Three lifeguards sit around an ATV close to the water of Head of the Meadow Beach in Truro, Massachusetts, a small town near the tip of Cape Cod. Attached to the ATV are two flags flying in the wind: one solid green and the other purple with a shark. While a lifeguard’s job has always been to look out for strong tide currents and stray swimmers, for years now they have had to look out for one extra thing: sharks.
Despite the rise in shark sightings, unfortunately, there is no exact number for the number of sharks, Carol Ekolds, a volunteer at the Province Lands Visitor Center of Cape Cod National Seashore, said she believes that people have not been deterred from going to the beach, they just remain cautious.
“It attracts more tourism, actually,” said Ekolds. “People will come because they want to try and see a shark.”
While these particular lifeguards said they encountered a shark on this beach since June, sharks can still be found swimming up and down the coast of Cape Cod. However, if and when a shark is ever spotted on this beach again, they will be ready to follow the protocol for all oceanside Cape Cod beaches.
When a shark is spotted, a boat horn is blown. Lifeguards will clear the water for an hour from the last visual, which is the protocol for most marine life. There’s no way of knowing if the shark is clear of the area, so the lifeguards will have to guess when they think the shark has moved on.
Sharks haven’t always been a usual encounter for beachgoers on Cape Cod. Up until the past couple of decades, sharks were practically nonexistent on the Cape, particularly due to hunting. There are a couple of reasons as to why there has been an increase in sharks over the decades and one of them is climate change.
According to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, an organization dedicated to white shark conservation, climate change is heating up the ocean, seals have been moving north toward Cape Cod, and where seals go, sharks follow.
To study these sharks and keep beachgoers safe at the same time, the AWSC tagged many of the sharks that were found swimming in Cape Cod waters. This allowed the organization to track them for research purposes and the public to keep an eye out for the sharks through their app called Sharktivity. This app provides information, sightings and movements of tagged White Sharks to keep the public aware.
While some people have been injured by sharks, only one has ever been killed by one. In 2012, a man was surfing at dusk, farther than the recommended distance and wearing an all-black wetsuit, leading the shark to believe he was a seal.
Ever since this deadly attack, every Cape Cod beach now comes prepared if this were to ever happen again. They added call boxes and severe bleeding kits, so if someone else were to ever get attacked, they have a better chance at surviving. In addition, they also include many warning signs about shark safety, and also ocean safety as well, in order to keep the beachgoers safe.
Matthew Shomo, an Ohio native who has been going to Cape Cod for six years, has encountered so many shark sightings, said he is now able to recognize the signs of a shark sighting early on.
“Usually the first sign is when people on the beach start kind of pointing and freaking out a little bit,” said Shomo. “The lifeguards have the purple flag and they will ride around in the ATVs and everything. It takes a little bit to like actually see the shark but once they clear everybody out of the water, you people watch and the people you’re watching are trying to find the shark. Everybody just kind of sits and looks to see where it is in the water. It seems like every year they get a little bit closer and it’s a little too close for comfort.”
Despite these numerous encounters, Shomo still enjoys going in the water, he just remains a little cautious every time he does.
“I know that each year we go, it feels like we go less far out in the water,” Shomo said. “The first summer we were there, we had the kayaks on the bayside and we would just go out and hang out in the water pretty far offshore. Each year we go, there’s always some story that happens right beforehand. First, it was shoulder height, then waist and in a couple of years I’m sure it’ll just be dipping your toes.”