The Cape

17 great white sharks seen off Cape Cod

Researchers counted 17 sharks off the coast of Chatham Thursday. Photo courtesy of Atlantic White Shake Conservancy

Seventeen great white sharks were within a few miles of the Chatham shore on Thursday, marking the most popular day so far this summer for sharks to stop by the Cape.

“This is the biggest day we’ve had of the season,’’ Cynthia Wigren, president of Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, told Boston.com. “Activity is definitely higher this year.’’

The thought of sharing the ocean with the sharks doesn’t mean swimmers should panic, Wigren said. These 17 were a few miles from the closest swimming area and shark attacks in Massachusetts are pretty rare, with only five reported in the last 80 years.

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“[The sightings weren’t] near a swimming beach, but that doesn’t mean that in other areas there aren’t sharks swimming through,’’ Wigren said. “That’s normal.’’

Last year marked the start of a five year population study by the Cape Cod-based Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, so it’s hard to say if this year’s numbers are out of the ordinary. They mirror peak counts from last September, but beat out the numbers recorded in July and August of 2014. Wigren said that researchers have not yet determined what causes sharks to come and go at different times, but that patterns could start to emerge as the population study continues.

“This shouldn’t change anyone’s behavior,’’ Wigren said of Cape Cod beachgoers. “They should already know that white sharks are around this area.’’

Related gallery: Cape Cod beaches

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