Cape Cod’s New Normal: Sharks Are Everywhere – The Wall Street Journal

A great white shark near Wellfleet, Mass., in July. Photo: Wayne Davis/Ocean Aerials

WELLFLEET, Mass.—During a recent morning surf at a town beach here, Andy Jacob spotted a dark shadow in the water just a few feet away. He assumed it was a gray seal because they are everywhere these days—until he got a better view.

“As clear as day, it was a great white shark,” said the 40-year-old Wellfleet resident, who had been surfing around the same spot where a great white killed a boogie boarder last September. He said he warned others nearby and that a lifeguard temporarily ordered people out of the water, standard protocol after a sighting.

“Any person could be attacked at any moment,” said Mr. Jacob, an artist and oyster farmer.

It is peak shark season on Cape Cod, and this summer, the huge animals lurking just offshore are an inescapable presence to the people on dry land.

Beachgoers are greeted with new warning signs: “People have been seriously injured and killed by white sharks along this coastline.” Lifeguards have new first-aid kits with tourniquets to stanch bleeding and they fly purple shark-emblazoned warning flags full-time. An annual charity swim off Provincetown in September will reroute to be closer to shore for the first time. Several surf instructors have stopped offering lessons, and parents are ordering their children to stay in the shallows.

On Board

Surfers are using technology, and details on the surfboard and wet suits to try to ward off sharks.

A white t-shirt and a striped

wet suit break up dark colors to

try to differentiate from seals.

Stripes on the surfboard,

hopefully to look less

like seals.

Eye decals to try and

ruin sharks’ element

of surprise.

A battery mounted on top

emits an electric field

to annoy sharks.

A white t-shirt and a striped

wet suit break up dark colors to

try to differentiate from seals.

Stripes on the surfboard,

hopefully to look less

like seals.

Eye decals to try and

ruin sharks’ element

of surprise.

A battery mounted on top

emits an electric field

to annoy sharks.

A white t-shirt and a striped

wet suit break up dark colors to

try to differentiate from seals.

Stripes on the surfboard,

hopefully to look less

like seals.

Eye decals to try and

ruin sharks’ element

of surprise.

A battery mounted on top

emits an electric field

to annoy sharks.

A white t-shirt and a striped

wet suit break up dark colors to

try to differentiate from seals.

Stripes on the surfboard,

hopefully to look less

like seals.

Eye decals to try and

ruin sharks’ element

of surprise.

A battery mounted on top

emits an electric field

to annoy sharks.

Beach closures are common: One town, Truro, has shut down swimming at different beaches more than 20 times since the beginning of July.

“We’ve been bullied out of the water by the sharks,” said A.J. Salerno, who lives in nearby Eastham. He has barred his teenage sons from surfing the Cape, has stopped swimming into deep water and even thought about moving.

Many people grew up or summered in the Cape without fear, lulled by an artificial environment cleansed of seals and sharks because of human hunting. Until last year, great whites hadn’t killed someone off the Massachusetts coast since 1936. The federal government passed a law protecting ocean mammals in 1972, bolstering a state halt on bounty hunting, and the seal population has flourished.

As a surfer headed to a beach in Wellfleet, Mass., late last month, a sign warned of potentially deadly apex predators lurking offshore. Photo: Jon Kamp/The Wall Street Journal

Sharks are now drawn to the abundant prey, and a Massachusetts state researcher who tags great whites said he had his busiest July. Overall, researchers have identified at least 300 of the apex predators prowling local waters, he said. The vast majority of sightings near beaches are on a stretch of outer Cape Cod facing the open Atlantic.

“We’ve seen sharks as big as 15 feet in less than 5 feet of water,” said Megan Winton, a research scientist with the nonprofit Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

Researchers stress attacks on humans by great whites are rare, and many visitors say sharks won’t scare them off. Beaches are still filled on sunny days, and the Cape’s other attractions—a vibrant arts scene, ice-cream shops and shark-free ponds—remain a draw for tourists. While there are signs home rentals softened this spring, according to the region’s chamber of commerce, a new Massachusetts tax on short-term rentals is drawing some of the blame for that.

But heeding the shark threat has become part of the experience, especially since the fatal attack. Visitors regularly use the conservancy’s Sharktivity app to track sightings, including about a dozen on a recent Saturday, stretching from the island of Nantucket to the Outer Cape. The conservancy cautions the app isn’t a reliable real-time detection system.

To fill gaps, Wellfleet resident Heather Doyle, whose nonprofit pushes for improved shark surveillance, recently started handing out loaner radios to beachgoers for shark reports from passing pilots. Also, emergency phones are now wired near beach bathhouses to augment spotty cell service.

The same morning Mr. Jacob saw a shark near Newcomb Hollow Beach, lifeguards at Head of the Meadow Beach in Truro saw a white shark breaching above the surface, causing them to pull swimmers from the water, too.

Meantime, a shark was spotted taking a seal and bloodying the water that morning about 70 feet offshore from a nearby beach, according to the shark conservancy, which tracks and helps tag the predators.

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“It’s very unsettling,” said Linda Turoczi, a 72-year-old painter from Pennsylvania who vacations yearly on the Cape, though she said she wouldn’t stop coming. She was beachside at Head of the Meadow with her husband after swimmers were allowed back in the water. “I’m sitting here looking for fins—everybody is,” she said.

Meanwhile, swimmers are adapting and sticking to shallow water, said Brian Carlstrom, the superintendent at Cape Cod National Seashore.

“Surfers are always going to be our most at-risk group because they’re right in the area where the sharks, we think, are present more often,” Mr. Carlstrom said. He spoke atop the sand cliff at Marconi Beach in Wellfleet, where it was easy to spot seals darting around the waves, some right near the surfers.

Like many local surfers, 57-year-old Mark Kielpinski has installed a $500 device to his board that uses electrical pulses to irritate sharks’ prey-sensing receptors. The Brewster resident also added white stripes to the legs of his black wetsuit to look less like a seal, and he now carries a tourniquet in his backpack, he said.

The surfers, who often speak of spiritual connections to the water, were hit especially hard by last year’s fatality of 26-year-old Arthur Medici. He was killed just a month after a white shark attacked a swimmer on Cape Cod. “It was a slap in the face to say, ‘Wake up,’ ” Mr. Kielpinski said.

A memorial marker for Arthur Medici, a 26-year-old boogie boarder who was killed by a great white shark last September in Wellfleet, Mass. Photo: Jon Kamp/The Wall Street Journal

At Newcomb Hollow, a small memorial for Mr. Medici reads “Shred in Heaven.” Walking the beach on a late afternoon, Wellfleet locals and surfers Kai Potter and Emma Doyle said the attack drew people closer but left a lasting mark.

“After Arthur’s death, I can’t even tell you how many panic attacks I had in the water,” said Ms. Doyle, a 30-year-old yoga instructor and wild-oyster harvester. She said she saw a trauma therapist after Mr. Medici’s death.

Mr. Potter, 34, who was struggling to regain confidence on his board, said Cape Codders are waiting to see whether September’s death was a one-time event.

“I think that’s what everyone is doing now,” he said, “holding their breath.”

Write to Jon Kamp at jon.kamp@wsj.com

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Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/cape-cods-new-normal-sharks-are-everywhere-11566034200

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