ORLEANS – A surfer and swimmer, Karl Hoefer was getting fed up with the presence of sharks at Nauset Beach. Shark attacks this summer, which severely injured one man and killed another, “tipped me over the edge,” he said.
Sharks and seals, he believed, were being treated better than people. He decided to try to do something about “conserving” humans.
“The Cape used to be a lot safer,” he said. “It's changing the face of the Cape.”
After writing letters to the editor, Hoefer met with like-minded people on Oct. 9 and on Oct. 23 will hold another meeting of the group, which he's dubbed the Atlantic Human Conservancy. The name is a takeoff on the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, which for the past half dozen years or so has been active in white shark research and education on the Cape. While he believes some people, and groups, are taking shark and seal protection a bit too far, Hoefer said the root of the problem is the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibited harassing or killing of seals and other marine mammals.
With estimates of the Cape population as high as 50,000, gray seals clearly no longer need protection, he said. He believes the seals should be contained to Monomoy, where they first re-established in the area, and that the law be amended to allow hunting them north of Monomoy.
“I think this would keep sharks and seals mainly around Monomoy,” he wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “The Outer Cape's beaches would be safe for recreational and commercial use and animal lovers could see the sharks and seals in their natural habitat.”
It's “clearly unreasonable” to let sharks have the “right of way and for people to give up and stay on land,” he added. State and federal laws protecting great white sharks should be amended, he said, to allow people to be protected.
The first meeting of the group involved a lot of brainstorming about solutions and where to get help in implementing ideas, said Hoefer, a Cape resident for nine years. Those discussions will continue at the Oct. 23 meeting, which will be held at the Snow Library at 6 p.m. He's also heard from a documentary filmmaker interested in who different locations deal with sharks, seals and tourism, who is expected to attend the meeting.
Many people clearly see the seals as the problem. Several weeks ago Chatham selectmen heard from resident Elaine Gibbs, who said that seals in Oyster Pond, where children's swimming lessons are held, constitutes a danger. At her request, the board of selectmen will discuss the impact of seals on recreational beaches, the fishing industry and the town's economy at their Nov. 5 meeting.
Others see education as the best way to approach the situation. The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, along with public safety departments in Outer Cape towns, is sponsoring a series of “Stop the Bleed” training workshops to equip beachgoers with the knowledge to treat severe trauma such as shark bites (see story, page 7). The shark working group, consisting of beach, harbormaster and public safety officials from towns throughout the region, is also discussing beefing up education warning about sharks and seals as well as possibly establishing trauma stations along Outer Cape beaches.
For Hoefer, it all starts with dealing with the seals.
“Basically, I think there is an overpopulation of seals, and their subsequent spread north of Monomoy is the problem,” he said. “I am proposing a containment plan.”