Sam Evans-Brown: Hey Pete.
Peter Frick-Wright: Hey Sam
Sam Evans-Brown: Folks, can I reintroduce you to Peter Frick-Wright… host of the Outside podcast… friend and occasional collaborator.
Peter Frick-Wright: and you’re Sam Evans-Brown. You host this show!
Sam Evans-Brown: So Pete… you surf… correct?
Peter Frick-Wright: Yeah… I came to surfing late… like as an adult… I’ve been teaching myself slowly over the last ten years or so...
Sam Evans-Brown: I’ve surfed… like… maybe a half dozen times, and mostly up in Maine in the fall, which means I have never had what I think is a rite of passage for surfers… a shark encounter.
Peter Frick-Wright: I have. A lot of learning to surf comes from talking with surfers about surfing… and there’s a certain amount of like… everyone has a shark story… but they all sort of begin the same way… of just like… I was out there and I just kind of felt a tingle on the back of my neck, that I couldn’t explain, and I looked around between sets and there was nothing different, but like, you know… there was something… like it’s just sort of like this sense… and like, they call it out here, they call it the “sharky feeling.” And when you describe, what’s the surfing like in Oregon? Well it’s cold, dark, and sharky. [laughter] Because it’s just a feeling that you get.
Sam Evans-Brown: The thing that’s funny to me about this is that by all rights, it seems like we should be more scared of sharks. Right? Like, they’re undeniably predators… they swim at 30 miles an hour… we can’t see them coming… all of that is scary! As someone who lives in a part of the world that has been shark free for decades, fear of sharks feels rational.
Peter Frick-Wright: I mean… all of that is true… also did you know they are just constantly growing, like a conveyor belt of teeth… because they lose them so quickly? [quick reax] But really though… being afraid of a shark attack is just kind of irrational. Even in sharky places they are just so rare.
Sam Evans-Brown: That’s one of those facts that… you can know it, you can see the statistics… but the question is… can you really know it? Can you just turn off that deep reptile part of the brain that is afraid of predators?
Peter Frick-Wright: Well… I can.
Sam Evans-Brown: You know where people are having a hard time doing that right now? Cape Cod.
[News clip 2]And while shark attacks are year, last year one study says there were 53 unprovoked shark attacks in the US, that’s more than any other country in the world.
Sam Evans-Brown: Last year was the first fatal shark attack in the state since 1936… and the whole region is experiencing a full-blown freak out…
News Clip 4: It was the first deadly shark attack in Massachusetts in more than 80 years…
Sam Evans-Brown: Now whenever there’s a shark spotted the beaches shut down. And whenever the beaches shut down… it makes the news.
News Clip 5: On the Beaches of Cape Cod Massachusetts, it is shark week, quite literally. More than a dozen Great White sightings in just the past two days, over a hundred in the past month. And the peak season is just getting started.”
Sam Evans-Brown: I think the return of Great White Sharks to the waters of Cape Cod is one of the most covered natural phenomena of the new Millennium… in the past few months there have been stories in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker… essentially every national outlet you can think of… but today, we’re going to tell you what’s really going on there…
...or at least what I think is really going on there. [laughter]
Peter Frick-Wright: Scientists don’t know but Sam does.
[OUTSIDE IN THEME MUSIC]
Sam Evans-Brown: Last year, two people were attacked by sharks on Cape Cod, and one died. The result has been a media frenzy that really you have to see to believe.
Sam Evans-Brown: But when you look past the headlines, the situation on the Cape is a really a clash between these two stories we tell ourselves about sharks: is this about us learning to live with fear? Or is it about whether it’s possible to get over our fear?
[OUTSIDE IN THEME MUSIC]
Sam Evans-Brown: OK, Pete. You’re a West Coast guy…
Peter Frick-Wright: Yes, born and raised. And lived, and never left for more than a vacation
Sam Evans-Brown: Have you ever been to Cape Cod?
Peter Frick-Wright: No… well… um… where is Cape Cod [laughter]
Sam Evans-Brown: Massachusetts, if you look at a map of the US, it’s that like, hook that’s jutting out into the ocean at the bottom of New England.
Peter Frick-Wright: Gotcha. No. Definitively, have not been there.
Sam Evans-Brown: So then, in your imagination, what is Cape Cod like as someone who only generally knows where that is?
Peter Frick-Wright: It’s full of Chowda! And Fishermen!
Sam Evans-Brown: Cape Cod is a place that I can’t help but love, but also kind of hate, it’s… so goddamn quaint… There are all of these very well kept downtowns… surrounded by historic homes with immaculate cedar shingles for siding. But it also is very touristy. The stat I’ve heard is that it’s like 4 or 5 million tourists go there each year and so it’s got that feeling that a lot of places with a tourist economy have, like…
Peter Frick-Wright: Nothing’s really real?
Sam Evans-Brown: yeah, I mean it just feels like a service economy… But as you point out, Cape Cod’s economy did used to be all about fishing. There were so many cod that colonial farmers and native people used the fish for fertilizer.
Peter Frick-Wright: Oh wow.
Andrea Bogomolni: The waters were rich, they were abundant with all kinds of marine life and wildlife. One of my interesting tidbit facts that I love is that there were… not common, but there used to be Walrus even in the Gulf of Maine in the summer. Yes!
Sam Evans-Brown: To give us the long view, here, this is, Andrea Bogomolni who heads up the Northwest Atlantic Seal Research Consortium.
Andrea Bogomolni: I grew up on the West Coast and I moved out to twenty years ago almost to the East Coast to start a masters degree and I fell in love with Woods Hole and I fell in love with this place and I stayed.
Sam Evans-Brown: And so when Europeans first arrived here in New England… there were Great White sharks.
Andrea Bogomolni: Correct, and we look to the written record or images right in order to document what we see and one of my favorites is Thoreau who wrote Cape Cod and described such an abundance of sharks that why would you go swimming in those waters. They were definitely here and they were in great abundance as well.
Sam Evans-Brown: But as the scale of fishing started to ramp up… that abundance started to disappear. And it happened fairly early. Even before steam-powered boats, and fine mesh nets, and factory trawlers, and all of the things we associate with overfishing… back when it was just sail boats… fishermen started to notice that there were fewer fish… and so in response in 1888, they started to kill seals.
Andrea Bogomolni: So seals were bounty hunted. So the states of Maine and Massachusetts put bounties on seals and so you could bring a seal nose into your town hall — a dollar… five dollars a nose kind of thing — and it did a very good job of wiping out all grey seals.
Sam Evans-Brown: At a dollar a nose, for about a decade around the turn of the century, Maine and Massachusetts was paying out 1,000, 2,000 … even as many as than 5,000 in a year.
Sam Evans-Brown: And it was when the seals began to disappear that the Great Whites disappeared too.
Sam Evans-Brown: So this was this brief ecological anomaly in the state of Massachusetts. I mean, the seal bounties continued through until 1962…what are some things that happened in those intervening years? So 1962 to today, is when the seals came back. Maybe we could sort of speculate wildly here.
Peter Frick-Wright: so they stopped offering money for killing them. I mean the whole environmental movement started around 62… 66 with silent Spring… what else would they do…
Sam Evans-Brown: Well there was the endangered species act but interestingly neither seals, nor great white sharks were ever listed. But there’s the marine mammal protection act in 1972 that made it a crime to kill a seal.
Peter Frick-Wright: Ok. wow. What a turnaround for the seals.
Sam Evans-Brown: But there was one other event that happened that actually had nothing to do with the seal recovery…
[Jaws DUH NUH music]
Peter Frick-Wright: Oh they made Jaws!
Sam Evans-Brown: yeah they made Jaws!
Sam Evans-Brown: So Jaws… famously shot on Martha’s Vineyard… and Martha’s Vineyard for those who don’t know is an island just off of Cape Cod. And when it came out there was this fear when the movie was such a smash hit, that it would scare people away from the Cape… because they would associate it now with sharks… but that of course… that is not what happened.
Kevin McClane: The original Jaws in 1975 was a huge hit here in Chatham, for obvious reasons.
Sam Evans-Brown: So that’s Kevin McClane, who runs the local independent movie theater in Chatham… which is out on the Cape, sort of the heel of the Cape, and they had a movie theater was turned into a CVS, for a while, but in 2013 they reopened it. It’s called the Chatham Orpheum.
Kevin McClane: And of course, everybody in town, their first thing was… you gotta show Jaws! The first movie has to be Jaws! That has to be the first movie… it’s kind of the quintessential Chatham movie.
Sam Evans-Brown: When you wander around downtown Chatham right now… it’s bananas. There’s shark stuff for sale everywhere — the tourist shops, the gas stations — there’s shirts with sharkbites out of them, there are hats with sharkbites out of them there are little plush sharks… it’s kind of become the mascot.
Sam Evans-Brown: And in the Chatham Orpheum they have screenings of Jaws all summer long, and Kevin says, they almost all sell out. And some of them are like… Rocky Horror Picture show where the audience shouting out their favorite lines and crushing beer cans during this one scene, where Quint crushes a beer can… and like people buy Narragansett beer cans and they crush them at that moment during that scene
Peter Frick-Wright: I love it.
Kevin McClane: People start emailing me in April and May… you know… we’re coming to Chatham in August, we want to know when the Jaws screenings are…
Sam Evans-Brown: People friggen love the sharks
Kevin McClane: There’s a great line in the movie where they’re standing in the middle of the street and he says, you know if you yell shark on the 4th of July we’re gonna have a stampede on our hands, people are going to run from the beach… but what’s happened is that… it sparked a curiosity for sharks… it was an inspiration for people, and so what I always tell people, that was back in 1975. Absolutely Right now, you yell shark, they to the beach.
Sam Evans-Brown: So to me… this is a hypothesis right? Back in 80s in particular when they started to sell the shark memorabilia… they were thinking about the idea of the shark… but now, we stopped killing the seals and the seals came back amazingly fast.
Sam Evans-Brown: This is Andrea again
Andrea Bogomolni: They came from somewhere, they rebounded because they were able to recolonize, and they came from Sable Island.
Sam Evans-Brown: Pete, can you… are you at your computer right now?
Peter Frick-Wright: Yeah
Sam Evans-Brown: Can you pull up Google map tab
Peter Frick-Wright: Yes.
Sam Evans-Brown: Ok, google Sable Island.
Peter Frick-Wright: ok.
Sam Evans-Brown: Tell me what you see.
Peter Frick-Wright: I see a… like a half-moon crescent… like the thinnest sliver of a moon but it’s an island in the ocean.
Sam Evans-Brown: And scroll out, tell me how far it is from stuff.
Peter Frick-Wright: It is ten scrolls out. [laughs] Wow. It’s way out.
Sam Evans-Brown: Sable Island is a very weird place. So it’s tiny, as you said, it’s 12 square miles. So it’s barely in the Canadian waters. And Sable Island has 400,000 seals on it. And also, randomly… 500 or so feral horses. [laughter]
Peter Frick-Wright: How did the horses get there?
Sam Evans-Brown: We’ve only got time for one species in this podcast, Pete!
Sam Evans-Brown: Now, seals are not migratory, but they do disperse… which means if there’s someplace that’s crowded, like say a tiny half-moon sliver way out in the Atlantic Ocean... they try to find someplace new. And what we know is that some of the seals that wound up repopulating Cape Cod and the Islands came from Sable island, because some of the scientists would actually BRAND the seals that were up there with numbers to keep track of them.
Andrea Bogomolni: There were people who were paying attention here on Cape Cod and noticed that one of these branded animals was on Nantucket… and so people started noticing these animals coming back.
Sam Evans-Brown: So the bounty ends in ‘62. By the 90’s some seals are pupping again on the Cape and islands… and then today — counting both harbor and grey seals — we’re up to somewhere between a hundred and a hundred and ten thousand with the seals on the Cape
Peter Frick-Wright: Wow.
Sam Evans-Brown: With the seals … came the sharks. Which means now we get to test Kevin’s hypothesis… this idea that if you yell shark, people will run to the beach, not away.
Let me introduce you to…
Sam Evans-Brown: Can you introduce yourself
Sam Evans-Brown: Captain Darren.
Darren Saletta: I’m Captain Darren Saletta. Monomoy Sport Fishing.
Sam Evans-Brown: What’s your boat’s name?
Darren Saletta: Rising sun.
He’s a charter boat captain.
Sam Evans-Brown: Uh just tell me about your business, what do you do and how do you make a living?
Darren Saletta: I run primarily fishing charters and ecotours… we do a combination of fishing charters, whale watching, and we do Great white Shark tours as well.
Sam Evans-Brown: Great white shark tours.
Peter Frick-Wright: Hmm...
Darren Saletta: So we work with a private spotter plane… and then the spotter plan locates the sharks, puts us on them and we can… get up at a safe distance to the shark so we’re not bothering the shark, but you get a good view depending on the clarity of the water.
Sam Evans-Brown: So Pete, how much would you pay to go see a great white shark?
Peter Frick-Wright: How long is the tour?
Sam Evans-Brown: 2 hours
Peter Frick-Wright: 2 Hours! Uh… I would pay, $40.
Darren Saletta: You’re hiring the boat and an airplane, makes it a little bit pricey... Uh the trip is $1,400,
Peter Frick-Wright: Wow.
SEB: $1,400 sir…
Sam Evans-Brown: how popular is that business?
Darren Saletta: It’s… It’s a product in high demand.
Sam Evans-Brown: So how this works, they hire this plane… I did not know this but this is a whole side-hustle for anyone who’s got a Cesna and a pilot’s license… is you can be a fish spotter. And the primary duty of a fish spotter is to find big swordfish or tuna for those fishermen for whom landing a single fish can be worth thousands of dollars. But in this instance, their job is to go look at sharks. And I spoke with one of these fish spotters, his name is Wayne Davis.
Sam Evans-Brown: How high are you flying? And how do you spot a shark, like what does it look like from a plane?
Wayne Davis: Uh… looks like a shark. A dark grey body against a sandy bottom.
Sam Evans-Brown: Wayne actually though, as a spotter is mostly is working for the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, which is a not-for-profit that popped up in 2012… it funds shark conservation and research. They’re currently working on a census that’s trying to estimate the shark population off the Cape.
Wayne Davis: You know… at any beach at anytime, believe me, there can be a shark 100 feet away…
Sam Evans-Brown: And that’s his takeaway… is that having been up there and looked down at the beaches… they are everywhere.
Wayne Davis: You know other than hunger I’m not sure what makes them react to a target, but I’ve just seen them swim by so many surfers and swimmers, and sometimes close… and it’s made me aware that these aren’t the… the term man-eater… it’s one of the dumbest things that was ever created.
Peter Frick-Wright: Outside just published a thing… just sort of like a… you’re usually much closer to a shark than you think. And it’s like now that people… like… kite surfers are now putting go-pros up in their kites that just look back down at them in the water and the number of sharks just sort of following them and watching them… seems like every other week there’s like someone in Monterey, California… and the police helicopter is like above them on the megaphone saying, like, “get out of the water.” It’s like, as our ability to see into the ocean has increased… the nearness of sharks is just now becoming apparent.
Sam Evans-Brown: So the sharks are back. They’re all over the place… and people like seeing them… but that could be because it’s like rubbernecking… to know if the script has actually flipped here… I feel like I had to talk to some folks. so I went to a beach with a microphone
Sam Evans-Brown: Can I get your names?
Folks: Uh, Clive… Roana… Brent Baumgartner… I’m Amy Bailey
And I asked folks… how they felt.
Sam Evans-Brown: Um so had you heard about the situation with the sharks on the Cape prior to arriving?
Folks: No not before we got here…
And obviously a lot them are freaked out
Sam Evans-Brown: and what did that make you think?
Folks: Uh. We won’t be getting in the water. We did go in, but not very far. Basically, this side of the Cape, we stay out of the waters...
Sam Evans-Brown: It’s funny, I actually found a single public opinion poll that kinda quantified this. Found a couple of things, first that 51 percent of them said they agree with the statement “I am absolutely terrified of sharks.” [laughter] Which is kinda like… duh… but this surprised me, 38 percent say they’re afraid to go in the water because of sharks.
Folks: I’d stay real close to shore… I don’t think I’d go over my waist. But yeah, I’d stay where I can touch at least.
Sam Evans-Brown: But when I was talking to folks out on the beach, the thing that was really surprising to me, was the degree to which... Peter Benchley’s remake was what I was hearing from people.
Folks: It’s just nature… you’ve gotta...you’re in their territory now… so you’ve just got to know. Well it’s nature, you can’t impede nature. I just think we have to let nature take its course, in that respect. The ocean is where they live, so you can’t really… tell them where to go. It does not bother us.
Sam Evans-Brown: And I think the poll bears out what I was hearing. 82 percent of people said they agree that sharks perform a vital role for the ecosystems and 75 percent Sharks should be protected from being hunted or killed unless absolutely necessary.
Folks: Seals eat the fish… sharks eat the seals… I don’t…
Sam Evans-Brown: It’s their space, right?
Folks: Yeah, yeah, yeah… we’re just here visiting.
My conclusion, after about a week of interviews down there… was we’re living in Jaws 2… the Jaws in which the shark is not the villian. Just as in Jaws there has been a fatality now on the Cape… last year a 26-year-old kid from Brazil who was getting his masters in engineering up Massachusetts was bitten and died. But instead of the reaction you see in the movie… where the town hires a shark hunter to take revenge… I’m just hearing this narrative of ocean conservation from the lay public.
At least… that’s what you get when you ask tourists on the beach. When you talk to folks who are out in the water a lot… it’s a different story.
But to some… sharks still are out to get us… that’s after a short break.
[break break break]
If you google the sharks on the Cape you’ll see a lot of quotes and op-eds and news stories about folks who want something to be done about the sharks.
John Kartsounis: The original name of these creatures in the marine biology bibles that we used to educate marine biologists up until the 70s… their name was man-eater… correct? And that particular phrase or description has been struck, by the so-called conservationists. But prior to that they were called man-eaters
That’s John Kartsounis. He is a surfer who lives in Wellfleet, out on the Outer Cape, toward the end of the hook. And he’s involved with a group of local residents who launched something called Cape Cod Ocean Community. It was formed after the fatal attack that happened last year on September 15th... and their central message is essentially: you have got to do something about this.
John Kartsounis: September 15, was Cape Cod’s 9/11… that was the day that changed everything here on cape cod. We lost our innocence.
This group — I interviewed four of them all together — they really hate hearing some of the common statistics that you’ll hear about shark attacks: that your more likely to be killed by heat stroke… or lightning strike… train crashes… there’s actually… even a statistic that more people are killed after being crushed by a vending machine each year than die from shark attacks. [laughter] They hate these statistics.
John Kartsounis: That’s complete propaganda and more misinformation. If they took the sample of people that actually recreate in the water on Cape Cod and the amount of shark encounters as… the Conservancy likes to call them… and spotted sharks and beach closures… if you take all of that… then the chances of someone being effected by sharks that are marauding our beaches are very very high. And this is the misinformation that’s spewed out there to basically hoodwink the public. To say that, you know what, you’re going to have more of a chance of getting into a car accident than getting bit by a shark. Yeah, if you live in Nebraska, I agree. But if you live in Wellfleet, they’re completely wrong and they’re doing the public here a huge misservice.
Peter Frick-Wright: So if this new narrative is that sharks actually dangerous, what do they propose that people do about it?
For one… they’re pushing for surveillance. There’s this thing called Clever Buoy, which is a sonar buoy that using machine learning algorithms is supposed to detect sharks and tell people when there is one in the water. It’s an Australian Company… and it’s being piloted on a beach in Southern California. But essentially, so far we don’t really know if the thing works… we don’t know if it’s got false positives or false negatives… and they kind of recognize that… they think let’s just give it a try… Here’s Drew Taylor, another surfer from Wellfleet.
Drew Taylor: do we have an obligation to put something in the water, that we’re not going to stand behind as far as… you know, 100 percent safe and guaranteed, but just use it as a pilot study, use it as a study that as we’re kind of starting to use as our little quote… better than nothing.
Sam Evans-Brown: And I kind of think something along those lines could happen. The National Seashore is conducting a study right now of technological solutions to keep people informed about shark activity. And that’s actually expected out… like any day now… like we probably will have to change this story before we put it out because they’re expected to put it out this week. But that I think is just their near term goal. Long-term, they’ve got their sights set on the thing that is attracting the sharks… they’ve got their sights set on the seals.
This is Chick Frodigh who also has a house on the Outer Cape.
Chick Frodigh: If somebody from outer space came down here and they saw our whole world, they wouldn’t say well nature is here and the humans are here… they actually probably would think we’re part of nature.
Sam Evans-Brown: He says Cape Cod’s fishermen knew that… and they did not feel conflicted about reshaping the ocean to better suit their needs...
Chick Frodigh:So yes they culled the seals… and that allowed the fishing industry to be really good here. And people say, well that’s their ocean, we shouldn’t be doing that. Well, that used to be our ocean, until that was changed with the stroke of a pen in 1972.
So these local residents have joined forces with an already existing constituency, commercial fishermen, who have been calling for reform to the Marine Mammal Protection Act for a decade. And they want fewer seals.
Here again is Captain Darren, who yes runs shark tours but his primary business is fishing charters… and also is a surfer.
Darren Saletta: I really think it will come down to reducing the prey. But yeah it obviously is a concern for me and my son… and I want him to have the experience that I had growing up and right now it’s certainly not a safe environment for anyone to be going in the water. Anyone who thinks they can without a high risk of being preyed upon is either brave or kidding themselves one or the other.
So there have been calls on the Cape for a return to the seal bounty.
Andrea Bogomolni: there’s historically been this desire to scapegoat seals, it’s not new, this has been happening through time. You know, you go back to the 1800s, where there was this perception that the fish were gone because of the seals and part of that, I think, scapegoating is when you’re angry at something, or things have changed and you don't know where to put that anger or that frustration and I see that almost every day with the seals.
That’s Andrea again, the seal researcher. She agrees that seal eat a lot of fish… nobody would deny that… but she says that the reason that fisheries declined was overfishing… not seals.
And I think what I’m arguing here is that like… sharks have this whole architecture, of conservation that’s been working to rehab their image… so it’s not terribly popular to hate on the sharks… and so the anger moves down the food chain… and it lands on this other creature that is more common and … historically has just been like a receptacle for the dislike of ocean communities, it’s landed back on the seals…
Peter Frick-Wright: That’s really interesting. It’s like we can’t be angry at the sharks anymore because we know how important they are.
Sam Evans-Brown: Right and how endangered they are.
Peter Frick-Wright: And calling for killing sharks is going to mean backlash, but you’ve already got these iconic allies — fishermen — calling for fewer seals, so that’s the path of least resistance.
Sam Evans-Brown: Yeah… but the real question here, is how would it work? Andrea thinks that if you wanted the sharks to actually leave… you’d have to kill a lot of seals.
Andrea Bogomolni: You’d have to eliminate pretty much every pup you could, every adult you could, which is why the bounties were successful back in the 1880s to 1962, there was this effort to do that at every single location.
Sam Evans-Brown: You’d basically have to cull them down to zero again, And that is ultimately a political question. Like you’ve got a whole legal framework that is going to have to change if you want to move the needle here. Which is why I called. Bill Keating.
Congressman? You should be on with Sam. Sam are you here? I am here!
So this is a call with Bill Keating he is on his cell phone… he’s the congressman for cape cod, and I figured that if anyone is going to be on board for this it would be : because, you know, surfers and fishermen aside: tourism to the Cape is the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg right? And sharks threaten that. But even Bill Keating is not on board with this idea.
Bill Keating: It would be a non-starter, because the scientific evidence is clearly saying right now it wouldn’t do any good.
Like just imagine the shit show it would be… like you’ve got to convince not just surfers and bathers and environmentalists in New England that it’s in their best interest to cull seals, but you’re gonna need congressmen from the west coast voting for a bill that’s about killing seals… right … like this is just not an easy political fight take up.
So here we are… sharks are back on cape cod and that’s just a new reality.
Peter Frick-Wright: and they’re protected because the thing they eat is very cute. Very charismatic.
Sam Evans-Brown: Exactly. So now what they’re doing is they’re stocking lifeguard stations with tourniquets, they’ve sprinkled landlines all along the beach in spots where cell service is bad… they’ve got these great big TERRIFYING signs up everywhere warning about sharks. And it’s crazy, the whole region is just buzzing. Every time a beach is closed it makes the news. Every public meeting that’s about the shark response is just swarmed by reporters… And it’s bananas, it’s a circus... it’s a total circus.
Peter Frick-Wright: I have a friend who’s a surfer in New England, and he has an app that’s called Sharktivity?
Sam Evans-Brown: Yeah that was made by the White Shark Conservancy…
Peter Frick-Wright: So he looks at it before he goes surfing, and what he does is goes to a beach that doesn’t have any sharks, or any reported shark sightings. And it took him about 2 trips to realize that the reason these beaches don’t have any reported sharks is that there’s just no people there. Because on his second trip or something like that, a shark showed up.
Sam Evans-Brown: [laughs] Which sort of gets you to it! Which is like, so far every measure we have is imperfect. So my question was sort of like… like I just felt like I wanted to point out this fact that I feel like is very rarely pointed out in stories about sharks and Cape Cod. So… if you look at data from the International Shark Attack File, which keeps track of every confirmed unprovoked shark attack
Peter Frick-Wright: Unprovoked shark attacks? Is there a such a thing as a provoked shark attack?
Sam Evans-Brown: A provoked shark attack would be if for instance if you were to catch a shark, bring it into your fishing boat and then it bit you. So they distinguish, and over the last 20 years, on the whole East Coast… there have been three bites… three people have been bitten by a Great white Shark.
On the west coast, in that same time period, over the last twenty years. there have been 34… four of which were fatal. And I’m just like… why is it news story EVERY time someone sees a shark on Cape Cod.
I called up the shark attack file, and I talked to Tyler Bowling, who manages the international shark attack file down Florida Museum of Natural history.
Sam Evans-Brown: On the West Coast it seems like there’s greater risk… and yet there isn’t this outcry and East coast there is… and them just being used to it… I guess… I guess that’s true.
Tyler Bowling: I think there’s more of a surfing culture over there, so they’re exposed to it more. And if you talk to these surfers the majority of the time they’re like, yeah we see them all the time, we know they’re there, we know the risk its… I’m still going out. And you talk to these guys who get bit and they’re like, yeah I’ll be out as soon as I’m out of the cast. They just accept the risk, and they’re more aware of it. And it just seems like the Cape Cod area is just… I don’t want to say the word ignorant but they were just sort of blissfully unaware and suddenly the sharks were kind of more prevalent and it was a little scary.
Peter Frick-Wright: Well sure that’s an awfully easy answer.
Sam Evans-Brown: And it’s funny… I wanted to talk to surfers out on the Cape, but the surf was terrible while I was down there… and every surf shop I walked into they just told me… literally told me to go away the SECOND I said I’m a reporter working on a shark story. But I kinda hung around and pestered and turned off my microphone and they’d chat with me for a few minutes.
One of them told me, sort of… off handedly… no one wants to talk to you because no one wants to be the shop that says it’s ok to go back in the water and then somebody gets bit… but clearly… that’s what a lot of surfers ALREADY think.
So when I was out on the beach interviewing tourists, there was one woman who immediately I was like, ah yes… this is a fellow traveler.
[Amy Chambers intro]
Patagonia gear… sweet beach tent set up… very engaged in the conversation right away…
[What do you make of the whole shark thing…][I’d like to see a shark, honestly… just don’t want to be mistaken for a seal]
And honestly… there have been reactions on the extremes… folks saying that they’ll never go into the water again… folks calling for the killing of sharks and seals… and you know… maybe Cape Cod will become some kind of global shark attack hot spot and prove me wrong, but I think for now behind the hype and the sensationalism… most people out on the beach are in a different place today than when Jaws first came out… most of us are a little concerned, but also just kind of mesmerized...
Outside/In was produced this week by Sam Evans-Brown and Peter Frick-Wright with help from Jimmy Gutierrez, Hannah McCarthy, Justine Paradis, Taylor Quimby, Michael Roberts, and me, Erika Janik.
Special thanks to Outside magazine
Music in this episode from Robbie Carver and Blue Dot Sessions.
Our theme is by Breakmaster Cylinder.
Outside/In is a production of NHPR.