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After Fatal Attack Off Cape Cod, Do We Need To Solve The Shark Problem?

Over the weekend, a tragedy hit Cape Cod that we haven’t seen in 80 years. A young man of 26 years old was killed by a Great White Shark off Wellfleet, an event that is no doubt horrible for all involved. The ocean is, in my opinion, the single most incredible resource we have on Earth. When someone is killed while enjoying it, it stings a little extra. I know it won’t help with their pain or sorrow, but I honestly feel for his family’s loss.

Because of the backlash involved on both sides, the event becomes a powderkeg of takes. “We should kill all the sharks for people’s safety”, “People should be able to swim safely and enjoy the beach without being eaten alive”, or “Serves him right! That’s what happens when you go into their habitat”. Most people seem to side firmly on one of those side of the fence. Last summer, I wrote a lengthy piece refuting Commissioner Ron Beaty of Barnstable’s absolutely foolish claim that there needs to be a shark cull in order to protect people from being eaten at the beach. You can read it right here. The same Commissioner is now playing a game of “told ya so” and using the death as a chance to further his own local political prowess.
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Wow! What a modern day Nostradamus. How lucky are we to have officials that can predict that people swimming amongst marine mammals while 15 foot predators hunt them may be attacked? I would also like to put my hat in the ring to predict that it will happen again if people continue to swim in the ocean where sharks hunt prey that looks like them. I also want to predict that the Warriors will have a winning record this season and that walking around this winter this without a coat may result in catching a cold.

Let’s first state some background. Cape Cod has experienced a resurgence of Great White Sharks in the past few years due to a rapidly rising Seal population. Harbor and Gray Seals are EVERYWHERE off the beaches and that only means one thing: there will be a corresponding number of predators there to eat them. This photo was taken off of Monomoy Island in 2016 by Aaron Knight.
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The Marine Mammal Protection Act made Seals federally protected in 1972, at a time when they were extremely scarce in the area. As the seals have enjoyed their protection and increasingly repopulated the area, the number of sharks there to eat them has grown. The number of sightings had doubled as recently as 2014 to 2015. Organizations like the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy as well as OCEARCH have been tracking their arrival the past decade and do incredible work to educate the public on these animal’s presence in the region.

If you follow the “Sharktivity” app that is free on their website or in the app store, you would see very clearly that there are a SHITLOAD of Great White Sharks directly off the coast of Cape Cod. If you don’t have it yet, check out the map they have of confirmed sightings around the Cape.
They are clearly EVERYWHERE. Just two weeks ago, I was flying my drone over Lighthouse Beach in Chatham and saw a Great White swimming about 30 feet offshore. I wouldn’t swim out into that water on a boogie board for a million dollars. Its quite simply where they hunt mammals that are a similar size and shape to us. Here is a sign posted at the access point to the beach I saw the Great White at in Chatham two weeks ago.

I have blogged the White Shark Conservancy’s videos multiple times this summer as Sharks were obliterating seals just feet off the beach. Many of these videos come from Wellfleet where the attack occurred, making it less surprising that it took place. I definitely understand and respect the fact that the people of Cape Cod and Massachusetts have swam off of these beaches for decades and its normally an innocent activity synonymous with summer, but you would have to understand there is a solid risk involved to still be boogie boarding off Wellfleet after these videos have been posted all summer. Does it make it “STUPID” or did this young man “DESERVE IT”, absolutely not, but its tough to say there wasn’t a realistic possibility of an attack.

Look at the power and speed of these creatures.

That is an organism that is built to consume other large organisms for a living with a small failure rate. Frolicking in the water where they are hunting is just begging them to make a fatal mistake with your life. Right now there are 3 major opinions on “what should be done” about this issue that has happened one time in 80 years.

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Culling Great Whites would severely damage the local ecosystem as well as destroy DECADES of conservation enacted for the King of the Ocean. That option is highly illegal and completely laughable. Culling seals would definitely reduce shark populations as their food source would dry up and move elsewhere (as well as reduce the shark population due to higher competition over less resources), but to what end? The seals are big and smelly, but they have been apart of the ecosystem for millions of years. One person dying in 80 years should equal the destruction of a species that has taken years to bounce back from the last time we exterminated them? Its utter nonsense.

The Cape should instead nurture this resource like a golden goose. Carcharodon carcharias may very well be the most impressive animal that exists on Planet Earth. There are such a small number of places where the IUCN “Vulnerable” Great Whites can be found regularly and there are even fewer places remaining where Great White Sharks still patrol freely without a million cage diving operations or baited excursions beating them over the head with frozen tunas. The Cape has a gold mine at its disposal! DINOSAURS just cruising around 30 feet off the beach. You can swim in the ocean anywhere, but the chance to see these things is a once in a lifetime rush. The solution to the “Shark Problem” in Cape Cod is to continue to promote the conservation of all of these species (Sharks AND Seals) and instead make sure the public is extremely informed about the dangers of looking like a pinniped off of those beaches! There are other idealistic hypothetical realities where public officials create safe spaces for the public to doggie paddle in these waters safely, but the harsh truth is that there is inherent risk in swimming in the ocean. There is no way around it. (Why aren’t people as fired up about the 3,536 drownings that occur on average per year in the United States?)

If the Cape does indeed nurture this newfound influx of Apex Predators and reap the economic benefits that will follow, people will still beckon for an answer to the epidemic of fatal attacks that have happened ONCE over the past 80 years, and I have a revolutionary theory.

Don’t swim where there are large Sharks that eat mammals and you won’t be eaten/killed by a shark. Or, if you still want to, know that there is a 1 in 264.1 Million chance that you could be a human killed by a shark. People use the term “One in a Million” to describe an astronomically tiny chance of something and this is LESS than that! Its not likely and you may go 80 YEARS without it happening, but there is definitely a small chance that it will happen if you swim where they constantly hunt. There’s no doubt it is still very sad and tragic when it happens, but you can’t say it is unexpected. The reactionary mob that forms in response to a death like this weekend’s is very misguided. Fatal Shark Attacks are one of the most preventable dangers humans have ever faced. If you don’t swim in the ocean directly in areas Great Whites hunt seals, you have a 100% chance of not being eaten. If someone went and played Twister in the middle of a highway and died once every 80 years, I have trouble believing people would say we need to destroy all cars.

P.S. Couch Clancy said this morning that nothing would happen if we killed all the Sharks in the ocean. Learn about Trophic Cascade for me one time doughnut brains.