Though shark research is winding down as the cold weather moves in, Orleans Selectman John Hodgson already has his eyes on next year's shark population.
Hodgson is calling for the creation of a nonprofit organization called Cape Cod Shark Watch that would bring together federal, state, and local officials to implement "common sense ideas" to keep people safe from sharks in the waters off Cape Cod.
Though Orleans had no shark-related injuries among beachgoers this summer, Hodgson said educating the public will be necessary to keep people safe as shark sightings increase.
Hodgson said in his proposal, which was released last week, that researchers identified more than 100 great white sharks off the Cape during the summer.
"This is not a swimming pool in Orleans, so it's not just an Orleans problem. We're talking about the Atlantic Ocean," he said. "These sharks are not sitting at a toll booth, waiting to pass through and be acknowledged. . . . We're going to have to have a regional approach to this, especially on the communication side of things."
Hodgson's proposal lists 10 safety measures that Cape Cod Shark Watch would push, including the development of public education programs, a text-based messaging system to communicate with beachgoers, and other digital tools for the public to get information about shark sightings.
Greg Skomal, a shark expert for the state Division of Marine Fisheries, worked this summer with representatives from the nonprofit Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, heading out twice weekly on research trips.
Skomal said researchers contact individual towns, including Orleans, when there are sightings. He said the communication system that is in place works well, but could be improved.
"We do communicate quite frequently with the harbormaster at Orleans with everything we see. . . . I don't know if there is a missing step or just folks being unaware of what's available to them," he said. "But there may be incidents or sightings that slip through the cracks, and we certainly could tighten up that."
Hodgson's proposal also calls for beaches to create designated swimming areas that will be monitored by shark spotters, a plan Skomal said is "really tough," given the current information available about Cape Cod sharks. With the last Massachusetts shark bite in 2012 and the last fatal shark attack in the state in 1936, Skomal said there simply is not enough precedent to determine which areas of the water are not safe for swimming.
"We don't have a lot of knowledge in what is safe and what is not," Skomal said. "What we're hoping to get in our research is finding out where the sharks spend their time."
Hodgson wants to make shark research a priority, too, he said. One of the items listed on his plan is providing additional funding to research groups, such as the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.
Skomal said Orleans has already taken the lead with fund-raising for research during the past few years.
"In a perfect world . . . we need to all be communicating, meeting, and sharing information because that's really what this is all about," Hodgson said.