As great white sharks migrate this summer toward the state’s warming waters and healthy seal population, Massachusetts officials are putting new rules in place to make sure humans stay far away from the fearsome predators.
The new restrictions, which take effect immediately, prohibit people from trying to attract white sharks using chum or seal decoys without authorization. It’s a measure that officials say will both protect the animals and make sure they don’t get used to feeding around people.
“There are areas around the world that are white shark hot spots, and all of them have some type of permitting that’s required for general activity involving these animals, and we felt it was important to do the same thing,” said Greg Skomal, the state’s senior fisheries scientist.
Last summer, Skomal and state researchers counted and tagged more than 60 individual great white sharks off Cape Cod. He expects this season will see the same number, if not more.
The animals could arrive by next month, Skomal said.
While the presence of sharks is a deterrent for some swimmers, it has also served as a sort of tourist attraction.
Skomal said his office has fielded an increase in e-mails and inquiries from boat operators about using chum to draw sharks to their vessels.
“We didn’t have a lot of evidence that this was happening . . . but it seemed like there was more interest,” he said.
A new “white shark special permit” requirement is designed to stop untrained people from tossing chum or other bait into the water, cage diving, or towing decoys behind their vessels while hoping for an up-close look at a great white. It does not apply to commercial fishing operations seeking to attract other fish.
The rules, set out by the Division of Marine Fisheries, are also meant to help protect the animals.
Skomal said if humans are feeding the sharks, they could get accustomed to feasting while in the presence of people.
“We don’t want to modify the behavior of these sharks,” he said. “There’s the possibility that you can condition the sharks to human activity and train them to come to you, and that seems to have happened in a couple of areas, so we are taking a precautionary approach.”
Violators could face a $100 citation, or potentially criminal charges.
The 40th anniversary celebration of the classic film “Jaws” and recent reports of shark attacks along the North Carolina coast have put some people on edge about the impending white shark season in Massachusetts, but experts say the likelihood of attacks remains rare.
Skomal said he has read reports that indicate the attacks in North Carolina were probably isolated incidents that involved a different species of shark.
The last fatal white shark attack in Massachusetts occurred in 1936, off the coast of Mattapoisett. In 2012, a swimmer suffered a nonfatal shark bite in Truro. Last year, two kayakers off the coast of Plymouth had a run-in with a white shark.
“I think it’s clear to everyone that these animals are here,” Skomal said. “We know that the probability of an attack is remarkably low, but it doesn’t take many to really frighten people.”
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.