Like clockwork, they arrived the same time as last year. While there are just a few of them now, in a short time they'll proliferate in our waters and force large numbers of year-rounders to seek higher ground.
We refer, of course, to great white sharks.
The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy confirmed that a receiver in Shark Cove, off Monomoy Island, detected a signal from Scratchy, who tagged in 2015 by Dr. Greg Skomal as part of his five-year population study, on June 2. Scratchy, named for the numerous scars around his head and gills, was also the first white shark detected last year, around the same time. Scratchy is nothing if not consistent.
Two other previously tagged sharks were detected on receivers between June 2 and 15. And last Thursday, spotter pilot Wayne Davis photographed what appeared to be a small shark, the first confirmed sighting of the season. And shark devotees – and subscribers to the Conservancy's Sharktivity app – saw that Hunter, a white shark tagged off South Carolina this past winter and the subject of a very dramatic and widely published photograph, was on its way up the east coast, undoubtedly heading for the shark buffet off Monomoy.
Sharks on your phone, sharks in the park, sharks off Monomoy. They're ever-present from May to October. Despite debates about whether that's a good thing for Chatham, the reality is they're here (and punctual), and their presence coincides with the influx of visitors – also here for the Cape waters, but for different reasons. Earlier this year officials from the regional shark working group discussed protocols for dealing with shark attacks, and ample precautions have been taken at beaches from Chatham to Truro to warn swimmers about the risks they take going into the water and provide the information people need to be as safe as possible. When you share an environmental with two-ton predators, however, there can never be a complete guarantee of safety. For the next few weeks at least, the best deterrent is the temperature of the water, which will limit swimming. Even so, our east-facing waters remain a giant, real-world shark tank, the perils of which we need to be ever cautious, even while we're checking the Sharktivity app and scrolling through the tweets from Mary Lee the Shark.
The headlines will continue to wash in over the next several months as Dr. Skomal and the Conservancy continue their weekly trips in the fourth year of the shark population study. And as tempting as it is to anthropomorphize white sharks like Scratchy and Mary Lee – and as helpful as that is for soliciting donations in support of shark research and education – it's a bit of a slippery slope, something local officials, shark supporters – and the media – need to keep in mind.