CHATHAM, MA (WFSB) – While you’re enjoying the beach, something unexpected could be lurking close by.
“Just on the other side of here, I’ve encountered multiple sharks. [You have?] Yep, you know, eight to ten feet of water. [Like while you’re just out working?] Yep, the last one I encountered was in under eight feet of water off the beach just on the other side,” Capt. Kelly Zimmerman of the Got Stryper Fishing Charter tells us.
Kelly has been a captain for the Got Stryper Fishing Charter out of Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod for six years now.
Early on, people who went fishing with Captain Kelly would catch big striped bass. Not so much now.
“The seal population has increased and the more seals that I see, the less of those big bass are sticking around,” Zimmerman explained.
He’s right. The seal population has increased noticeably, thanks in part to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
More seals comes more sharks, most notably great white sharks that average about fifteen feet in length.
Eyewitness News saw quite a few seals sunning themselves out on the sand bar off of Lighthouse Beach.
If you see these guys, chances are sharks are also somewhere in the water, likely riding the waves close to those sandbars right off shore.
Marianne Walsh, education director at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and Center in Chatham says we’re seeing a successful conservation story and signs of a very healthy eco system, from the bottom to the top.
“Even though the white sharks are at the top, everything in our ocean is connected. From the tiniest little plankton to these large white sharks to the humpback whales that we have off our coast, they all play in together in that ecosystem and to the health of the ecosystem,” stated Walsh.
But for beachgoers, that could mean more danger in the water, probably because white sharks are truly top predators.
The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy specifically studies the northwest Atlantic population of sharks.
While they are rarely seen in the waters of Connecticut, sightings in Massachusetts are way more frequent.
The group is working on public safety and education to keep us well informed on the great whites and where they are.
Using spotter planes and a research boat, they’ve tagged around 250 white sharks and now track their movement up and down the east coast.
“[How do you even go about trying to tag a white shark? How does that even work?] So you have to find the shark, the shark has to be in the right area of the water column, and then they’re going to use a tagging pole to deploy that tag and it gets stuck right into the muscle of the shark right next to the dorsal fin,” Walsh explained.
They just launched a really cool new type of tag, a cats tag.
It records video for up to 48 hours from the point of view of the shark.
Scientists are hoping to learn more about sharks’ behavior.
They’ve got around 250 sharks tagged so far and just last year, there were 117 shark sightings in Cape Cod waters.
The group tagged their first white shark this year just last week.
Great whites are rarely seen in the waters of Long Island Sound.
Back in May of 2019, OCEARCH actually tracked a 10 ft. great white named Cabot into Connecticut waters.
The group said it was the first time it’s ever been able to track a white shark in the Long Island Sound.
If you’ve been to Cape Cod, the signs warning of the predators are posted at almost every beach, from Bourne to Provincetown, and the risks are real.
Boston University reports five people have been attacked since 2012.
One of those attacks was deadly where a man died in Wellfleet in 2018.
Scientists attribute the Cape’s healthy population of seals, dinner for these predators, as the reason sharks are coming closer to the shallower waters of sandbars and the shoreline.
Some people who live in the area are concerned.
When you go to the Cape and want to go for a swim, experts say you still can, but only go waist deep and check for the flags.
With spotter planes and research boats available, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy works very closely with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, as well as beach managers with the national seashore and towns like Chatham Parks and Rec. Director, Daniel Tobin to help keep you safe on the shore.
“When seals are sighted in a beach area, we close that beach area for at least 30 minutes, and then we’ll reopen it to swimmers and that kind of thing. If we do have a report of a shark in the vicinity, we’ll close for at least an hour based on the situation and if nothing’s been detected for over an hour, we’ll reopen,” Tobin said.
There’s also an app that tracks shark sightings called Sharktivity.
“So that Sharktivity app, when it was created, was to help further communicate the science to the public. We joked at the time, everything has an app now, so why not have this shark app that can really relay all this information to the public. And we have seen it be an incredible tool for people to actually be looking and you know, taking in that information,” said Marianne Walsh, education director of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.
You can see where tagged sharks are pinging off marked buoys.
Similar technology to what OCEARCH used to track that great white in Long Island Sound two years ago, you can see where sharks are as well as a photo.
Or if someone reports a shark sighting, you’ll get an alert right to your phone.
“It gives everybody the same information as quickly as we can, so they know what precautions to take and what to be aware of,” Tobin said. “You can really enjoy a good day at the beach. I don’t think there’s anything to be overly afraid of in any way, just use the same around the water precautions that you would use at any beach, whether it be a lake or the ocean or whatnot.”
While great white sharks rarely make their way into the sound, with Sharktivity, you can get an alert for a tagged white shark if it happened to make its way off the coast of Connecticut, or anywhere within the northwest Atlantic region.