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On the Cape, tourists and locals take sharks in stride

People at Nauset Beach on Sunday.Erin Clark for the Boston Globe

On Cape Cod, sharks have become an accepted part of the local lifestyle.

Souvenir shops are filled with shark-themed items: snow globes, jewelry, stuffed animals, even fossilized shark teeth.

A purple flag emblazoned with a white shark flies at Nauset Beach year-round, indicating the presence of dangerous marine life. Safety signs reading “Be Shark Smart” welcome visitors entering the Orleans waterfront.

But most beachgoers don’t seem too concerned about the recent uptick in shark sightings up and down the Cape.

Over the past week, 10 great white sharks have been spotted off the Cape’s shoreline, according to sharktivity , a shark-tracking app from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.


New England’s shark season officially kicked off early last month when marine biologists detected three great whites off the coast of Cape Cod.

“It’s the way of life on the outer Cape,” said Wrentham resident Cathy Caillouette as she watched her children and husband play in the crowded water off of Nauset Beach Sunday.

Sharks have become pretty standard on the Massachusetts shoreline, Caillouette said.

“I think being on the national seashore, it definitely gives me pause, but I think as long as you pay attention to what the beach says, then you’ll be fine,” she said.

David Caillouette waded in the ocean with his twins, Aidan (left) and Madeline, 5, in Orleans.Erin Clark for the Boston Globe

Orleans native Wendy Kula, 43, has been surfing in the area for nearly 20 years.

Although sharks aren’t typically at the forefront of her mind, Kula said she takes safety precautions when going out on the water, making sure to never surf alone or at night.

Her husband, Griffin Fernandez, 54, said he isn’t too concerned about sharks, because there hasn’t been a fatal attack in Massachusetts since 1936. The most recent nonfatal attack was in 2014 near Manomet Point in Plymouth.

“Your drive to the beach is more dangerous than being in the water,” he said.


At Lighthouse Beach in Chatham Sunday, beachgoers also seemed largely undisturbed by the presence of sharks.

“They’re moving in to feed,” said Kevan Fulmer of Williamstown, who was set up with three fishing poles on the beach, looking for flukes and sea trout. “They’re on vacation too.”

Beach safety personnel urge beachgoers to use common sense if they encounter a shark.

“If you see something, say something,” said Chatham beach patrol supervisor Colin Politi. “Report it; don’t keep it to yourself. Get out of the water and use common sense. A lot of people forget that last one.”

Politi said the most common way for sharks to be detected along the Cape is by spotters in planes who radio the sightings to the various harbor masters, who then relay the news to on-duty lifeguards and beach patrol personnel. If a shark gets too close to swimmers, safety personnel will generally order everyone out of the water.

Experts believe shark sightings are linked to the increasing population of seals on the Cape. A study released in 2017 by the journal Bioscience estimated there are as many as 50,000 seals in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Massachusetts native Dianne Tomassetti, 55, said she makes sure to avoid the seals during shark season. “All the seals are out there and of course the sharks are going to be looking for dinner,” she said.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of sharks swimming in such close proximity to them.


Elyse Schuerman of Winchester said she owns a property in South Chatham but wouldn’t want to own a house near Lighthouse Beach, “because of the sharks.”

Politi says beachgoers come to him daily with questions about what to do in case of a shark sighting and whether his crew has seen any recently.

Vanessa Steck, who was at Lighthouse Beach with Schuerman, said she has a healthy respect for sharks.

“I feel slightly apprehensive of the sharks, but I also want to see one,” said Steck, who works as a nanny. “It may be fine now, but with climate change, I wouldn’t be surprised if the problem got worse.”

That curiosity can lead to problems, Politi said, as swimmers will sometimes stay in the water for a closer look instead of getting themselves to safety.

“It’s always alluring; they’re powerful beasts,” Politi said. “[People] will see reports and try to see it.”

When in doubt, the best course of action is to listen to the professionals, Politi said.

“We’re not trying to ruin anyone’s beach day. We’re trying to make sure people come home whole,” Politi said.

Sophia Eppolito can be reached at Marek Mazurek can be reached at