As Chatham officials and others are discovering, protecting swimmers from a shark attack is a problematic proposition. There were no takers when the town asked for proposals on shark safety measures at Oyster Pond Beach. Proponents of a shark warning buoy pilot project, currently the subject of a Go Fund Me effort, have run into reluctance from some outer Cape towns, whose legal eagles warn that such a system could expose a community to higher liability should an attack occur.
On Monday Chatham selectmen suggested that swimming lessons run by the town's recreation department be moved from Oyster Pond to Schoolhouse Pond, which, since it is a freshwater, inland pond, would be free of sharks and seals. This move carries its own problems, as Schoolhouse Pond has a very small parking lot, restricted to residents and property owners, and is almost always full on summer days. Moving swimming lessons there would only increase parking along busy Sam Ryder Road, creating a safety hazard of a different sort. And it would do nothing to increase the safety for those who go to Oyster Pond not for swimming lessons but to enjoy its warm, calm, kid-friendly waters—and the free parking.
Like other communities along the Cape's eastern shore, Chatham will be putting up new shark warning signs and distributing thousands of brochures explaining the risks of swimming in the Atlantic and providing guidelines for keeping safe. Selectmen suggested expanding the locations where signs are posted beyond just Lighthouse Beach to include several town landings, and perhaps even popular Nantucket Sound beaches. Along with other public education efforts—including videos, social media postings and promotion of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's Sharktivity smartphone app—that is likely to be the extent of shark safety measures implemented this summer.
After last year's death of boogie boarder Arthur Medici following a shark attack at a Wellfleet beach, there was a considerable push for Outer Cape towns and the Cape Cod National Seashore to find a way to keep swimmers, surfers and others as safe from shark attacks as possible. Call boxes and improved cell service will be in place at some locations this summer, but a more comprehensive study of safety measures won't be ready until the fall. The watchwords for this summer—at Oyster Pond or Nauset Beach—will be caution, and personal responsibility. We can't do anything about the sharks and seals who live in their own environment, but we can limit risk by following those watchwords.