Our View: Ramp Up Shark Education

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

Saturday's tragic death of 26-year-old Arthur Medici of Revere forces local officials to decide to continue to education the public about the dangers of sharks in our coastal waters or take a more drastic approach – whatever that may be.

Medici was killed after being bitten by a great white shark off a Wellfleet beach, where he was boogie boarding with others. He wasn't doing anything unusual; the day before and the day after, others were engaged in the same activity at the same location, as they have for years. What is different now is that sharks – drawn by the gray seals that are their chief prey and unable sometimes to distinguish between a seal and a person – are a present in the waters, often very near shore, almost all of the time. Even when there's a lifeguard on the beach, there's no guarantee a shark isn't lurking right offshore. And, according to researchers, the number of sharks seems to be growing.

Short of getting rid of the seals – which some advocate, but would require a change in federal law – the sharks are here to stay. Local officials have put out warnings and advisories about sharks for several years now; those may need to be augmented. As Orleans Nature Resources Director Nate Sears pointed out earlier this month, there's complacency around sharks, although we hope that two attacks in little more than a month will dispel that. Orleans Fire Chief Anthony Pike added that the shark warning flag system also seems to have lost its significance.

More intense signs and more presence on the beaches – lifeguards staying after Labor Day – may be the best that can be done. Permanently banning swimming might remove the specter of liability for local towns, but it would be impossible to enforce. And a line of watchtowers along the 40-plus miles of Outer Cape beaches is simply not practical.

We urge Rep. Sarah Peake to doggedly pursue state funding assistance for personnel to staff beaches, more signs and a wider public education campaign. Grants to ensure emergency services are adequately prepared for shark bites are also needed. We doubt even the recent attacks will dissuade people from visiting Cape Cod, going to the beaches or even swimming in the ocean. But we need to make sure there's adequate warning of the potential danger, in a serious way – a way that might even scare them out of the water.