The ocean’s most feared apex predators, great white sharks, have triumphantly returned to Cape Cod and its surrounding islands. But there’s no need to cue the Jaws theme: While their return may not sound like good news to beachgoers in the Northeast, the sharks’ reestablished presence provides visitors a unique opportunity to experience these misunderstood, majestic creatures in an authentic and safe way.
The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC) offers a number of ecotours designed to give the public a better understanding of the great white comeback (spurred by a rebound in the grey seal population), allowing them to see firsthand what scientists are doing to help man and shark peacefully coexist. AWSC’s most thrilling adventure? Its “Great White Shark Expedition,” a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get up close and personal with the Cape’s most notorious resident (and live to tell the tale).
No, this isn’t a controversial cage-diving experience like those common in South Africa, where waters are chummed and seal dummies are thrashed around to attract and excite the sharks. This is a research-based wildlife interaction in which participants shadow shark researchers as they tag, identify, and study great whites off the coast of Cape Cod.
In partnership with Chatham Bars Inn, AWSC runs the expeditions twice daily on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays from July 3rd to October 27th (weather permitting). Departing from the pier at Chatham Bars Inn and accompanied by a member of AWSC's team, a maximum of five guests head out into prime great white real estate. Sharks are detected using aerial surveys from the research team’s Cessna plane overhead, through shark receivers, and with AWSC’s Sharktivity app, which monitors the whereabouts and activity of previously tagged great white sharks in the area.
Once spotted, sharks are slowly approached, and a hydrophone is placed into the water to determine if the shark has already been tagged. If so, the shark’s coordinates are matched to the app. If not, scientists may attempt to tag the great white. In all cases, the sharks are identified — the team is on a first-name basis with most sharks, seeing them daily and already knowing each one’s personality traits. Observations are then logged by the team.
There are many purposes for this trip: First, you’ll witness conservation in action as scientists collect data used in behavioral and ecological studies of great whites. Next, you’ll get to participate first-hand in mitigating human-wildlife conflicts (the Sharktivity app uses the information gathered to send alerts to researchers and the public when tagged sharks get a little too close to the shoreline for comfort). Moreover, you’ll become an ambassador for helping debunk the myth of great whites as man-hungry villains. In fact, you’ll be stunned at how shy many of the great whites appear upon approach and how they go about their daily business along the Cape, rarely bothering beachgoers. (In fact, the latest shark attack stats from 2018 indicate a slim 1 in 3.75 million chance of being attacked.)
Of course, as this is nature, shark sightings are never guaranteed. That said, on Goodspeed’s particular Great White Shark Expedition, five were spotted at close range. If this experience sounds a little too intense, AWSC also offers one-hour “Receiver Excursions” on Mondays and Wednesdays from July 1st through September 2nd, 2019. On this trip, you’ll cruise around the seal-rich Chatham Harbor with AWSC staff, looking for signs of predation and analyzing data from a shark receiver and Sharktivity.
Another AWSC adventure to consider is the all-day “White Sharks and Whales” group expedition, where guests will seek out great whites plus humpback whales and seabirds. Taking place only twice per year, the trip leaves from Plymouth, Massachusetts and includes breakfast, lunch, and a souvenir T-Shirt. Dates this year are September 7th and Sept 14th, 2019.
Whichever excursion sounds most exciting, visitors to Cape Cod shouldn’t miss out on their chance to play a role in the area’s great white shark comeback story.
Tradewind Aviation offers charter flights to Cape Cod year-round. Great White Shark Expeditions are $2,500 per boat for up to five passengers (most of this fee goes directly to research and is tax deductible). Receiver Excursions are $55 per person; White Sharks and Whales trips are $160 per person. To learn more and book your shark expedition, call AWSC at 1-800-527-4884.
Featured Photo: AWSC