Don’t expect a ‘boom’ in great white sharks off Cape Cod this summer

A sign warns beach goers of the presence of great white sharks at Lighthouse Beach in Chatham, MA.  Every year, more and more great whites are spotted off the coast of Cape Cod due to the increasing seal population. 08/14/15 Julia Cumes for the Boston Globe
A sign warns beach goers of the presence of great white sharks at Lighthouse Beach in Chatham. –Julia Cumes for The Boston Globe

A leading shark researcher is debunking a handful of media reports predicting an increase in great white sharks arriving in Cape Cod waters this summer. 

Greg Skomal, the senior fisheries scientist for the state Department of Fish and Game who leads the Massachusetts Shark Research program, says there is no evidence to back up a predicted “boom” in total shark population off the Cape in the next few months.

“Recent reports by several media outlets that Cape Cod will experience a ‘boom’ in white sharks this summer are unfounded,” Skomal said in a statement, adding that biologists at the state’s division of Marine Fisheries “have no data to support this prediction.”

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Earlier this week, Skomal told Good Morning America that the number of white sharks the team counted “on a relative scale are increasing,” saying that in 2014 he and his colleagues counted 80 sharks during the summer and in 2016, they counted about 147. (GMA‘s headline: ‘Growing concerns over great white shark boom off Cape Cod.’)

In a statement Friday, Skomal clarified that while the number of sharks they’ve documented has increased, so, too, have the number of trips researchers are taking to study the predators. 

“The number of individual white sharks identified has increased since 2014,” Skomal said. “However, it is important to remember that these numbers do not represent the total population size and also reflect the survey effort in each year.”

Skomal and his team are beginning the fourth year of a five-year study to estimate the local population and abundance of white sharks in waters off Massachusetts, working with the UMass School for Marine Science and Technology and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. Here’s the team’s count of white sharks and number of trips as part of the study each year:

  • 2014: Over the course of 25 survey trips, 80 individual sharks were identified.
  • 2015: Over the course of 41 survey trips, 141 individual sharks were identified.
  • 2016: Over the course of 40 survey trips, 147 individual sharks were identified.

With the increased trips, the rate of the number of sharks documented each year has been “relatively constant,” with a rate of 3.2 in 2014, 3.4 in 2015, and 3.7 in 2016, Skomal said.

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“Therefore, we have no reason to believe that the population will increase dramatically in 2017,” he said.

While experts say you’re more likely to be killed by the flu or an asteroid than by a shark, the conservancy is still encouraging everyone heading to the beach to brush up on their shark safety tips.

At the top of the list? Don’t swim near seals. The conservancy also advises swimming close to the shore where your feet can touch the bottom, refraining from wearing shiny jewelry in the water, and avoiding swimming alone at dawn or dusk.

The conservancy also has a free app, Sharktivity, which provides information on white shark sightings and movements.