CHATHAM – For the first time, researchers Monday documented a great white shark in Pleasant Bay, much to the surprise of a family who saw the 14-foot predator pass within a few feet of their boat.
The Whaler was moored just inside the cut between North Beach and North Beach Island when the shark swam by about eight feet off the beach. The 17-foot boat was “just a little big bigger than the shark,” observed Meth Kressley Goldstein.
Thanks to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's Sharktivity app, Goldstein and her family knew there was a shark in the area. But they didn't know it was so close to them until they saw a spotter plane circling overhead and heard an air horn and shouts from researchers aboard the shark tagging vessel.
Researchers had spotted the shark – tagged in 2014 and named James – earlier in the day off North Beach Island. Conservancy Executive Director Cynthia Wigren said they lost him for a while but were later notified by spotter pilot Wayne Davis that a shark, possibly the same one, was farther north just outside the cut. Lowering a hydrophone into the water, they confirmed that it was indeed James, and they followed him as he worked his way in through the cut.
“We were curious to see how far he would get, because we've never seen a shark go in there,” Wigren said.
The answer was, right up to the Goldstein boat.
Goldstein, a summer resident who lives in Weston, said her family often boats over to the Pleasant Bay side of the barrier beach, and her husband, Dennis, often kayaks there. On Monday she and her husband were with two of her four children and her sister-in-law, and had been on the beach for an hour or so when she heard a notification on her smartphone. She opened the Sharktivity app and saw that a shark had been spotted off North Beach Island about 2:30. It was 2:45.
“I clicked on it and said, 'that not far from here,'” she said. “I said to my youngest daughter, Annie, don't go swimming today.”
The family stayed on the beach for a while longer, but while they were packing up to leave they noticed the spotter plane above and then saw the research boat. “I said to my husband, I think that's the shark spotting boat,” Goldstein said. Their boat was nearly on the beach, and after her children and sister-in-law had climbed in, they heard the air horn and shouts from the boat. Then they saw the shark.
“We all watched the shark swim by,” Goldstein said. “It just swam right by the boat.” The big fish was moving at a leisurely pace and “didn't seem to take notice of us.”
James was swimming in a deep channel that fell away from the beach just past where the boat was moored. “We said afterwards on any given day, we could have been jumping off the boat into that deep channel,” Goldstein said, “because it was the perfect place to swim.”
The app served its purpose, Wigren said, notifying beachgoers in a remote area of nearby shark activity. While the researchers had told the harbor patrol that there was a shark in the area, there was no easy way to notify people on the beach.
“That really is the intent of the app,” she said. The Goldsteins “were aware there was a white shark in the area, which was really pretty incredible for us to have that happen for the first time.” The free app, available for iPhones, has already been downloaded 40,000 times, and their developer was able to determine that within two minutes of Monday's alert, 10,000 users had viewed the notification. It was only the second alert put out since the app was released July 1.
While the north cut can be difficult to navigate, it's not surprising that a shark might head into the bay there, Wigren said, since there are usually seals around. Last year, one shark, Chex, spent a lot of time outside the inlet. There are two acoustic receiver buoys in Pleasant Bay this year; she said one was checked recently but had no detections.
“We will clearly continue to check those to see what we find as far as tagged sharks moving in and out,” Wigren said.
The close encounter won't deter her family from visiting the outer beach, Goldstein said. “We won't not go, it's so awesome out there,” she said. Her husband said he'd continue to kayak in the area as well, “but we agreed no paddle boarding,” she said.
And you can bet she'll make sure that she has her smartphone with her.
“I love the app,” she said. “It helped us be safe.”