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Orleans official issues warning on sharks: ‘It is time for beachgoers to change their behavior’

Beachgoers walked past a flag warning swimmers of potential sharks on Nauset Beach.
Beachgoers walked past a flag warning swimmers of potential sharks on Nauset Beach.(Erin Clark for The Boston Globe)

An official in a Cape Cod town that’s seen its share of great white sharks swimming exceedingly close to the shoreline put out a blunt warning this week, pleading with people to be more alert while out on the water in order to avoid an attack.

Nathan Sears, harbormaster and natural resources director in Orleans, wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday that while a section of Nauset Beach — an area where sharks were spotted coming “very close” to shore recently — is staffed with lifeguards, EMTs, and a special rescue boat, beachgoers must remain vigilant and heed warnings.

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“The inshore waters off of Cape Cod are truly a wild place and people should practice extreme caution while visiting,” Sears said in his letter, which was posted ahead of the busy Labor Day weekend. “White sharks have bitten people along this coastline. Fortunately, no one has died yet. However, it can only be expected that more incidents will occur if people continue to take unnecessary risks.”

Sears said it has been a challenge for officials to “convey the gravity” of the shark situation this summer as more and more great whites feed in shallow waters where people swim.

“Regardless of how much signage and information we provide, there still seems to be a concerning level of complacency,” he said. “People continue to risk entering and swimming in the water even after the recent incident in Truro where the man was bitten.”

William Lytton, 61, had been swimming in about 8 feet of water off Truro on Aug. 15 when he was attacked by a shark.

In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Lytton said he was able to fight off the shark by punching it in the gills after it bit down on his leg. He’s now recuperating at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

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The letter from Sears comes after two videos posted online this week showed sharks near the breaking waves at Nauset Beach.

On Wednesday, a woman captured video of a white shark swimming close to shore as the sun came up, its fin slicing through the quiet ocean waves.

Julie Ryder Eitelbach shared the video on Facebook — which was then shared by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy — along with the caption, “Rethinking that morning swim.”

Two days prior, beachgoers watched as a great white splashed nearby.

“The sharks are close because the seals are close,” the conservancy said on Facebook. “Which is why we say be #SharkSmart and don’t swim near seals!”

Sears said data collected by state shark researchers and the conservancy over the past few years show that just because fall is approaching doesn’t mean the predators are fleeing Cape Cod waters anytime soon.

Sears said white sharks feeding and swimming along the coastline through October, a time when the beach isn’t staffed by lifeguards, “is the new norm.”

“The beaches off the backside of the Cape are expansive and often remote,” he said. “This makes it extremely challenging for Public Safety Officials and Beach Managers to provide direction to all who visit.”

Sears said because of that, it’s up to beachgoers to change their behavior — “or something terrible is going to happen.”

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“Please be safe,” he said.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.