The increasing number of great white sharks off the coast of Cape Cod each summer is part of an environmental success story. The sharks have only appeared because, over the past four years, populations of the once-endangered gray seal have exploded on the Cape and Islands. But the sharks endanger more than a handful of unfortunate seals. The Cape’s economy relies heavily on crowds of summertime tourists — a few of whom may be attracted to the water by the thrill of a potential shark sighting, but most of whom just want to take a dip without worrying about losing a leg.
The best way for the Cape to guard against the threat sharks pose to the region’s economy is to better understand the animals. A proposal made by harbormasters from a dozen Cape Cod communities to use state grant money to study the sharks, and provide clearer information about them to the public, would do just that.
The harbormasters’ proposal for the $262,500 grant would use a little more than half the money for public education and the rest to buy more equipment for a three-year-old shark-tagging program that has already provided valuable new information about the sharks’ travel speeds and migration habits. More data would be a boon to scientists hoping to build a clearer sense of where and how the Atlantic’s great white shark population lives. Armed with that information, officials could make better decisions for tourism-dependent businesses, for beachgoers hoping to swim in peace, and for the sharks themselves.