After a series of shark sightings off the eastern shore of Cape Cod, including on Tuesday morning, the Chatham harbormaster has advised swimmers to stay away from seals when entering the water.
In a statement, Chatham harbormaster Stuart F.X. Smith said local officials spotted great white sharks and seal carcasses last week in waters close to Monomoy Island and North Beach.
For that reason, he said, beachgoers are prohibited from swimming within 300 feet of seals on the eastern shoreline. Sharks, which feed on seals, have been known to mistake humans for their prey. The restriction extends from Monomoy Island in the south, to the northern border between Chatham and Orleans.
“At this time, the Town of Chatham is not closing our east-facing beaches to swimming in its entirety, but simply suggesting that beachgoers, mariners, and swimmers pay close attention to their surroundings while in the water and to not venture too far from shore,” Smith wrote in his statement.
George Breen, a spotter pilot with Cape Cod Shark Hunters, said he spied two of the sharks Tuesday morning off the coast of Chatham. One, a 14-footer, was chasing a seal about 30 feet from the beach.
So far, the timing of shark sightings seems to be on par with last summer, Breen said. Last year, Cape Cod Shark Hunters spotted their first shark on June 29. This year, the first sighting occurred June 30.
“It’s pretty much right on schedule,” Breen said.
Reginald Zimmerman, spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, advised beachgoers to avoid swimming at twilight when sharks tend to feed.
Zimmerman said Chatham is the only Cape Cod community that he is aware of that currently has a shark-related swimming restriction in place.
Last August, frequent shark sightings off Chatham caused local authorities to announce a moratorium on entering the water on east-facing beaches between sunset and sunrise, in addition to banning swimming close to seals.
Those sightings were a boon to business owners, who noticed crowds swamping the Cape vacation spot in hope of catching a glimpse of a great white shark from the shoreline.
Lisa Franz, executive director of the Chatham Chamber of Commerce, said she does not believe shark appearances will have a significant effect, good or bad, on tourism during this week.
Still, she said, there is no doubt that shark sightings generate curiosity in the seaside town. “Great whites just bring people out,” Franz said. “People are interested, they want to know more about it, and they want to catch a glimpse of it if it’s possible.”
Even though sharks have been spotted, Franz said, there is no need to be nervous about heading to Chatham to swim.
“It only affects a small area, and we’ve got nine ocean beaches,” Franz said. “There’s something for everybody here.”
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