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What to do if you spot a shark: Answers to 6 safety questions

For answers, we went to the experts at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

New signs at Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, where a fatal shark attacked occurred in September, urge beach users to exercise caution when in the water.
New signs at Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, where a fatal shark attacked occurred in September, urge beach users to exercise caution when in the water. (Neil Swidey/Globe staff)

You have questions about sharks around Cape Cod? The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy has answers.

Q. Which waters around the Cape and Islands have the most white sharks, and when?

A. White sharks are present around the Cape and Islands during the summer and fall. Peak detections are from August to October. They appear to be most concentrated where seals occur in greatest densities, along the Outer Cape in the Atlantic waters from Chatham to Provincetown. They are also present in Cape Cod Bay, the Gulf of Maine, and around Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Q. What should you do if you’re in the water and spot a shark?

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A. Exit the water calmly (limit splashing), warn others around you, and report it to the nearest official or lifeguard, who will instruct others to exit the water as well. Also use the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s Sharktivity app to report the sighting. If you spot a shark from the shore, follow the same reporting procedure.

Q. In the unlikely event of a shark attack, what should you do?

A. Fight back if you can, targeting the shark’s gills and eyes.

Q. How can we reduce the risk of a shark attack while still enjoying the water?

A. Humans are not on a shark’s menu, but be “shark smart.” Be aware of your surroundings, and be knowledgeable about which species occur locally. Off the Cape, white sharks hunt for seals in shallow water close to shore. If you choose to enter the water:

■  Don’t swim near seals — but know that the absence of seals does not necessarily mean the absence of sharks.

■  Try to remain in water no deeper than waist-high. Even large sharks can enter shallow water. Fourteen-foot sharks have been spotted in water less than 5 feet deep.

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■  Avoid swimming near baitfish, which create lots of splashing and attract diving seabirds.

■  Avoid swimming in murky water or under conditions that limit visibility, such as twilight.

■  Don’t go in the water alone. Many people bitten by white sharks are rescued and survive thanks to the efforts of bystanders and buddies.

■  Avoid wearing shiny jewelry.

■  Take advantage of local first aid training and “stop the bleed” efforts.

Q. Have other countries’ shark mitigation approaches worked? Do any hold promise for Massachusetts?

A. A variety of approaches have been tried. None is 100 percent effective.

Q. Do shark bands and other devices designed to repel sharks actually work?

A. Nothing currently available can guarantee your safety.


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