Cape Cod

What We Know – And What We Want to Learn – About Shark Sightings on the Cape

It has become common for beaches on the Cape to close for swimming when a shark is spotted in the water

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Summer is also shark season on Cape Cod, and people are now aware of the dangers thanks to more than a decade of research.

Typically, sharks return to the waters off Cape Cod and the Islands in mid-June. This year the sightings started early, with the first confirmed sighting on Sunday, May 29. 

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It has become common for beaches to close for swimming when a shark is spotted in the water. Just yesterday, the water at Head of the Meadow Beach in Truro, Massachusetts, was closed for about an hour.

"I'm cautious. But I’m not like oh my gosh there’s going to be a shark," one beachgoer told NBC10 Boston.

The warning signs are up, and people know to be aware, thanks to more than a decade of research. Most sharks return to the Cape between August and October. But even though it's still early in the season, the sharks are definitely here. Here's what beachgoers should know.

Tracking sharks off Cape Cod

For experts at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, another season of research is underway - focused on great whites and their primary source of food: seals.

"And if we can understand those behavioral patterns we think we can produce information that’s going to help enhance public safety," Dr. Greg Skomal, a Massachusetts marine biologist, explained.

Here’s what we know so far because of this research: Sharks like to eat seals. Most of them return to the Cape between August and October. They don’t like cold weather and spend about half their time swimming in 15 feet of water or less.

"We’re getting more into predatory behavior in particular. We want to know how and when they’re feeding on seals. Are there patterns in that? It’s really powerful information for us to have," Megan Winton, staff scientist at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, said.

"In the last decade we've learned more about white sharks in the Atlantic than any other time, but there's a lot more to learn," Skomal said.

How many sharks have been tagged?

Nearly 300 sharks have been tagged. They’re tracked primarily with acoustic receivers with some of the data is gathered in real-time. Drones, blimps and cameras actually attached to the sharks are the next wave of technology. Citizen scientists are even involved with the new Sharktivity app that allows people to report sightings or watch for activity on their favorite beach.

"We still go in the water. I’m terrified of the ocean I’m still in there even with the sharks," another beachgoer said.

Skomal stressed that shark attacks are very rare, but if you do plan to go into the water, you should be aware of your surroundings and not go in past your waist.

The last deadly shark attack in New England was in Maine in July 2020. A man also died in a shark attack on Cape Cod in 2018, the first fatal shark attack in Massachusetts in over 80 years.

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