Joe Mault went down to Nauset Beach early Friday morning to capture photographs of the waves crashing against the shoreline.
But not long after he took out his camera, he captured something unexpected: a surfer’s close encounter with a great white shark.
“All of a sudden I saw the wake and then the fin, and it was pretty evident thereafter that it was a shark,” said Mault, owner of Orleans Camera. “It was within feet of him.”
Mault said he arrived at Nauset Beach around 7 a.m. Friday expecting to shoot images of crashing waves stirred up by Humberto, the storm passing off the coast.
He said he was snapping photographs for a bit when he spotted a surfer out on the water and turned his camera to the man in the wetsuit.
“I thought I’d be catching him catching a wave,” he said.
Then, Mault said, he noticed something rippling in the water. At first, he believed it was the leash to the surfer’s surfboard. It quickly became clear, however, that it wasn’t.
“It turned out it was the wake of the shark,” he said.
Mault said he kept taking pictures, realizing that the surfer was already aware that the shark was nearby.
“He was fortunately aware of it and booked his way out of there,” he said. “He was immediately aware of it; there wasn’t much we could do. I continued to shoot hoping that it was all it was going to be.”
When the surfer returned to the shore, he spoke with Mault and told him that he had heard the noise of the shark cutting through the water nearby.
“He thought maybe it was a seal popping his head out of the water but when he looked over his shoulder it was pretty clear it wasn’t a seal,” Mault said. “It’s a pretty scary thing.”
The Globe reached out to the surfer but has not received a response to a request for comment about the encounter.
Mault told the Globe that the surfer “took it all in stride,” however.
Officials from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy confirmed that the fin belonged to a great white.
Mault’s startling photo, which shows the surfer looking back over his shoulder as the fin splices the surface of the water just behind him, was shared Friday morning on Facebook by the Orleans Department of Public Works and Natural Resources, shortly after it was taken.
In the post, officials from the town warned people that while the summer vacation season is over, the waters are still teeming with the apex predators.
“As a reminder to all beach goers we continue into peak season for white shark activity,” the department wrote on Facebook. “As of 8:00 AM there was a near encounter with a white shark and a surfer off Nauset Beach. Please remain vigilant.”
White shark sightings reach their peak between August and October, according to the conservancy.
In a tweet Friday, the nonprofit called the image “incredible” and reiterated the message from Orleans officials.
“This is a good reminder that white shark activity is still at [its] peak off the coast of Cape Cod through October,” the conservancy said.
Incredible image of a white shark swimming by a surfer off Nauset Beach this morning. This is a good reminder that white shark activity is still at it's peak off the coast of Cape Cod through October.— Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (@A_WhiteShark) September 20, 2019
Photo credit: Joe Mault / Orleans Camera pic.twitter.com/n7Ilo9UL3g