As Summer Begins, Specter Of Shark Attacks Looms Over Cape Cod
On a recent Saturday, about two dozen people enjoyed the sun on Newcomb Hollow Beach — the scene of last year's fatal shark attack on the Cape.
Just at the entrance, there's a shrine, ornamented with seashells and sandals, for Arthur Medici, the 26-year-old Revere man who was attacked by a shark last September while boogie boarding. "Shred in heaven" is etched into a stone.
For many on Cape Cod, there have been hopes to keep things business as usual — or better — this summer, but a hyper-awareness of shark activity had some on edge ahead of the busy season. Medici's death was one of two shark attacks last summer.
Swimming In Uncertainty
Julia Greene, of Lynn, was doing yoga on the beach with some friends in town for a reunion. On this particular Saturday, the water was too cold for swimming — even for the former lifeguard. But Greene intends to go into the water this summer.
"I love to swim here," Greene said. "I swim here a lot. But like I say, [it's important] just to be cautious."
She's been coming to Newcomb Hollow for years and said last year's shark attacks won't change that.
"I just won't be swimming at dawn and dusk," Greene said. "Because I think, obviously, it's a real danger."
Beyond changing how people like Greene swim, the shark attacks and increased shark sightings have also affected Cape businesses.
Olaf Valli, who owns a surf shop called SickDay in Wellfleet, said he has mixed feelings ahead of the summer rush.
"I am feeling excited," he said, pausing slightly, "and wondering how it's all going to come together, I guess."
Valli said uncertainty about how many tourists will be clamoring for his surf gear led him to cut back on inventory this season. He doesn’t expect to sell as many bodyboards and swim fins this year.
"We definitely did take a more drastic, conservative approach in some product lines," he said.
Other locals held separate concerns. At a recent public forum in Duxbury, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy group addressed residents' safety questions.
One woman said her family likes to take the boat a few miles offshore and let the kids jump out into the ocean. She asked if that's something that's still advisable.
There was a pregnant pause. "No?" she asked.
"It depends on where and when," said Megan Winton, with the conservancy. "These are large, mobile animals. They're concentrated on the Outer Cape, because that's where the seals are."
'It's A Shark Frenzy'
The conservancy said it sees the increase in sharks as being part of a bigger picture, a "conservation success story," as the group called it, about sharks and seals.
"It's an indication that we have a healthy marine environment off of Cape Cod," said Cynthia Wigren, co-founder of the conservancy. "And people come to this area to enjoy that beauty."
Shark sightings capturing the public's attention is not a new phenomenon for the Cape, either. In its presentation, the conservancy noted that Henry David Thoreau wrote about sharks on the Cape way back in the 1860s.
In his book "Cape Cod," Thoreau wrote:
They will tell you tough stories of sharks all over the Cape ... how they will sometimes upset a boat or tear it to pieces, to get at the man in it ... I have no doubt that one shark in a dozen years is enough to keep the reputation of a beach a hundred miles long.
That reputation may not be all bad. Wigren said sharks could create some lucrative business opportunities.
"As much as there is a concern of, will the presence of sharks deter people from coming, we know there is a thriving ecotourism industry," she said.
Enter Captain Eric Morrow of Bounty Hunter Charters. He spent most of the year in Fairhaven, Mass., running fishing charters. But come the warmer waters of June and July, Morrow will head to the Cape to offer shark tours and cage dives.
"It's a surface cage, so you don't have to be diving certified," Morrow explained. "We've had 7-year-old kids and 75-year-old grandmas."
He said his shark tours are great family affairs. Morrow also found that whenever sharks made news — no matter how tragic — business picked up.
"In my line of work, the more white sharks around, everyone wants to see a white shark," he said. "A lot of hype. Everybody calls. They want to see a white shark. The demand is there. It's a shark frenzy."
Morrow said he expects his company to keep expanding.
"We started with one cage, and now we have three cages," he said. "[We have] two to three boats going all summer long."
He hoped his tours will sell out this year.
'Not Willing To Jump On That Boat'
For Valli, the surf shop owner, the burgeoning ecotourism industry doesn't appeal as much.
"I am not willing to jump on that boat as of yet," he said.
And, for the first time in 14 years, his surf shop won't offer surfing lessons. Valli said he feels the local government hasn't installed enough infrastructure to prevent or deter shark attacks.
And while Valli said shutting down his lessons will be a financial loss, it's the emotional toll that hurts more.
"It honestly is one of my favorite parts of doing this business — is getting out there and seeing a 12-year-old catch a wave for the first time, and the excitement," he said. "So that's the part, I'm like, agh! It hurts."
The towns, especially on the Outer Cape, have spent months exploring ways to protect against shark attacks, said Suzanne Grout Thomas, Wellfleet's director of community services. A study by the Woods Hole Group is underway.
"Until we know what would make them safe, we're not going to be able to put anything out there," Grout Thomas said.
A lot of this year's safeguards will be aimed at addressing shark attacks if they happen: higher lifeguard towers with better views; better first aid and response; emergency landlines and new lifeguard vehicles.
But if you're still unsure if you should go to Cape Cod to swim, Grout Thomas suggested making an educated decision.
"There's a lot of personal responsibility here, because the towns are unable to promise anything," she said. "It becomes an individual decision about how deep you're going to go, whether you're going to go at low tide or high tide or any of those variables."
Anxious as many feel now, many people on Cape Cod hope a proverbial tide will be with them this summer — that tourists will still come and everyone will stay safe.
Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story did not give the correct location for Morrow's business. It's Fairhaven, Mass. The post has been updated. We regret the error.
This segment aired on May 23, 2019.