It turns out novelist Peter Benchley, director Steven Spielberg and the “Jaws” book and movie were right – you don’t want to go swimming off the coast of Massachusetts. According to the latest reports, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is now considered to be the shark capital of the world as the U.S. has overtaken Australia for the dubious ‘country with the most shark attacks’ honor. Forget the “We’re #1” chants and the boat – we’re gonna need a bigger warning sign.
The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s Sharktivity App (you knew there was an app for this) shows 50 great whites off Cape Cod so far in summer 2021. National Geographic list of probable causes includes the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act which banned hunting of the species in 1972, an increase in beach tourism between 2010 and 2019 (according to data collected by the International Shark Attack File of the Florida Museum of Natural History) and another increase this year as quarantine restrictions due to the pandemic are lifted.
“In Cape Cod, one of the hot spots for U.S. shark activity, great white sharks have bitten five people since 2012, including one person who died.”
Sure, that’s rare – but if the U.S. has shown anything since the pandemic, it’s that Americans are willing to take risks with their lives. According to The Daily Star, the US leads the world in 2021 shark bites with 33 incidents so far, far ahead of second place Australia at 18. Not surprisingly, surfers, swimmers and other water sports lovers are the favorite shark bait, accounting for 61 percent of victims in 2020.
“(Cape Cod and Cape Town, South Africa, are) the only two places in the world where you have a high density of people, seals, and great white sharks (swimming together close to shore).”
Christopher Pepin-Neff, a social scientist at the University of Sydney who studies how sharks are perceived by the public, seems to be helping National Geographic readers pick some places to avoid as they plan their summer vacations. Only three shark species pose a danger to humans -- great whites, tiger sharks, and bull sharks – but he says pointing out to Cape Cod beachgoers that they’re in the water doesn’t help because “If you fly the danger flag every day all day, everybody ignores the danger flag.” The same is true is Cape Town.
“We’re providing the information and people aren’t absorbing it.”
At least not as fast as sharks are absorbing people, according to Sarah Waries, CEO of Shark Spotters, a beach-safety program that flies a flag, sounds an alarm and attempts to actively clear swimming areas after shark sightings and still meets resistance. Maybe we need a cartoon character like the U.S. Forest Service’s Smokey Bear, who made an impact on American parkgoers by pointing out that “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” Who would be a good cartoon spokesperson for beaches? Pamela Anderson or David Hasselhoff from ‘Baywatch’? Richard Dreyfuss from ‘Jaws’? Dory from ‘Finding Nemo’? Any shark from Shark Week?
“The number one question that we get when people come in to see us is, What beach do I have to go to to see a shark?”
‘None of the above’ is the correct answer, according to Marianne Long, education director at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, which has seen an increase of about 3,000 visitors each year since their opening in 2016 (except for 2020) due to people preferring to see a shark than not see one.
As Homer the shark might say: “Mmm. Dummies.”