CHATHAM – Training local residents to respond to shark bite emergencies is the goal of a series of “Stop the Bleed” workshop that will be held at the Chatham Shark Center over the next few weeks.
The first session will be held today (Thursday, Oct. 18), with additional workshops on Nov. 1 and 8. Each session will run from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Shark Center on Orleans Road and will be led by Orleans Fire and Rescue personnel. The training, which is free, will also be held in Wellfleet on Oct. 19.
The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, which runs the Shark Center, is partnering with the Orleans Fire and Rescue Department and Natural Resources Department to provide the training, which comes after one man was injured and another killed by sharks in Cape waters this summer.
“Essentially, it's first aid for major bleeding,” Orleans Fire Chief Anthony Pike said. The “Stop the Bleed” training grew out of a federal interagency workgroup and is designed to empower the general public in responding to life-threatening situations. The curriculum includes the basics of compression and wound packing that can be implemented by anyone, Pike said.
“We're targeting any beachgoer,” said Cynthia Wigren, chief executive officer of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. Anyone who is active in the waters along the Cape's eastern shore – surfers, windsurfers, boogieboarders and swimmers – should consider doing the training, she said, but anyone who goes to the beach might benefit. She noted that the first people to respond when 61-year-old William Lytton was bitten in Truro in August were beachgoers.
“We believe it's important for everybody who's spending time at the beach to through this free training,” Wigren said.
Pike said Orleans beach personnel, police and fire staffs have undergone the Stop the Bleed training, as have emergency responders in Chatham, said Fire Chief Peter Connick. The curriculum is also taught at citizens fire academies in both towns.
“I think it's useful for anybody to learn how to do these skills,” Pike said, adding that the training can apply to other situations, not just shark bites.
“This is the future of first aid,” he said. “Given the current situation in our society, the ability to control major bleeding is a skill people should be taught just as we teach CPR.”
The idea for the workshops grew out of discussions among beach and public safety officials from local towns and the Cape Cod National Seashore at the most recent Shark Working Group session, said Wigren. While Orleans and Wellfleet are spearheading the initial training sessions, more will be added in other towns throughout the season.
The working group is also discussing ways to provide the materials to treat traumatic injuries; possibilities include trauma stations or kiosks at east-facing beaches or kits that individuals can purchase and keep in their cars.
“I would personally like to have one of those in my car,” Wigren commented. They are also exploring requiring such kits be included with the equipment required of those who obtain over-sand beach permits.
Funding for trauma stations or kits has yet to be discussed, but Wigren noted that the Cape's state representatives have said they will help identify funding once the region comes up with a plan.
Orleans may do a pilot trauma kiosk program next summer, Pike said; the town has already bolstered its communication network along the outer beach in response to safety concerns.
The AWSC and Vec Surfboards in Orleans will sponsor a shark information session for the local surfing community on Oct. 29. Wigren said the session will include information about the Stop the Bleed training as well as recent white shark researcher data.
“We recognize they are most at risk so want to provide them with information on the research,” she said. “There's also a significant amount of interest in preventative measures,” and the founder of Ocean Guardian, which manufactures an electronic shark deterrent called the Shark Shield, will be at the session. The technology “creates a powerful three-dimensional electrical field which causes unbearable spasms” in receptors on the snouts of sharks, turning them away, according to the company's website. It's available for surfboards, boats and for divers.
The fifth and final year of the AWSC-funded shark population study being conducted by Dr. Greg Skomal of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries will conclude at the end of the month. Wigren said it's been “an active season,” and the number of shark sightings this year appears to be higher than in previous years, but researchers won't known for sure until video is analyzed to determine if the sightings are of unique individuals or repeats. “It's a tough, slow process,” she said.
But it's clear that sharks are still present in the waters off the Cape's east coast. Last Wednesday, Skomal tagged the 14th great white shark of the season.
While the training is free, those interested are asked to register at www.atlanticwhiteshark.org/public-safety.