The Cape Cod Shark: Good for Business and Science

By WGBH News

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July 10, 2012


Listen to the complete conversation from Boston Public Radio
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Shark sightings: reason to smile? (@ChathamShark/Facebook)

 
BOSTON — Maybe you've seen the photo or video: a kayaker just 100 feet off the shore of Orleans, Mass. … followed by a fin. And yet the recent shark sighting appears to be triggering more excitement than fear. We asked some experts to explain the phenomenon.
 
The business perspective
 
Paul Pronovost, editor-in-chief of The Cape Cod Times, said the tourism industry was doing its best to capitalize on the interest.

"A lot of merchants have T-shirts and hats and books and little souvenirs — all shark-related because that's what people are coming in and looking for," he said. "It's been fascinating, people coming down to the shorelines, some even brave enough to put their toe in the water, some putting even more than their toes in the water, and really being into this phenomenon — it's created quite a buzz on the Cape."
 
He didn't see any unusual rise in Cape tourism due to the fascination with sharks but he did think vacationers already there were heading to beaches where sightings have occurred.
 
The science perspective
 
While the shark sightings are fascinating to beach bums, they're even more exciting for marine scientists. Technology like acoustic and satellite tags are helping scientists track sharks and better understand the animals' behavior.
 
"Historically, all we really knew about white sharks was based on sightings," said John Mandelman, a researcher at the New England Aquarium. "But now with this new technology we're starting to learn a lot more about where these sharks are going … and that's very exciting, because [for] the Atlantic there's been an absence of information on white sharks, whereas other areas around the world have been able to gain a lot of information about their population."
 
Does climate change have anything to do with sharks swimming close to our shore?
 
"Theoretically, climate change will have an effect on various levels, not just on the sharks … I think in this case, though, sharks are still coming up here based on water temperature," Mandelman said. "I don't think anything is going to happen in a 4- or 5-year period that could be attributable to climate change."
 
Marine scientists think the warmer water temperature is why we have more seals appearing on our beaches and it's those seals … not kayakers … that are attracting the hungry sharks looking for their next meal.
 
The shark's perspective
 
We've heard what the experts say. But what does the shark think? What drove him to pursue that particular kayak? Well, the shark — and June's Massachusetts celebrity animal, the black bear — has taken to social media to explain what he's all about ... without the intermediaries. Here's a rundown.
 

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