Don't Go In the Water! Cape Cod Great Whites On the Rise
It was the summer of '09 and my cousin and I decided to take a dip in one of Cape Cod, Massachusett's picturesque beaches. We decided on "Lighthouse Beach", a popular destination for "wave seekers", located on the shores of a quaint and charming town by the name of Chatam. Unlike the rest of the Cape, the town of Chatam has managed to avoid the urban sprawl that has , dare I say, stolen some of the allure that has historically attracted vacationers to this prime locale. When we arrived at the beach, the water was frigid but I was feeling brave. I noticed right away that not many people were swimming and waist deep was as far as they would go. Playing the role of showboat, I thrashed into the water and ventured deeper and deeper into the Atlantic. Then all of a sudden something startled me, as an indiscernible mass was surfacing and submerging about five feet away, creating splashes and bubbles in its wake. The image was fleeting so I couldn't exactly make out what it was.
What Was That?
Full disclosure: I'm somewhat of a chicken when it comes to the ocean and the uncertainty of what lurks below, so, you bet your life I made an expedited beeline toward the shore. In my hasty retreat towards land , something that felt like a thick rubber brushed against my kicking feet, so now I really picked up the pace. As I approached land my cousin grabbed my attention by motioning excitedly to something behind me. He then tells me that he had seen a "blubbery thing" swimming by me in close proximity. Then, the rest of the beachgoers were suddenly in a mild frenzy motioning friends and family towards the water saying ,"Look it's a seal" and "Did you see that thing?". Unbeknownst to me at the time, a growing seal population was settling in and around the beaches of the Cape at record rates. This personal anecdote is actually where the story starts.
As many of you may or may not know, the preferred meal of the Great White Shark is seal. I knew this from watching Shark Week on the Discovery Channel , but I never thought these apex predators would be caught dead in the ice-cold waters of the Atlantic. I'm sure when most of us think of sharks, we place them in warm water locations such as Australia, California, and South Africa. Since when did they start encroaching on my territory? After a quick nexus, I was in shock about what I found. The resurgence of the seal population in Cape Cod waters has led to a disconcerting increase in the amount of white-shark sightings. As a matter of fact, researchers have recently discovered a white shark nursey in the area, leading many experts to suspect that Cape Cod has become a sort of breeding ground for these awesome creatures. Anyone up for a swim?
Although great white shark attacks on humans are rare(about 5 attributed deaths a year) , this statistic does very little to ease peoples fears of these archetypal "killing machines". Additionally, there's just something inherently mysterious and frightening about the ocean; especially when you take into account that only five percent of it has been discovered! The limited knowledge we have about the worlds oceans only adds to its mystique and makes you wonder if their are bigger and badder fish in the sea, that we just can't see.
Like the ocean, (there is little we understand) about Great white shark behavior and social structure. Much of what we know in regards to the reproductive behaviors of these creatures can be attributed to the research conducted by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. The reason researchers are excited about the Cape Cod shark crowds, is the new opportunities to tag and study them in unfamiliar territory. Like I said, we don't know a lot about them, so the more sharks we can tag--the better. I foresee breakthroughs in the understanding of Great white shark behaviors in the coming years and we can thank the dramatic resurgence of the North Atlantic seal population for that.
The frequent sightings have even led to the creation of a an app called, "Sharktivity", that tracks sightings, detections,and movements to raise awareness and help people and White Sharks co-exist peacefully. So, seafarers beware and shark researchers rejoice. Cape Cod is now on the global radar as a hotbed of Great White Shark activity, and I for one think it's fascinating. If you love the ocean but fear losing a limb...or two...or three; hang your hat on the fact that your chances of being the victim of a shark attack is 1 in 11 million. My advice: don't watch Jaws and try and repeat that statistic like a mantra, "One in eleven million, one in eleven million, one in eleven million."