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Shark Week on Cape Cod: seal bites and Sharktivity

Sharks remain in Cape Cod waters well into the fall season and sometimes longer.
NOAA
Sharks remain in Cape Cod waters well into the fall season and sometimes longer.

It’s Shark Week, and Cape Cod is one of the most popular regions in the world for great white sharks.

That’s according to Massachusetts fisheries and shark biologist Greg Skomal, who authored the study that found that Cape Cod is a great white shark hotspot.

Great white sharks come to the Cape to feed on seals.

“Remember, the peak months are August, September, and October,” Skomal said. “The sharks are moving in, so the potential for a shark bite is always there. It’s a low-probability event, but it does happen.”

Unprovoked shark attacks are unusual, he said, but when they happen, it is often because the shark mistook a person for a seal.

“The white sharks that we’re seeing off our coastline on Cape Cod, they’re here to target seals,” Skomal said. “If they do bite a person, it’s a mistake, and it’s not something they intend to do, but unfortunately these mistakes can be quite severe.”

Florida shark researcher Gavin Naylor reminded beachgoers to consider relative risk when it comes to shark attacks: you are 200 times more likely to drown at the beach than be bitten by a shark, he said.

Great white sharks tend to go wherever the seals go, which means they are most abundant on the Outer Cape. However, great white sharks also can be seen in Cape Cod Bay, and less often in Buzzards Bay, Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound.

A dead seal found at Pamet Harbor in Truro over the weekend was confirmed to have been bitten by a great white shark. A photo of the seal carcass was posted to Sharktivity, an app operated by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy on Cape Cod.

But wouldn’t a shark want more than just one bite?

Skomal explained that seals are often able to escape a shark attack and get to a nearby beach, despite the great white shark’s reputation as an apex predator.

“The fact that we occasionally find seal carcasses on the beach that have been bitten, it’s likely indicative that the shark is feeding close to shore,” he said. “After the bite, the seal is not killed immediately and it's able to get away from the shark.”

If you see a seal with a bite taken out of it on the beach, you can take a photo and report it on Sharktivity. You can also use Sharktivity to track great white sharks in your area.

For example, the app shows that a great white shark was spotted about 100 yards off of North Beach Island in Chatham on Friday, July 9.

The data in Sharktivity “includes sightings by our science team, the eco-tours, as well as the general public, in addition to some of the science data that we generate from our tags,” Skomal said.

Many of the tagged sharks have names. The app shows that an 11-foot male shark named Mr. Pallas was swimming along the Outer Cape from Friday, July 5 to Sunday, July 7. Mr. Pallas was tagged in 2022, allowing him to be observed through acoustic detection.

Zero, Queen Helene and Portal, are some of the great whites that have been seen around the Cape over the past week.

Skomal emphasized that Sharktivity is an educational tool, not a public safety tool.

“We caution the public: don’t think that because a shark hasn’t been sighted off a particular beach, there aren’t any there,” he said.

Gilda Geist is a reporter, a producer on Morning Edition, and the local host of Saturday Weekend Edition.