WELLFLEET — It was a hazy morning at Marconi Beach, but the message of those gathered on the bank above was clear: the six towns from Chatham to Provincetown and the Cape Cod National Seashore are working together on the challenge dealing with sharks in local waters.
Seashore Superintendent Brian Carlstrom hosted a press conference July 2 with Lower Cape town administrators and public safety officials to display that unity and to send a clear message about the need for awareness among swimmers and surfers.
“The seals and the sharks have returned,” he said. “It's a wild ocean, which is what it's intended to be. Millions come here to recreate, but there's a risk to that... We are working cooperatively at the state, federal, and local level to keep visitors as safe as we can, but the ocean always has risk to it. Never will we ever be able to guarantee 100 percent safety.”
Carlstrom and his colleagues from the towns outlined efforts by the Regional Shark Working Group to improve safety, including increased response capabilities such as rescue boats, emergency call boxes, stronger signage, and “Stop the Bleed” supply boxes on beaches for first-responder treatment of wounds.
Chatham Town Manager Jill Goldsmith thanked the Cape's state legislative delegation for securing a $381,000 grant to the six towns and the Seashore to help fund the improvements, and she noted that a report of the Woods Hole Group survey of shark mitigation measures will likely be available by September. The WHG study is supported by the Cape Cod Commission, the Friends of the Cape Cod National Seashore, and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.
The public seems to be getting the message. Keith McFarland, supervisory lifeguard for the Seashore's South District, said, “We used to have to blow our whistles to bring people in” from deeper water. Now that's a rare occasion.
“Sharks spend significant time in shallow waters, 15 feet or less,” McFarland said, whereas most Seashore bathers go two to four feet into the water. “It's almost like the baseball strike zone,” he said, before putting his hand under his chin and illustrating that if only your head is above water while you're standing on the bottom, a sudden wave can put you under a foot or more.
Those most at risk, Orleans Natural Resources Director Nate Sears said, are surfers and swimmers in the eight- to 10-foot depth. “At some point, it's a personal decision,” he said.
Several officials noted that the benefits of increased resources on the beaches extend beyond those who encounter sharks. Riptides, heart attacks, and other expected yet unexpected events must be considered as well.
As to concerns that people may be staying away from the beach, Carlstrom said Seashore attendance had been “trending down a little the last three years,” but noted, for example, that Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown has been closed for a couple of years and that Marconi itself didn't open until July last year. “We get about four million visitors a year,” he said. “They're still coming in and getting their annual pass.”
View the Cape Cod National Seashore's shark safety information at www.nps.gov/caco/planyourvisit/sharksafety.htm.