As Cape Cod readies for tourist season, last year’s deadly shark attack is on everyone’s mind
WELLFLEET — Christiane Boezio stood overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Newcomb Hollow Beach on a sunny afternoon, keeping a watchful eye on her two young children.
Anthony, 6, and Oliver, 4, were entertaining themselves with plastic boats in a shallow tide pool cut off from the ocean by a sandbar, and Mom wanted to keep it that way.
“We used to go all the way out in the water and not have any concerns about swimming,” said Boezio, of Somerville.
Last year, though, a fatal shark attack at Newcomb Hollow, a favorite spot for Cape Cod locals and a haven for tourists from New York to the Carolinas, changed everything.
The death of 26-year-old Arthur Medici prompted local officials and legislators to take several steps to keep people safer on the Cape’s beaches, including new warning systems, improved call systems to summon emergency personnel, and better medical treatment.
Medici, an avid surfer from Revere, was boogie boarding 300 yards south of Newcomb Hollow Beach when he was dragged underwater and badly bitten by a shark. He died from his injuries, marking the first fatal shark attack in Massachusetts since 1936.
Because cellphone service at Cape beaches is spotty, officials have installed emergency landline phones in many beach parking lots. The phones automatically dial 911 when picked up. Many beaches also have publicly accessible “stop-the-bleed” kits with a tourniquet and special bandages that encourage blood clotting.
Suzanne Grout Thomas, Wellfleet’s beach administrator, said lifeguards were trained to use the kits, but they can also be used by beachgoers to “stem the bleeding until paramedics and ambulance could arrive.”
Grout Thomas said the town also bought an inflatable boat with a jet engine, which lifeguards can use to check for sharks if someone reports seeing a fin in the water. On Saturday, Wellfleet will receive an off-road vehicle that can quickly traverse sand dunes with a medical kit and stretcher, she said.
“We encourage people to make themselves as knowledgeable as possible, and make their decisions individually about how their behavior will be changed by their knowledge,” Grout Thomas said. “We can’t promise that anyone’s safe in the ocean any more than we can promise that anyone’s safe on the road when they drive, and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise.”
State Senator Julian Cyr, who represents most of the Cape, said Massachusetts put nearly $500,000 toward education and safety measures related to shark attacks, and he hopes to get $175,000 more this coming fiscal year. A variety of research projects examining shark and seal populations, climate change, and the viability of barriers or buoys that could ward off sharks are ongoing.
Still, some beachgoers think towns and emergency responders could be doing more.
“I think they’re trying to do little things, just to try to ameliorate the situation, but I don’t know where it’s going to go,” said Bob Holloway, a 77-year-old who was at Newcomb Hollow with his two grandchildren. “It’s a tough situation, it really is. . . . But I don’t see any major developments happening.”
Medici’s death, on the heels of a nonfatal attack the month before in nearby Truro, has also forced beachgoers along Cape Cod to rethink how they enjoy the beach.
“I wouldn’t go out there anymore,” said Boezio’s mother, Debbie Bode, gesturing to the open ocean. “I think in general the way we use this beach is a little bit different. So, we look forward to the sandbar, and swimming at low tide rather than going out.”
At Newcomb Hollow on Thursday, dozens of Cape residents and tourists dotted the beach, reclining in beach chairs underneath umbrellas. Surfers chased the perfect wave as children raced along the shore. All seemed calm.
But last year’s incident was still on people’s minds.
“This is our favorite place on Earth, so we come here all the time,” said Rick Cocivera, 43, of Westwood. “And I don’t think anything’s going to keep us away for too long, but yeah, we changed our habits.”
Cocivera had four children out in the water, playing and surfing. He said he sat them down before coming to the beach this year to discuss the dangers of great white sharks.
“We had a pretty good discussion about just being smart and aware. . . . We definitely keep close tabs on them,” he said. “Certainly, later in the season, we will not be in the water.”
Lauren Bode, Boezio’s sister, is a nurse practitioner, and thinks the publicly available bleed kit is a great idea. But her mom isn’t so sure about its location — attached to the back of a shark warning sign near the path leading down to the beach. Most visitors said they hadn’t noticed it.
“Why would you want to climb that?” Debbie Bode said, referring to the steep path. “I would just think you would have [the bleed kit] on the beach so you don’t have to run up there.”
Some visitors are taking matters into their own hands. Katherine Rush, who came up from Charlotte, N.C., with her father, Brad, has a new surfboard with a decal that’s supposed to repel sharks.
“These are two electrodes, and it creates kind of an electric current in the water,” said Rush, 26. “Sharks don’t like it because they use that electrical sense to hunt.”
Another concern for Cape residents is whether fear of sharks will affect tourism. Rental property owners have reported more vacancies than usual, but no one really knows if sharks, poor weather, or other factors are to blame.
“There’s a lot of predictions out there, but there’s nobody that has any hard information,” Grout Thomas said. “We won’t know completely until the end of the summer.”
In the meantime, as shark sightings have picked up around Cape Cod, visitors aren’t taking any chances.
“At least for now, while the kids are not pushing me to go further, this is OK for us,” Boezio said of Newcomb Hollow Beach. “If there was a real increase in frequency of the actual sightings close to shore, I’d maybe start to think twice.”
Correction: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect location for the shark attack that killed Arthur Medici. He was attacked 300 yards south of Newcomb Hollow Beach.