White shark sightings and shark-related beach closings have surged on Cape Cod this summer, but that doesn't necessarily mean more sharks have flocked to the waters.
More people on the lookout for sharks and increased vigilance have contributed to burgeoning numbers of shark sightings, said Megan Winton, a research scientist for the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.
This summer has seen many ecotourism groups, with spotter planes in tow, take to the water attempting to steal a glance of a white shark for themselves. In addition, two shark attacks in 2018, one of them fatal, have contributed to an increased alertness across the Cape, according to Winton.
That's led to more sightings and beach closings, she said. Sharks have been sighted on Cape Cod 213 times as of Aug. 22, according to the conservancy's Sharktivity app.
However, the number of white sharks off the coast of the Cape is still "on par with past years," in terms of research, Winton said. The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy conducts two research trips per week, as it has done in the past, and they have not noticed a significant change.
This year, 21 sharks have been tagged, she said. Since 2009, over 170 sharks have been tagged.
Tagging white sharks is one of the conservancy's main efforts — if they can tag enough, they who can be used as a proxy to better understand the animal.
A research team led by Massachusetts marine fisheries biologist Greg Skomal will spot a shark, approach it, then place a tag next to its dorsal fin. These tags allow the team to analyze shark migration patterns and activity.
WHERE ARE SHARKS BEING SIGHTED?
The majority of this year's sightings were off the coast of the outer Cape, according to the Sharktivity app's sightings. Seventy-seven of the sightings were off Truro beaches and 49 were off Orleans beaches.
But there isn't evidence to suggest that sharks congregate in certain areas along the coast. In fact, white sharks have been located at every point along the outer coast, according to Winton.
There is a new effort to study shark activity in Cape Cod Bay, where white sharks have been sighted over 20 times, according to the Sharktivity app. Still, fewer white sharks have been seen there than along the outer coast.
The bottom line is that there are white sharks in Cape Cod's waters and that means beachgoers should take caution.
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"When you enter the water, you are taking an educated risk," says Ryan Wright, acting chief ranger of Cape Cod National Seashore, which includes six protected beaches along the outer coast, from Provincetown to Chatham.
Visitors to the Cape's beaches should consult the seashore's principles of safety before heading into the water.
The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and several towns on Cape Cod have also amped up efforts to educate the public on shark interactions. Barnstable County even named August Shark Awareness Month.
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