Two great white killer sharks were sighted in the Atlantic Ocean off a Cape Cod beach on July 3. The sightings took place not up near Provincetown in the north but at the elbow of Cape Cod at Chatham in the south, not far from where off to the west the ocean links up with Block Island and Long Island Sound. It would take a great white just a day of high-speed swimming to reach Montauk and the Hamptons. Although no great whites have been seen off our shore in recent years, this has not prevented lifeguards in the Hamptons from ordering everybody out of the water from time to time when anything with a tall dorsal fin is seen off our waters. Sometimes the beaches stay closed for days. The last time this happened, it turned out what we were looking at was a group of nurse sharks. They not only do not have the temperament or inclination to attack humans, there has never been a case where they ever did. Nevertheless, the beaches stay closed for days and the word gets out to the media. Sometimes you read about it in The New York Post or The New York Daily News.
Our whole reaction to the arrival of sharks, no matter what they are, speaks volumes about what our priorities are. We are a glittering international resort and the beaches are only a small part of things. If the beaches have to be closed, so be it. Better safe than sorry.
It also brings to mind what went on all those years ago when the best selling book JAWS was written by Peter Benchley and then a few years later was made into a movie by the same name.
The whole point of that story was that a peaceful, small town summer resort would do just about anything to keep the tourist economy going full throttle. They would, as a matter of fact, even cover up the presence of a vicious killer shark who was pulling the tourists down underwater and eating them up. Making this public might scare the tourists away. And, as the Mayor said, I am sure we can get this under control without having it all come out.
The fact that it did get covered up for days and weeks so that the tourist industry could go merrily along was what kept the story going. One kept thinking—when are they going to close the beaches? It was a long, long time coming.
Peter Benchley wrote this book in the Hamptons back in the early 1970s at a time when the Hamptons was just like that. We depended upon the tourists. The rich and famous were just a small part of the economy.
The Hamptons were delighted to hear the story was being made into a movie. We presumed that it would be filmed in the Hamptons and in fact, early on, that is exactly what the filmmakers intended. As the filmmakers thought about it, however, they realized that things were changing fast in the Hamptons. Indeed, a sleepy summer resort was waking up. It could not be made here anymore. And so even before they started they moved the film location to Martha’s Vineyard, which, more isolated and provincial, could be considered a proper setting for what the Hamptons had been just a few years before.
(Ironically, our towns’ mayors and supervisors were deeply disappointed by the move. It meant a whole lot of income that would have come about from the presence of the movie crew would not be happening. Things were written about this loss at that time.)
What is particularly interesting, now here in 2012, is the reaction by the authorities in the town of Chatham on Cape Cod where the sharks had been sighted as close as 50 feet from the beach. Read the following account. People were not even asked to get out of the water.
The Chatham officials advised the general public how they could know if a fish is a Great White. “You can recognize them by their white underbellies, slate grey top, jet black eyes and a large dorsal fin that sticks straight up. Just make sure that you are not what comes their way,” they said.
Although swimmers were the first to report the sharks, their presence was confirmed by a member of the Cape Cod Shark Hunters organization flying over Chatham’s famous South Beach in a small plane.
George Breen, a spotter in that plane, took photographs of not one but two of the Great Whites, circling around the harp seals that were sitting on rocks off shore and circling farther out. (We have such offshore rocks with harp seals basking on them off the beach on the south side of Montauk Point.) He said the bigger one was about 16 feet in length and around 2,000 pounds. It was seen about a quarter mile off shore. “The larger one was about 50 yards off,” he said.
Reports of the great whites appeared in the Boston Globe, on Fox News, the New York Post and the New York Daily News.
Stuart F. X. Smith, the harbormaster at Chatham issued a statement on July 3. “At this time, the town of Chatham is not closing our east-facing beaches to swimming in its entirety, but simply suggesting that beachgoers, mariners and swimmers pay close attention to their surroundings while in the water and to not venture too far from shore,” it reads.
A spokesman for the Massachusetts State Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, told The Boston Globe that beachgoers should avoid swimming at twilight, which is the prime feeding tie for sharks.
Another official noted that Great White Sharks are an endangered species and harming them is against the law.
We await further news from Chatham.