When The Shark Bites...

What Towns Should Do And What They Actually Do
Are Sometimes Two Very Different Fish Dishes....

The whole world is talking about Cape Cod today, as the dice finally came up Snake Eyes in regards to the delicate balance between helpless-in-the-water humans and 5 meter long Great White Sharks.

A man swimming off Ballston Beach in Truro (it takes a ton of Balls to swim there) was attacked by something with teeth yesterday. He was 1/3 of a mile or so offshore, paddling around on a boogie board. Witnesses saw a large dorsal fin (15 inches, I'm hearing) veer towards the man, who was suddenly seized by the legs.

The victim suffered tremendous damage, bad enough that Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis tapped out on treating him, and he was med-flighted to Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital. He is reported to be in Stable condition. We hear that his name is Chris Myers, and he may have been a kosher meal.

Unless everyone on the docks can keep a great secret, the sharky culprit was not apprehended. You can read the whole story here, and note that a link to CNN's national coverage of the story is provided.

State officials are mum on the subject, waiting to review the information before coming to any conclusions. Lots of things bite humans in the water. A seal can inflict a powerful bite, and anyone who has seen bluefish in action knows that they aren't above a random chomp on someone. Heck, it could even be a less-sexy type of shark attack, like a blue shark or something of that ilk. However, the signs point towards an attack on a human by a Great Whte Shark.

Sharks, and the Great White type in particular, have always been around Cape Cod and the Islands. However, a new and large seal presence (particularly off the Chatham coast) has drawn in the Great Whites in large numbers. They patrol our coastlines, looking for a fat seal dinner. The seals come here every summer, and the sharks follow them. They hang around until the water gets cold in the autumn, and they go to Florida. They are a sort of apex predator Snowbird.

This is all good and natural and so forth, but it has one major flaw. Cape Cod is a coastal region that is heavily dependent on summer tourism. Without it, our businesses aren't on a paying basis, and we all go on welfare for the whole winter. A big part of the appeal of going to Cape Cod is swimming at our beautiful beaches. If that goes from Fun to Dangerous, our tourist industry- and probably all of our industry- is in Trouble Deep.

Simply put... if swimming off Cape Cod is basically the same as finding a shotgun and firing into your mouth to see if it is loaded, people are going to go elsewhere on their summer vacations. There's nothing that can swallow you whole in Lake Champlain or Lake Winnepesauke, and the rent is probably cheaper. When that happens, every business on Cape Cod suffers, people get laid off, consumer spending drops, property values fall, and Ain't We Got Fun?

Here is a list of fatal, unprovoked shark attacks off the American coast. The last fatal shark attack in Massachusetts history was a 1930s mauling off Mattapoisett. Prior to that, the big ticket item was that Bull Shark who got a taste for human flesh off (and upriver in) New Jersey. That series of fatal shark attacks in 1916 served as the inspiration for the book and movie Jaws.

The other three notable recorded shark attacks were cases in Scituate (1830) and Boston Harbor (1720s) where large sharks- most likely Great Whites- swamped fishing boats and devoured the anglers, and another off Rhode Island where a boy was swimming in from a schooner in 1816.

Three things to note here. One, the attacks occurred offshore. Half involved fishermen, and half involved children swimming to/from a fishing boat. Sharks love fishing boats. Two, this list only has FATAL shark attacks. People losing toes aren't accounted for. Chris Myers is on a much less somber list. Three, mid-ocean stuff doesn't count, either.

The plot of Jaws should be noted. A giant shark starts hanging around a coastal resort community that is heavily dependent on tourist money. The town leaders refuse to close the beaches, and a series of deaths occur. An old sea dog is sent to dispatch the beast, and you probably know how it goes from there.

Our current situation actually mirrors the Jaws plot fairly well. Cape Cod is so close to Amity Island that Martha's Vineyard hosted the filming. We have, rather than one monster shark, an unknown number of equally dangerous ones. Present estimates are a dozen or three.

Town officials, while not nearly as outright crooked as the ones in Jaws, (I'm not sure if our county coroner can be pressured into claiming yesterday's carnage was the result of a boating accident... maybe we've finally found a purpose for Jeff Perry) have nonetheless followed the same policy. Our beaches are open. The beaches weren't closed in Truro yesterday after the attack, nor were measures taken anywhere else along the coast.

This naturally opens us up to further mayhem as swmmers and sharks cross paths. We still have all of August and September to go. There's nothing to stop you from swimming wherever you want to swim, and it goes without saying that there's nothing to stop a Great White Shark if he decides to have a little People Food for dinner.   

The towns may be forced to act against their best commercial interests by closing beaches. Otherwise, we're serving tourists up as a buffet option to an apex predator. We've gotten off easy so far, but we paid the price yesterday. The traffic on the bridges may be a little lighter this weekend, and- for once- it will be sad to see.

And that's just with one person being maimed. When someone is killed, all bets are off. Cape Cod shark attacks may be in the news more often in the near future.

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