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Shark expert urges Cape Cod beachgoers to take precautions

A woman walks with her dogs at Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, where a boogie boarder was bitten by a shark in 2018 and later died of his injuries.
A woman walks with her dogs at Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, where a boogie boarder was bitten by a shark in 2018 and later died of his injuries.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

As crowds flock to beaches along Cape Cod to get a break from the pandemic-induced isolation, beachgoers are urged to take precautions during the holiday weekend and summer — it’s great white shark season.

Every summer, great white sharks inhabit the waters off Cape Cod for the plentiful food source of seals and the warm waters. Several great white sharks have been seen in the waters off the Cape this year, with three spotted in one day off Monomoy in mid-June. Another shark was spotted in Cape Cod Bay the same day.

“The sharks have no idea that COVID is happening,” said Cynthia Wigren, chief executive of Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a non-profit which assists with research and education on great white sharks. “We know they’re already here, returning to the Cape.”

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But as the peak shark months approach — July, September, August, October — people need to be mindful of both sharks and the coronavirus. The state and towns have set safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus, but nothing has changed in regards to shark safety.

“The messaging has remained the same: follow warning signs, pay attention to signs on beaches, follow safety tips put out by safety officials, listen to lifeguards and what they have to say, stay in waist-deep water,” Wigren said.

As the waters begin to cool in November, the sharks leave in search of warmer waters in the south, she said.

In recent years, the Cape has attracted nationwide attention for shark attacks. In 2018, a 61-year-old man was standing in the waters at Long Nook Beach in Truro when he was bitten. A month later, a 26-year-old man died after he was attacked by a shark at Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, the first deadly shark attack in the state in over 80 years and the fourth in state history.

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But those two shark attacks are outliers, Wigren said. Only about six people are killed worldwide by sharks annually.

In other words, there’s little to worry about.

“There’s much more hype than there is risk,” Wigren said. “We think the best thing for public safety is education.”

To ensure that people follow safety guidelines, members from the conservancy group will be posted at beaches along the Cape in the summer to provide public safety reminders, she said. As Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan kicks off, Wigren hopes to have people at the group’s visitor center in Chatham for small group tours to learn about shark conservation.

Matt Berg can be reached at matthew.berg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.