A Weston family is thanking a new mobile app that alerts beachgoers about nearby great white sharks for giving them a heads-up when a 14-foot predator was swimming in the area as they enjoyed a sunny day on a stretch of secluded Chatham beach.
Beth Kressley Goldstein said her phone buzzed in the late afternoon Monday with a notification from the non-profit Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s Sharktivity app, which launched this month. It told her a shark was near North Beach Island.
“I clicked on the app, and looked at the map, and it said the sighting was 20 minutes ago, so I thought, ‘We should be careful,’” said Goldstein, whose family was north of the island, in an area called the North Cut, on the bay side.
“My youngest [child] was sitting at the edge of the water, and I said, ‘Annie, don’t go swimming today,’” she said.
Goldstein, her sister-in-law, her husband, Dennis, and their two kids began to pack up and board their boat, which was anchored just a few feet from the inlet’s shoreline.
Suddenly, a spotter plane used by the conservancy to track great whites off Cape Cod was hovering overhead, she said. Just offshore, Goldstein saw members of the conservancy, who work with state biologists to tag and study the ocean creatures, on their vessel, bobbing with the waves.
Something told Goldstein the shark was close.
“I said, ‘I think there’s a shark in here,’ and me and my husband were arguing back and forth about it. And then [the conservancy’s] boat came closer, and [they] yelled, ‘There’s a shark in the water,’” Goldstein said in a telephone interview. “Then they got on an air horn, and [they] said, ‘The shark is right next to your boat!’”
That’s when Goldstein’s family saw it.
“It just swam on by. It didn’t seem to notice us,” said Goldstein, who was standing on shore when she observed the animal, which was later identified as “James,” a 14-foot shark previously tagged by state biologist Greg Skomal, with the help of the conservancy.
Members of Goldstein’s family had already hopped on the boat before the shark cruised by, so they got an even closer view than she did.
“My daughter took a picture of it. It was right off the boat,” Goldstein said. “We were kind of thrilled — it’s such a cool thing to be able to see. But I was a little bit nervous.”
Cynthia Wigren, president of the conservancy, said researchers had followed “James” to where the Goldsteins were. Wigren said she was glad that the family got advance notice through the app.
“When people are . . . on remote areas of the Cape, the app can be the quickest way to receive information,” Wigren said in an e-mail. “We were happy to learn that the app worked well in alerting the Goldstein family to the presence of a white shark close to shore yesterday.”
Wigren said the app has been downloaded more than 40,000 times. More than 10,000 people opened the app within two minutes of the alert Monday.
When the shark swam away, Goldstein said, her family headed home. On the way, they ran into two paddleboarders and told them about the encounter.
“They were heading out to where we had just been, so we went over to them and let them know we had seen a shark,” said Goldstein. “One of them wanted to keep paddleboarding. But the other said, ‘You know what, we wouldn’t mind a ride home.’”
Although the sighting was slightly alarming, Goldstein said it won’t keep her family from returning to one of their favorite beaches. But she’ll be sure to check the Sharktivity app.
“I’m very glad I had the app, it was really helpful,” she said. “[The conservancy] helped keep my family safe, and you know, it’s not like we aren’t going to go back out there.”
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.