Shark tourism grows on Cape Cod, 3 years after the attacks

CHATHAM, Mass. (AP) – There is no threatening music, no telltale fin breaking the surface as the mighty silhouette of a great white shark glides along the small excursion boat off Cape Cod in the Massachusetts.

Michael Simard crouches down and points a finger in the direction of the approximately 10-foot (3-meter) predator navigating the glassy water below.

The 48-year-old construction foreman from Cambridge, Massachusetts glances at his partner, Penny Antonoglou, who dutifully pulls out his smartphone as he poses. Smile. Click on.

“It’s really impressive,” Simard said after the tour, where they spotted at least six great whites. “I hadn’t realized how graceful they were. It puts into perspective that it’s their element, and we just share it with them.

Three summers after Cape Cod saw two large white shark attacks on humans – including the state’s first fatal attack since 1936 – the popular tourist destination south of Boston is showing signs that it is slowly embracing its reputation as a shark.

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A small but growing group of charter boat operators offer great white shark tours in an area where whale and seal watching tours have long been a tourist rite of passage.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a leading non-profit shark research organization, is among those who have embarked on the game of shark eco-tourism. He’s also renovated his Shark Center, a family-friendly museum showcasing his research on the local shark population, and built another educational outpost that will open next summer in bustling Provincetown tourist hub.

Elsewhere, local shark-themed merchants are reporting vibrant activity, even as the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted parts of the region’s tourism industry. Cape Cod receives approximately 4 million visitors a year, which generates over $ 1 billion in tourism spending and supports thousands of jobs.

“It feels like we’re about to be a point of pride for Cape Cod,” said Patrick Clarke, owner of Cape Clasp jewelry company, of the area’s white sharks. “Much of the initial fear and hysteria was fear of the unknown, but we learn more and more about them every year. “

Clarke makes a line of jewelry featuring whales, turtles, and other marine life, but says the shark-themed pieces – particularly a bracelet made from marine-grade cord held together by a large clasp. sterling silver in the shape of a white shark – are still his bestsellers.

In Chatham, the hub of the local shark tourism industry, a business that began selling popular Cape Cod stickers in the shape of a great white shark seven years ago has taken off as the population shark community has also developed.

Kristina Manter says Cape Shark, the clothing company she co-owns with her boyfriend, opened a physical storefront on Main Street last summer to sell a range of hoodies, sweatpants, T-shirts. and other clothing embellished with the logo.

“We don’t emerge just because we’ve seen tourism. We’re here because we love sharks and believe in their conservation, ”says Manter. “It just sort of fell perfectly together.”

There is no definitive tally of the contribution of shark-related tourism to the economy of the roughly 65-mile (105-kilometer) peninsula, but its growth helps extend the tourist season into the fall, because shark-watching peaks occur in August and September, says Paul Niedzwiecki, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

Indeed, dozens of beaches have temporarily closed in recent weeks after sharks were spotted as close as 30 feet (9 meters) from some of Cape Town’s most famous stretches of sand. Shark researchers say they expect to tag and observe predators until November, weather permitting.

“Several years ago there were concerns that this would have a negative impact on tourism,” Niedzwiecki said. “But we worked to educate people about sharks and what we actually saw didn’t negatively impact.”

Mike Bosley, who led the shark tour Simard and Antonoglou took last month, hopes the shark-watching tours can bring a different perspective to the local shark discourse.

“There have always been sharks, but there hasn’t always been the opportunity to interact with sharks in this way,” said Bosley, whose Dragonfly Sportfishing began offering shark tours this summer between its regular fishing and whale watching excursions. “They are part of our ecosystem.

Since the 2018 attacks, officials in Cape Town have invested in better training and equipment for lifeguards and first responders to keep beach goers safe as great white sharks migrate in greater numbers to feast on the region’s abundant seal population.

But a group of residents, vacationers and other concerned advocates have formed a non-profit association lobby for more sophisticated and proactive shark safety measures, such as underwater detection, land-based warning systems and drone surveillance.

Local surfers, meanwhile, have taken to arm with shark repellents, including personal devices that emit electric fields believed to deter but not harm sharks.

Concerns about great whites grow elsewhere in New England, especially after a New York woman was fatally bitten by one in Maine last July, becoming the first person to die of a shark attack in the state. Dozens of maritime organizations and state agencies from Rhode Island to Canada have formed a consortium to collaborate on shark research in response.

Greg Skomal, a state marine biologist who is currently studying the hunting patterns of Cape White’s great whites, says shark visits could prove beneficial, as long as they continue to be conducted responsibly.

There are currently no licensing or registration requirements for tours, but these and other regulations should be considered if others join the fray, he said.

State banned the use of bloody buddies, decoys, and other bait to attract sharks in 2015, which means the types of shark cage diving operations that are common in Australia, South Africa and other parts of the world Other shark-rich destinations are not permitted in Massachusetts waters unless they are more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) offshore, where state jurisdiction ends.

“We are very sensitive to activities that alter the natural behavior of sharks,” Skomal said. “We don’t want six (visits) following a single shark in shallow water near swimming beaches.”

Like most operations, the Bosley Dragonfly Sportfishing typically stays hundreds of meters (meters) offshore, in waters deeper than 2.4 meters.

But it’s a relatively expensive outing: The nearly three-hour tours, which rely on an aerial “spotting” plane to locate sharks, range from $ 1,600 to $ 2,500 per boat, and ships typically carry six passengers maximum.

Antonoglou, a 47-year-old civil engineer, says the eye-opening experience is worth it.

“When people think of great whites, they think of ‘Jaws’, but it’s not like that at all,” she said. “It’s pretty cool that we know they’re over there. The populations are thriving, and I think this is a great asset for Cape Town.

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