Shark Predation On Seal May Have Been First In Chatham Harbor

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Sharks

The no swimming flag was hoisted at Lighthouse Beach Thursday afternoon after a confirmed shark sighting. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Beaches along Chatham Harbor were closed last Thursday afternoon after a fishermen saw a great white shark bite a seal in half off Andrew Harding's Lane Beach.

Peter O'Neill was coming in through the 1987 inlet at about 3 p.m. after a day of fishing when he spotted a “giant pool of blood with the head of seal poking out” in the channel about 150 yards off the beach.

The seal had already been bitten “completely in half,” and he saw the shark's dorsal and tail fins circling the animal, which was still alive and trying to swim away, he said. The incident happened between the red nun and green can buoys, he said, between Lighthouse Beach and Andrew Harding's Lane Beach.

It capped a busy day on the water for shark researchers, who had seen more than a half dozen sharks between Monomoy and Nauset and tagged two. They were not far off when they were notified of the attack in Chatham Harbor, said Cynthia Wigren of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, who was on the shark tagging boat. When they met O'Neill they saw the seal carcass and “very briefly” glimpsed the shark, but not long or clearly enough to see any distinguishing characteristics. Based on the damage the animal did to the seal, she estimated the shark was about 12 feet long.

It's the first time a shark has been confirmed inside Chatham Harbor this summer, and may be the first confirmed seal predation in the harbor.

As soon as they received the call the harbormaster's office ordered the Lighthouse Beach patrol to clear swimmers from the water. A harbor patrol boat and the department's jet ski were sent to order swimmers out of the water at Andrew Harding's Lane Beach. About 300 people were at the beach at the time. The beach was open for swimming the following day.

The shark may have been hanging around the harbor for a while.

“The seals were skittish” all day Thursday, said Lighthouse Beach Supervisor Vince Gulotta.

O'Neill, a Chatham resident, said he's seen sharks offshore before, but “nothing quite like this.”

The two sharks tagged late last week were given short-term satellite tags, according to Wigren, part of a collaboration between Dr. Greg Skomal of the state division of marine fisheries, the Conservancy and Dr. James Sulikowski of the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine.

Last Friday, Skomal and his team videotaped a 16-foot great white shark, identified as Julie, first tagged in 2012, feeding on a dead minke whale off Provincetown. Other sharks were also seen feeding on the dead whale.

Over the weekend, Captain Hap Farrell, a charter boat operator out of Orleans, posted a video of a shark breaching out of the water and stealing the catch from a fishing line off his vessel.

On Monday, Skomal and his team tagged an 11-foot shark, previously identified as Alex, off Nauset Beach. It was one of more than a half dozen sharks sighted that day, many of which were already in the database of more than 270 sharks identified by researchers over the past four years.