The only way to be completely safe from a shark attack, a new report released Wednesday concludes, is to stay out of the water.
The $50,000 study by the Woods Hole Group analyzed 27 shark mitigation alternatives but did not recommend any single or group of solutions. The report concludes that current practices, such as “shark smart” education, heightened awareness and emergency measures such as stop the bleed training and first aid kits at beaches, are contributing to increased safety, and that none of the alternatives can provide total protection from sharks.
“There is no solution available that can ensure 100 percent safety to individuals who choose to enter the water,” the report reads.
While some of the technology, barrier and biologically-based alternatives show promise in providing some measure of mitigation, most are expensive, require extensive permitting and could take years to implement, according to the report. The findings point out that individuals who enter the water assume the risk of a shark-human interaction and should think carefully about their choices.
Six Outer Cape towns, the Cape Cod National Seashore, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and the Cape Cod Commission contributed to the study, which was launched earlier this year in reaction to the death last September of a boogie boarder following a shark attack off Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet. It was the second shark attack of the 2018 season; there were no shark attacks reported this summer, but the number of beach closures due to shark sightings exceeded the previous year.
The report will be the subject of a public meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. at Nauset High School.
According to a press release, the report was intended to provide Outer Cape communities with a comprehensive and consolidated analysis of shark mitigation technologies currently available and strategies to increase public safety and awareness.
The report calls for developing a regional consensus before implementing any of the alternatives. The consultants recommended continued expansion of education, outreach and dialog among stakeholder groups.
Here are some of the study's conclusions:
The study found that visual and acoustic strategies, such as observation via drones or lifeguard towers, may alert beachgoers to the presence of sharks but may not reduce attacks. Once a shark is sighted, it is already close to swimming areas, the report reads. Tagging only samples a small percentage of the shark population, and real-time detection buoys could help improve safety as part of a wider response strategy, but their deployment doesn't mean swimmers are safe, since the buoys only detect tagged sharks. Sonar detection systems "have not lived up to their potential," the report concludes.
"No technology-based alternatives separate sharks from humans," the report states.
Barrier technologies would not work in the region's open Atlantic waters, and could cause problems with entanglement of other marine life.
Culling sharks or seals is not feasible because both are protected by state and federal law, the report states, and there is no evidence that reducing the local gray seal population would decrease shark numbers.
Modifying human behavior is the most effective way to minimize risk, the report says. Beachgoers must change their behavior during peak shark activity seasons.
The full study can be read at www.chatham-ma.gov/home/news/outer-cape-shark-mitigation-alternatives-analysis-report-released-today-october-16-2019.