Many of us who grew up on Cape Cod have a special place in our hearts for “Jaws,” Steven Spielberg’s late 70s classic thriller about a killer great white shark tormenting an east coast community. The movie was shot on Martha’s Vineyard and “Amity,” the imagined seaside vacation town in the movie, was based on life here on the Cape and Islands. The movie, in turn, spawned a new wave of tourism to the area.
Growing up, the great white shark was our monster. Our shark-filled imaginations tormented us every time we stepped into a body of water, be it stream, marsh, or open sea. I distinctly remember my best friend asking me—literally every time we set foot in the water—are there sharks here? Technically, the answer has always been ‘yes.’ Basking sharks and dogfish are common around Cape Cod. White sharks have always been part of the aquatic ecosystem here¾just not in the numbers we are seeing now.
Over the past decade, the arrival of more and more white sharks to Cape waters has stirred up a mix of excitement, curiosity, and fear. It is quite the phenomenon.
For scientists, it is a rare opportunity for close observation. Sharks have often been found in great numbers in other parts of the world. But is only recently that they have been in the North Atlantic in such high numbers. The fact that they are following a somewhat predictable pattern makes it enticing for scientists. They can reliably study these animals for the foreseeable future.
For some, the sharks are a conversation point. For most of us, the main impact has been that occasionally, the beaches are closed. Rangers patrol the ocean side beaches a little more closely and have been known to call everyone out of the water if a shark is nearby. Not surprisingly, Cape Codders have jumped at the new eco-tourism boom. You can find shark themed gifts and t-shirts in almost every shop. But I do think it also reflects a genuine interest and innate curiosity that we have about these animals.
If you are looking to learn more about the growing White Shark population on Cape Cod, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is a great place to start. The non-profit supports shark research and offers all kinds of educational programs from a “Shark Week” summer camp to boating expeditions. You can also visit the Chatham Shark Center, the home of the AWSC where you can learn more through their exhibits and programs. Chatham is the place to be when it comes to white sharks, thanks to the huge grey seal population on Monomoy and the surrounding areas.
The AWSC just launched Sharktivity, a smartphone app that tracks shark sightings and warnings and allows users to submit their own. I checked it out the other day and I have to say, it’s pretty cool to see all of the recent sightings. Now, the next time my friend (that same one from childhood) asks that burning question, I can simply take out my phone and check for her.