On & Off Campus Blog

The return of the shark to Cape Cod and its repercussions
The return of the shark to Cape Cod and its repercussions
by Kaia Patterson '23

Cape Cod: The place where serenity meets the smell of a salty ocean, steamed clams, and... deadly sharks. The shark problem on Cape Cod, with typical sightings from coast to coast, has been an issue which may continue unresolved.  The National Geographic said it best: "The return of great white sharks to New England over the past two decades is both a conservation success story... and an emerging public safety concern." It is also causing deep unease for the economic survival of the region.

Initially, leaders of local communities began to consider shark sightings as a potential new tourist opportunity. Just around the corner from where I stay on the Cape, on the intersection of Orleans Road, is a shark museum, which reinforces the prevailing view that sharks attract business to the community. While cars pass by the museum, children idly play a game of bag toss into the mouth of a great white shark. Inside the museum, clean glass windows show off a wide variety of shark mouth skulls, information blocks, and a forever looming front-half of a great white shark, ready for the kill.

On the Cape, seals have been environmentally protected and their population has increased astronomically. According to a local fisherman I recently spoke with, the seals have "invaded" the region, depleting the local stocks of cod in the process. However, an article published by The Cape Cod Chronicle in 2019 says this is not the case. While the seals may or may not be to blame for depleting the cod population, they have caused another problem: namely, predatory sharks, who prey on the seals. Although shark attacks are rare, beaches across Cape Cod took precautions this summer, including using orange cones, large warning signs, and even a swimming advisory.

Add the media-induced stigma of sharks and the fear many have towards sharks will continue to be prevalent. The unforgettable shark attack on Isaac Rocha, a 26-year-old college student surfing along Cape Cod's coast in 2018, didn't help. Now, regardless of how much the community is doing to try to make tourists comfortable swimming in the ocean, the possibility of encountering a shark continues to find its way into people's minds.

For most of my life, I have viewed myself as a conservationist, a supporter of the preservation of wildlife, including sharks and seals. Nevertheless, as I grow older, I find myself increasingly in conflict over the two conservationist ideals I hold dear; the preservation of my community with all the beautiful memories of childhood I cherish, or, the preservation of the seals and the great white sharks who prey on them. Can we have both and, if so, how?