Frequently Asked Questions about Sharks and Public Safety

Frequently Asked Questions about Sharks and Public Safety

Cape Cod National Seashore attracts more than 4 million visitors each year, plus countless Cape Cod
residents who explore the national seashore’s diverse natural environments and historic sites, and
participate in recreational activities. The National Park Service is committed to keeping the public safe
while they are in the national seashore. While it is impossible to eliminate risk altogether in a natural
environment like the seashore, park staff undertake many efforts to reduce risk by mitigating and
eliminating hazards where feasible; communicating risk through signage, brochures, public programs,
and social media; enforcing public safety regulations; encouraging safe behavior; and ensuring
collaborative emergency response on the Outer Cape.

With recent research showing an increase in shark activity in Cape Cod waters, the national seashore
is committed to continuing to explore ways to keep the public safe in wild habitats. This commitment
remains paramount.

Are there sharks in the waters around Cape Cod National Seashore?
Cape Cod’s waters are part of a natural and wild marine ecosystem with a rich diversity of sea life. This
includes many species of shark, including dogfish, thresher, sand tiger, basking, and white sharks.

Why are sharks suddenly at Cape Cod?
Sharks have existed for 400 million years and have always been part of Cape Cod’s marine environment.
White sharks were in decline in the Atlantic. They were designated a protected species in federal waters
in 1997 and in state waters since 2005. The protected status of the shark, in combination with a growing
seal population, which is rebounding after being hunted to near extinction, is contributing to an increase
in sharks.

What is the role of sharks in the marine environment?
Sharks are top predators. They are critical for maintaining a healthy and balanced marine ecosystem.

Why has the seal population increased so dramatically here?
Seals were once present around Cape Cod; however their numbers declined beginning in the 1880s when
a bounty was placed on them out of concern for economically important fish populations. This mostly
eliminated seals from this area. The bounty program ended in the late 1960s. The Marine Mammal
Protection Act, which prohibits killing, injuring, and harassing marine mammals, including seals, was
enacted in 1972. The protection afforded by the lack of a bounty and by the MMPA’s protection has
allowed gray seals to recolonize the Cape.

What is the national seashore doing to keep the public safe from sharks?
For over five years, Cape Cod National Seashore has been part of the White Shark Working Group,
whose members include staff and public safety officials from the towns of Plymouth, Chatham, Orleans,
Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, and the MA
Division of Marine Fisheries. The group collaborates on shark research, knowledge, and safety efforts.
Products developed by the group to increase public awareness and safety include beach signage,
brochures, and a shark smart video. The group has also consulted with and held public presentations
with individuals from other regions where there are public safety concerns regarding sharks, including
South Africa. Seashore managers will continue to participate in these discussions.

What is the national seashore going to do about the increasing number of sharks?
Sharks are a native species in the marine environment around Cape Cod. The park will continue to
communicate safety messages aimed at reducing risk, and will remain an engaged partner in the White
Shark Working Group to explore public safety options. People assume risk whenever they enter a wild
environment that is typical of national parks. This includes Alaska, where there are bears; the southwest,
where there are rattlesnakes; and the Rocky Mountains, where there are cougars. While people can
modify their behavior to reduce risk, it is impossible to eliminate risk altogether.

What is the national seashore going to do about the growing seal population?
Like sharks, seals are a native species in the marine environment around Cape Cod. Once hunted to near
extinction, seals are now protected under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The act
prohibits the “take” of marine mammals, including harassing, hunting, capturing, or killing (culling), or
attempts to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal. Jurisdiction for MMPA is shared by the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA)
National Marine Fisheries Service. The National Park Service is required to enforce both the MMPA
and National Park Service-specific regulations aimed at protecting wildlife.

Are there plans to cull seal or shark populations to reduce risks to people?
The National Park Service is committed to maintaining healthy, biodiverse habitats, and has no plans to
reduce seal or shark populations.

Some regions use lookout towers and nets to keep sharks out of recreation areas. Are these
measures being considered at the national seashore?
The White Shark Working Group is aware of and has discussed some of these methods. Local
conditions such as water clarity, waves, availability of high points of land nearby, and tides are among a
few considerations that could impact the effectiveness of these measures on Cape Cod. These and other
measures will continue to be explored.

How do emergency responders communicate at the national seashore?
National seashore staff use radios, cell phones, and satellite phone technologies to report and respond to
emergencies. Satellite communications were deployed and used starting last spring. We will continue to
look for opportunities to improve communications, including enhanced cell phone coverage, emergency
call boxes, and additional use of satellite technologies.

How can I still recreate in Cape Cod waters and remain safe?
There is always some risk when people enter the wild marine habitat. Water recreationists should be
aware of naturally-occurring hazards, such as tides and rip currents that can carry people far from
shore; jellyfish-like animals that sting; and seals, which can bite and scratch. Shark risk can be reduced
by reading and heeding beach advisories, including: swim where there are lifeguards; do not swim near
seals; swim close to shore where feet can touch the bottom; swim, paddle, kayak, and surf in groups; do
not swim alone in the ocean at dawn and dusk; avoid isolation; limit splashing and do not wear shiny
jewelry.

Provided by National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior
Cape Cod National Seashore
Courtesy of Orleans Cape Cod

Author: Mashpee Chamber of Commerce

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