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Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Shark Weekend, Cape Cod

Chatham Beach is closed for now on account of the landlord.

A couple days ago I sent a link to ESPN Surfing blogger, Jon Coen, about a shark scare in the waters near my home because I thought he would get a kick out of it. I was kind of surprised when he asked me to send some photos and write a few words about it, but after all, he is from the shark attack capital of the Northeast (They take their shark scares seriously on LBI.)

Summertime shark scares are pretty routine at New England beaches. When tens of thousands of tourists flock to the ocean, it is not uncommon for at least one pair of eyes to spot a fin and alert the authorities. More often than not, the fins belong to a toothless basking shark or a harmless Mola mola. This past Labor Day weekend was a little different though.

On Thursday September 3rd, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries biologist Greg Skomal identified five large sharks in the waters around Monomoy Island on Cape Cod.

Since then, eight large sharks have been sighted, five of which were positively identified by Skomal as Great Whites, the largest over 15 feet long and weighing in excess of 1700 pounds. Skomal's team, which includes a veteran tuna fisherman who tags the sharks with satellite tracking devices using a modified harpoon as well as a spotting plane to locate the sharks, was still busy tracking sharks on Tuesday afternoon.

"Theres no shahks out there. When I was a kid we used to catch them in the breakahs and make fish 'n chips."

It's not unheard of for large sharks to be in the proximity of Monomoy. It is home to a large and rapidly increasing seal population, and let's just say that if you're a shark, seals taste real good. What is rare, was the scene witnessed by beachgoers at Nauset Beach on Saturday and photographed by summer resident Kevin Tomany while he was taking photos of surfers. The apparent attack by a great white on a seal prompted officials to close the local beaches to swimmers; some of which are still closed as of Tuesday night.

One group of astute beachgoers I spoke with were on the Outer Beach in Chatham Sunday afternoon and realized during all of the commotion that if they watched below the spotting plane long enough they would get to see a great white. Not only were they correct, but they had the opportunity to witness a shark working to reduce the local seal population about 150 yards from where they were standing. Apparently the Marine Mammal Protection Act policy that seals all buy into doesn't have a shark clause.

Luckily there was little impact for the area's hardcore surfers. They had been fortunate enough to get some pretty decent surf during the previous two weekend's compliments of Hurricane Bill and Tropical Storm Danny.

Surfers would be on the menu more often if the shark's didn't have such nice New England seafood all the time. Monomy Island buffet.

Most were busy all weekend mixing drinks, waiting tables, and mowing lawns knowing full well that Labor Day weekend is the last opportunity to make the big bucks needed to finance their winter surf travels before the mass tourist exodus on Labor Day.

It is hardly newsworthy that there are sharks in the ocean that eat the local seals. With the exception of the news anchors circling Monomoy Island in their choppers, we all know that. But when you witness a predator-prey interaction at your local beach so high up the food chain that the animal on the losing end weighs 800 pounds, while maybe not news, it tends to make an impact. What is newsworthy is that for the first time in months, my wife, myself and one other buddy had a fun long board session this evening without another surfer around for miles.

-When not shooting images around the world for ESPN and other surf media outlets, Luke Simpson is a biology teacher in Cape Cod.
Apperently, he can write too.