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Beachgoers swim on

Shark sightings don’t keep many out of the water

By Jack Nicas
Globe Correspondent / July 14, 2010

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ORLEANS — Judy Curley of Dorchester peered through the fog with her binoculars. In her sunken chair on Nauset Beach, a blanket covering her lap, she was not there to swim. She wanted to spot a shark.

“That’s why we’re here,’’ she said. “We want to see if we can scope something out.’’

But she or her family would not utter the S-word; 12-year-old Daniel Curley was nearby.

“He doesn’t need to know,’’ said his father, Eddie Curley, 52, an MBTA bus mechanic who brought his family to Orleans for the week.

Some thought there might be reason to see one. On Sunday, a low-flying plane 2 miles away had spotted an estimated 15-foot great white in shallow water. It was not far from Lighthouse Beach in nearby Chatham, where five great whites were tagged last summer. But beachgoers seemed largely unfazed yesterday, joking about the movie “Jaws,’’ but showing little trepidation about going into the water.

“I mean, I’m pretty sure they just go for the seals, so if you see a bunch of seals, don’t swim near them,’’ said Brian Pacious, 15, of McLean, Va., as he paddled a ball back and forth with his older brother in knee-deep water at Lighthouse, where there was a temporary swimming ban yesterday, due to fog, not sharks.

At about 4 p.m. Sunday, spotter pilot George Breen saw a great white shark within 100 feet of shore, about 2 miles south of the heavily populated Nauset Beach, according to Orleans Harbormaster Dawson Farber.

“It was evidently in very shallow water actively pursuing a pod of seals that were in the breaking water,’’ Farber said yesterday by telephone. “The report we received was slightly delayed. Our typical policy would be . . . closing the beach to swimming.’’

The beach near where the shark was spotted has been closed for protection of a shorebird species, the piping plover, Farber said.

Patrol boats and a spotter plane scanned the coast from Orleans to Chatham on Monday and yesterday, Farber said, but with the low visibility, they did not spot anything.

Sunday’s spotting was the second in Massachusetts waters recently. A 7-foot great white was hooked, tagged, and released June 26 about 20 miles southeast of Gloucester, prompting a US Coast Guard advisory warning boaters to watch for seals and sharks.

Yesterday, Nauset lifeguard Katie McCully, 44, was eager to assure swimmers that the beach was safe.

“You’ve just got to talk to them, put them at ease,’’ said McCully, a 21-year veteran at Nauset who has never seen a wild shark. “Listen, we swim the length of our protected beach on a daily basis, and we feel safe.’’

Chatham Harbormaster Stuart Smith, who issued a notice Monday advising swimmers to avoid seals, said the one shark sighting is nothing compared to last summer, when fishermen reported several great whites off the Chatham shore and several seal carcasses washed up on shore.

“We’ve been expecting this; it comes as no surprise,’’ he said yesterday by telephone. “But we haven’t seen any [seal] carcasses, so that’s a good sign.’’

Many beachgoers said they have seen plenty of seals this summer; some even saw a few near shore yesterday.

“We’ve seen a gazillion seals, but no sharks,’’ said John DeVine, 49, of Peterborough, N.H., who watched “Jaws’’ the previous night with his family. “We try to swim near’’ the seals.

Scott Taylor, 56, slipped into the Atlantic yesterday at the southern end of Lighthouse Beach, the side closer to Monomoy Island, where seals are known to congregate. He was training for a triathlon on Sunday and was not concerned about the fog or the temporary swimming ban.

“I won’t go too close to [the seals], but, yeah, I’d be better off not to act like one,’’ the minister from Connecticut said. “We live in a fear-oriented society. I try not to.’’

Daniel Bak, 18, said he and his uncle came upon a great white stuck on a sandbar last summer near South Beach in Chatham. “I was pretty impressed by the width of it,’’ he said from his chair on Lighthouse Beach yesterday.

But he almost got his second sighting Sunday: he was surfing off Nauset about an hour after the shark was spotted.

“It’s a known risk; it’s nothing new,’’ he said. “Everyone’s seen “Jaws,’’ so I guess I’m a little spooked. But I’ll never stop swimming.’’

Samuel Raines, 13, of Chapel Hill, N.C., was enjoying his last day of vacation on Nauset yesterday when he heard about the great white spotted 2 miles south, two days earlier. He hardly flinched.

“I’m not worried,’’ he said. “I mean, it’s not like we’re in Miami.’’

Jack Nicas can be reached at jnicas@globe.com.

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