great white shark
Cape Cod saw multiple shark sightings this week, prompting a proposal for mitigation by a local politician. Photo: Elias Levy/Flickr Creative Commons

After recent reports of shark sightings close to the Cape Cod shore, one politician there is proposing a “mitigation strategy” that would involve catching and killing great whites to ensure public safety.

Barnstable County Commissioner Ron Beaty's announcement of his proposed “targeted, localized shark hazard mitigation strategy” this week came after two recent Cape Cod shark incidents: one in which beachgoers witnessed a shark only yards off shore attack a seal and another in which a shark bit a swimmer’s paddleboard.

The seal attack occurred off of Nauset Beach in Orleans. The paddleboard incident happened about 30 yards off of Marconi Beach in Wellfleet.

Cleveland Bigelow, of Chatham, said he did not see the shark that left a visible bite mark in his paddleboard, but the force of the action knocked him down when he had been half-kneeling, half-standing on his board, he told the Cape Cod Times.

 

"From my viewpoint, based upon the sharp increase in shark related attacks and incidents around Cape Cod in recent years, there is a clear and present danger to human life as a result of this growing problem," Beaty said in a statement.

His proposal would entail the use of “baited drum lines” deployed near popular beaches which would use hooks designed to catch great white sharks.

“Large sharks found hooked but still alive are shot and their bodies discarded at sea,” he continued. “This is a targeted, localized, shark hazard mitigation strategy."

Beaty added that “all appropriate federal and state permissions and official protocols must first be sought and followed” before this proposal is implemented. He said the method has been successfully used in other countries, including Australia and South Africa.

Beaty did ask for feedback to his proposal and other possible solutions. So far, the feedback has not been fully supportive of the plan.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy responded to Beaty’s proposal by saying that the method actually has been tried in Western Australia “without success.” The program was terminated there following a review by the Australian Environmental Protection Authority, according to the conservancy.

“The presence of white sharks off our coast is an indication of a healthy ecosystem,” the conservancy said in a statement.

The waters off many Cape Cod and South Shore beaches are feeding grounds for white sharks, which come there to feed on their natural prey, seals, the conservancy said.

“Shark advisory signs, flags, videos and brochures produced by the Regional Shark Working Group provide Cape Cod beach users with information to improve public safety,” their statement continued. “According to the Western Australia Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly, there was no evidence that the cull made beaches safer. The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy believes the proposal made by Commissioner Beaty is ill-considered, indiscriminate, and will not influence beach safety.”

Beaty’s proposal also drew a response from Lucy Swain, a 12-year-old volunteer with the shark conservancy and a member of the conservancy’s STEM-based initiative Gills Club.

In a letter to Beaty, Lucy listed statistics about shark injuries — for example, that in 1996, buckets and pails injured almost 11,000 Americans, while sharks injured 13, and that for every human killed by a shark, humans kill about 2 million sharks, “destroying the ocean ecosystem.”

“Thanks to the Great Whites, our ocean ecosystem is improving,” she wrote. “Brian Skerry, the famous National Geographic ocean photographer, who travels the world recently said that he was amazed to see our ocean ecosystem improving, thanks to the presence of sharks. We are extremely lucky to have sharks living in our waters and killing them would be the worst thing to do.”

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy shared Lucy’s letter and encouraged anyone who has reached out to the organization offering help to contact Beaty as well as their local Senator or Representative.