Somehow I don’t see this ever playing out as an aquatic version of Androcles and the Lion.
CHATHAM —Harbormaster Stuart Smith has rescued a lot of people over the years.
He’s freed boats from sandbars, towed them to shore when they’ve had mechanical troubles. He’s even towed whales back out to sea.
But he never thought he’d be called on to rescue a shark. It may be a sign of just how much people’s attitudes about great white sharks have changed, but when Smith arrived at the Old Southway inlet Monday afternoon, 40 or so beachgoers were crowded around a 7-foot great white shark and they were pouring water on it.
“Everybody there was trying to save that shark,” Smith marveled.
I should know this, but I think the Old Southway Inlet is in fact well west of Lighthouse Beach where we usually swim when we’re on the Cape, so even if we were there this year, we probably wouldn’t have seen the rescue. I need a good map---Google isn’t giving me one---but I don’t think it was even there the last time we went swimming at Lighthouse Beach. The sharks have always been there. They come for the seal dinners. But I always assumed they stayed out of the inlets. Too shallow. Too many fishing boats on their way in and out of Pleasant Bay. But, according to Outside magazine, inlets are good places for humans to stay out of because sharks don’t:
If you have the choice, swim in the sound–a body of water protected between two pieces of land–where the lack of waves means sharks are less likely to mistake you for a fish. Conversely, avoid inlets, where the frenetic activity of estuaries meeting the sea both attracts sharks and makes it difficult for them to see and hear clearly.
I’d call the stretch of water off Lighthouse Beach a sound by Outside’s definition, but an oceanographer might say it’s an inlet, so who knows: We could have been swimming with sharks every day. One of the most disturbing passages in a book full of disturbing passages, Juliet Eilperin’s Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks, tells how the waters off the beaches of Cape Town, South Africa, are teeming with sharks swimming with the humans:
Between 2005 and 2008, spotters reported 530 white shark sightings off the city’s most popular beaches. This not even a comprehensive count of the number of great whites that movie into and out of False Bay, since scientists have detected many more movements through both aerial spotting and acoustic tagging of individual sharks. Peter Chadwick, who directs the World Wildlife Fund’s Honda Marine Parks Program in South Africa, has seen the animals during his scientific missions: “The great whites are swimming amongst the bathers and the surfers. We see it from the air and everyone’s blissfully unaware, and quite happy.”
In 2005, [Allison Kock, a shark biologist and currently Head Scientist at the Save Our Seas Foundation] placed acoustic tags on seventy-eight great whites circling Seal Island near the city’s shore. Monitors registered a hit every time a tagged shark swam by them, making it easy to determine where the sharks spent their time during different parts of the year. Yet when Kock started downloading the data from the monitors, she couldn’t quite believe it when they revealed they had registered such an immense number of hits. “It was a complete mind blow that over 50 percent of the animals tagged at Seal Island were coming inshore, and they were staying inshore for months,” she says. At the very time that people are going to the beaches off Cape Town, the great whites are headed there as well. It’s the unintended consequence of the conservation measures South Africa has adopted over the past couple of decades. South Africa was the first nation in the world to protect great whites, in 1991, and its protection of Cape fur seals has helped the sharks as well, by providing the animals with additional prey. As the sharks thrive, their numbers are growing.
The paragraph that follows is not reassuring:
Kock’s and Chadwick’s data also underscore a simple point: if great whites deliberately hunted humans, they would be having a field day every summer off the Western Cape, consuming the many surfers, swimmers, and kayakers in their midst. They don’t, but the chances of an accidental shark attack still loom large.
Presumably something similar’s been going on off the coasts of North and South Carolina. Something to consider the next time we’re on Cape Cod.
At National Geographic, Brian Clark Howard looks into the question Why Are So Many Shark Attacks Happening in North Carolina?
At Outside, Emily Matcher reports more on the North Carolina shark attacks and along with “5 tips to avoid a close encounter.”
And, in case you can’t read enough about sharks---and who can’t?---here’s more from Elizabeth Palermo at livescience, Shark Attacks in North Carolina: 'Perfect Storm' May Be Causing Bloody Encounters.