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Great White Shark Sightings Boost Tourism in Cape Cod

Jul 21, 2014 01:38 PM EDT
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Though you may think that great white shark sightings would detract Cape Cod beachgoers, the ferocious predators are in fact boosting tourism in the area, increasing sales for shark paraphernalia as well as local boat tours.

Harbormasters have issued safety warnings, but unlike "Jaws," the sharks are not usually seen as a threat to friendly swimmers, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Just last month, an NOAA study found that great white shark populations are on the rise in the Western North Atlantic. Sightings have soared from generally fewer than two annually before 2004 to more than 20 in each of the last few years off Cape Cod.

And it seems that their growing numbers are stirring more curiosity than fear.

"White sharks are this iconic species in society and it draws amazing amounts of attention," Gregory Skomal, a senior marine fisheries biologist who also leads the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, told the AP. "I have not been approached by anyone who has said to me 'let's go kill these sharks.'"

The change of opinion seems odd given that just this May a shark brochure distributed in none other than Cape Cod, meant to raise awareness about the predators, seemed to be instilling more fear than caution.

More great whites have been coming to the town of Chatham, in particular, thanks to the area's robust gray seal population, which has grown after conservation efforts. Sharks have been swimming closer to shore to feed on the seals, prompting officials to warn tourists.

"You have to make sure people understand," Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross said, "if they go to the beach and they see a family of seals there, that's probably not the best place to hang out."

However, tourists can safely observe the seals by going on boat tours. And as far as showing their interest in these great whites, various trinkets are sold in local shops that range from hoodies to candy to stuffed animals.

"I mean, truthfully, we've probably grown about 500 percent in terms of the sale of our shark apparel," Justin Labdon, owner of the Cape Cod Beach Chair Company, added of the recent shark paraphernalia frenzy.

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