Shark Sightings Off Cape Cod Give Tourism a Big Boost

Shark Tourism
Steven Senne/APA bin filled with plastic toy sharks at a souvenir shop in Chatham, Mass.

CHATHAM, Mass. -- In "Jaws," the fictional mayor tried to protect the summer tourism season by keeping a lid on reports of the man-eater lurking offshore. As sightings of great white sharks mount off Cape Cod in real life, however, businesses in the Massachusetts town of Chatham are embracing the frenzy.

Shark T-shirts are everywhere, "Jaws" has been playing in local theaters and boat tours are taking more tourists out to see the huge seal population that keeps the sharks coming. Harbormasters have issued warnings but -- unlike the sharks in the movies -- the great whites generally aren't seen as a threat to human swimmers.

Among the entrepreneurs is Justin Labdon, owner of the Cape Cod Beach Chair Co., who started selling "Chatham Whites" T-shirts after customers who were renting paddle boards and kayaks began asking whether it was safe to go to sea.

"I mean, truthfully, we've probably grown about 500 percent in terms of the sale of our shark apparel," he said. The T-shirts, hoodies, hats, belts, dog collars and other accessories bear the iconic, torpedo-shaped image of great whites and sell for between $10 and $45.

He said his store brings in thousands of dollars in sales of the shark-themed merchandise.

Tourists peer through coin-operated binoculars in hopes of catching a glimpse of a shark fin from the beaches of Chatham. The posh resort town is on the elbow of the cape that has a large population of gray seals -- the massive animals whose blubber is the fuel of choice for great white sharks. Local shops sell jewelry, candy, clothes, stuffed animals and beverages with shark motifs.

A study released last month by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found the number of great white sharks off the Eastern U.S. and Canada is surging after decades of decline. Conservation efforts and the greater availability of prey such as Massachusetts' seals, are credited with the reversal.

Shark sightings have soared from generally fewer than two annually before 2004 to more than 20 in each of the last few years off Cape Cod, where the economy depends heavily on the summer tourism season. Despite notices urging boaters and swimmers to use caution, the official reaction has been nearly the opposite of the panic depicted in "Jaws," the 1975 film shot mainly on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard.

"White sharks are this iconic species in society and it draws amazing amounts of attention," said Gregory Skomal, a senior marine fisheries biologist who also leads the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, who said people are coming in hopes of witnessing the animals in their splendor. "I have not been approached by anyone who has said to me 'let's go kill these sharks.' "

Skomal said sharks have been coming closer to shore to feed on the seals, which he said have been coming on shore in greater numbers because of successful conservation efforts.

Confrontations with people are rare, with only 106 unprovoked white shark attacks -- 13 of them fatal -- in U.S. waters since 1916, according to data provided by the University of Florida.

Still, officials are wary of the damage that could be done to tourism if one of the predators bites a person. Brochures have been distributed to raise awareness of sharks and safe practices in the event of a sighting.

"You have to make sure people understand," Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross said, "if they go to the beach and they see a family of seals there, that's probably not the best place to hang out."

Laurie Moss McCandless of Memphis, Tennessee, has vacationed on Cape Cod every summer since she was a little girl and doesn't remember hearing about sharks back then. But her son is obsessed with sharks, she said, and she's hoping to hear more about them on their vacation in Chatham.

"He loves all his sharks paraphernalia," McCandless, 39, said as she bought a shark-themed sweatshirt for one of her three children.

Great White Shark Spotted Off Chatham in Massachusetts

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I always root for the Sharks......................................

July 22 2014 at 10:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

By the way,seals bite,too.

July 22 2014 at 7:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Will someone please define "an unprovoked shark attack"?

July 22 2014 at 7:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to edykilowat's comment

What part of the word unprovoked do you not understand?

July 22 2014 at 8:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

poeple in the water / sharks in the water = are shark . don,t mix , been there done that .
good luck swimming in the water

July 22 2014 at 7:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

people really aren't the smartest things around, just look at the way things are going and tell me different. We are going backwards.

July 22 2014 at 6:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gtm1549's comment

The most dangerous things to humans is human beings.

July 22 2014 at 10:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am a full time resident of Chatham. In season drivers, runners, bikers and jaywalkers are much more dangerous on our narrow Main Street than sharks along our shoreline. Seems every tourist wants to see blood in the water~like waiting for a fatal crash at an NASCAR race. Sorry folks, highly unlikely that there will be an incident. Our beaches are safe, our water is beautiful and views are breathtaking. Come see for yourself. And by the way, President Obama has nothing to do with the arrival of sharks and to educate jdykpl45 the President will be vacationing on Martha's Vineyard not Chatham, Cape Cod.

July 22 2014 at 6:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Two women from New York stopped at the information booth in Chatham to find out when the sharks were being fed. " As soon as you go in the water" replied the attendant

July 22 2014 at 5:01 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Awwww C'mon AOL. You couldn't think of a better heading? How about: Mother Nature Provides Sharks & Seals to Boost Cape Cod Tourism?

July 22 2014 at 3:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
T Rock

It's summer and they are hot, I swam in the 63 degree water at Nauset beach when I was a kid to cool off.

July 22 2014 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love that line the writer wrote in this article. They won't bother you if you leave them alone. You think so?

July 22 2014 at 1:09 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to drcutlass's comment

yea right... how stupid is that statement!!!

July 22 2014 at 3:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I will poke them with a stick to try out their hypothesis!

July 22 2014 at 4:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply