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Watch: Family visiting Cape from Iowa gets close-up look at great white shark

"This is a majestic, beautiful, massive animal and to see it up close like that, for those folks it's a once in a lifetime event."

A family from Iowa saw this great white shark up close while on a charter boat in Cape Cod Bay. Billingsgate Charters

A family from Iowa received an unexpected and thrilling treat while out on a charter boat near Wellfleet Monday. They, like an increasing number of visitors to the Cape and Islands, got an up close look at the great white shark. 

“They were thrilled, it made their trip. Not only did they catch a bunch of fish and lobster for dinner, this was an unbelievable bonus,” said David Stamatis, who was on board at the time. 

Stamatis, the owner of Billingsgate Charters, said the group had just finished fishing for striped bass, and was moving onto the lobstering component of the trip. 

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But before Stamatis and his mate Erik Schoon could help the family pull their first trap, Stamatis said he caught the fleeting image of a fin in the corner of his vision. He maneuvered the boat closer to investigate, moving slowly as to not spook the animal, he said. 

Sure enough, a shark Stamatis estimates was 15-feet long swam slowly through the water, just under the surface. Schoon took a video while Stamatis steered the boat. 

The sighting happened about four miles off the coast of Wellfleet, in Cape Cod Bay. Stamatis said they were in about 60 feet of water at the time. 

Stamatis said he gets a lot of joy from seeing the reactions of people not from the area when they experience Cape Cod wildlife. 

“It’s incredibly satisfying to be able to show people so many natural resources,” he said. “This is a majestic, beautiful, massive animal and to see it up close like that, for those folks it’s a once in a lifetime event. When I get to be there for that, it’s much more rewarding.”

For Stamatis, who leads charter fishing trips from Wellfleet, shark sightings are rare but not unheard of. However, this is the earliest in the season he has seen a great white. Normally, the first shark sighting doesn’t happen until July, he said. 

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Stamatis spotted four sharks last year, and 17 the year before. However, he noted, that could easily have been the same couple sharks being spotted over and over. 

On Monday, Stamatis observed a lot of sea bass near the ocean surface, speculating that this could be why the shark came within sight. 

Stamatis said his mate, Schoon, used to lead boating trips off the coast of Africa. On Monday, Schoon said the shark they spotted was larger than any he saw in African waters, Stamatis said. 

The animal was far enough away from the lobster traps that the family from Iowa was able to successfully get their lobsters. Sharks in Stamatis’ experience, tend to be more curious than anything else, and generally move along without causing disruptions. 

“A lot of people have a stereotype about great whites, that they shouldn’t be around. But they’ve been around longer than we have. We have to coexist,” he said. “There shouldn’t be a negative stigma to a great white shark.”

Stamatis, however, does acknowledge that there have been some terrible tragedies tied to shark encounters, and that they can be very dangerous. 

“You have to be safe, and whether you like them or not, you have to respect them,” he said. “There’s a fine line. When you swim near seals, there’s a very good possibility that you don’t see the great white lurking down below… you could be the next check off his meal list.”

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So far this year, researchers have confirmed 14 white shark sightings, including Stamatis’, according to the Sharktivity app

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