous about it and would say to others, don’t talk about it, we don’t want shark merchandise,” said Lisa Franz, executive director of the Chatham Chamber of Commerce. “The second year, I embraced it. The third year, come on down, we’ll have a shark statue for you.”
Penny Haughwoute, owner of the Monomoy Beach Company in West Chatham, told My Fox 11: “As alarming as it may be, it’s very special. I think we’re very privileged to have the great whites coming here because we’re now a new hot bed for great white research.”
Scientists have tagged more than a dozen great whites during the past two seasons, mostly east of Chatham’s Monomoy Island.
Fortunately, unlike the sensational situation depicted in the 1975 horror-thriller Jaws, the white sharks off Cape Cod do not pose a glaring threat to swimmers, experts say, as long as swimmers use beaches a safe distance from where seals are gathered. (The last unprovoked shark attack off Massachusetts occurred in 1936.)
Seals have become more prevalent in recent years and that, experts say, can be attributed to long-term benefits of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which passed in 1972.
The seal population increase, in turn, helps to explain the increase in white shark sightings.
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