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Great White Sharks on the Rise in This Vacation Town

For the second year in a row, the number of great white sharks migrating to Cape Cod is increasing.

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A great white shark predates gray seals in waters off the coast of Cape Cod.


For the second year in a row, the number of great white sharks heading to Cape Cod in summer seems to be increasing.

A study conducted by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries found that the regional shark population has continued to rise since the research began in 2014.

The researchers use planes to look for and count sharks found off the coast. In 2016, they spotted 147 great whites, slightly more than the 2015 count but a significant increase from the 80 spotted in 2014.

How I Got the Shot: Photographing Great White Sharks off Cape Cod

To get an elusive up-close view of a great white shark off Cape Cod, photographer Brian Skerry and his team relied on a seal decoy, drones, planes, months of patience, and a lightning-quick finger on the camera shutter.

Greg Skomal from the marine fisheries division is one of the state's top shark experts. In an interview with the Associated Press, he noted that one of the key findings from the study is the increasing number of younger sharks, pointing to a growing population.

"Last summer [2016] we saw greater numbers of smaller sharks, including juveniles, and that tells us that the population is rebuilding," Skomal said.

Shark Town

Great whites haven't always been a common site in Cape Cod. In 2009, five were spotted off the coast, and the sharks have returned to the region every year since. Great whites migrate to find warmer waters and prey, making Cape Cod, with its growing seal population, an ideal destination for the sharks in summer.

Chatham, a small town in southern Cape Cod, has even become known for its sharks sightings, and people flock to its shores in the hopes of getting a glimpse of the infamous predators.

The great white shark, which gained notoriety after the release of the 1975 movie Jaws, has been portrayed as a voracious predator. But those seeking to vacation at the popular Massachusetts destination need not change their plans. The last documented fatal attack by a great white shark occurred in 1936, according to Skomal.

However, with populations steadily rising, incidences of swimmers coming into contact with sharks grows more likely.

In June 2016, Skomal told National Geographic that a fatal shark attack in Cape Cod might only be a matter of time.

“It’s not if, it’s when, in terms of somebody being fatally attacked. We’ve got seals being eaten within 100 meters [330 feet] of surfers. Think about that,” Skomal said. “Cape Cod is coexisting right now, but we haven’t had the attack; we haven’t had that fatal attack.”

Surfers or paddle-boarders who venture near seal colonies are most at risk of being attacked, so authorities in the coastal town will continue to surveil the waters.

Even before the sharks became feared as movie monsters, demand for their teeth and gills nearly caused the great white shark to be hunted to extinction. Since their numbers peaked in the early 1960s through the 1980s, the number of great whites in the North Atlantic region saw a decline of 73 percent.

A law passed in 1997 prevented them from being hunted, and today their numbers are about 30 percent down from their historic highs.

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