Sunday, September 16, 2018

Surfing with Sharks on Cape Cod

Here's Newcomb Hollow Beach this past Thursday evening.  We were on this lovely Welfleet, Massachusetts, beach for a friend's neighborhood pot luck and bonfire.  Sadly, a young man died as a result of injuries from a Great White shark attack in the middle of the following day on this same beach.

Newcomb Hollow Beach looking north

Arriving around 5:30 pm, we scratched our heads, watching dozens of surfers in the water at shark 'feeding' time.  The invincibility of youth?  The pictures don't show it, but a group of  a dozen or more surfers and a few paddle boarders were clustered together.  Supposedly there is some safety in numbers, or so I've read.  

Generally, sharks tend to hunt in the late afternoon, evening and early morning.  Yet this most recent shark-related fatality -- the first in 80 some years-- happened in the middle of the day.   

I imagine local officials are reeling from the news and the varying reactions from tourists and locals.  The sharks have always been present, but as the seal population has exploded -- they remain on the endangered list -- shark sightings are increasing.  I suspect there is also more tracking going on than ever before.  It's not uncommon to see planes circling overhead at an ocean side beach as pilots try and spot Great whites from above.  And the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's "Sharktivity" app  has enabled thousands to follow shark sightings.   

Fisherman push to to cull the seal population (some scientists say it will have little or no effect) as they resent the competition, where as tourists resist any negative impact on the seals.   Meanwhile, sharks are benefiting from the resurgence of blubbery seal meat.  
Surfing at around 6pm.

I think this young woman came out and stayed out of the water while others carried on in the waning light.   

It was an absolutely beautiful evening.  

A NOAA scientist who spent twenty years on the Pacific in California before moving to the east coast offers this perspective: 

[In California] “There’s kind of a piece to it where people have come to accept, this is the reality of living in my environment, like a tornado or earthquake or hurricane,” he said. “I totally respect people’s fears about it, but I wonder whether, just because it’s novel here and Jaws is the bogeyman of Cape Cod, that this creates a particularly heightened awareness and cultural sensitivity.”

Can Cape Codders come to accept Great Whites and learn to co-exist?  It is a tough question when the loss of life is so fresh.  Time will tell.  

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