Cape Cod, Great Whites, and a Surfer’s Perspective

When you’re a surfer in New England you’re always wondering: How big are the waves? Which way’s the wind blowing? What’s the water temperature? Where are the rocks? Is this private property?

And now… was that a shark?

Some marine biologists have been tagging Great Whites off Cape Cod, and as usual the local media is playing the theme from Jaws (click here for an example). While the mere mention of these maritime monsters evokes fear in most, for surfers it’s all part of the equation.

As you can imagine, in my twenty years of riding waves I’ve had my share of close encounters with sharks:

  • 1994—Cape Hatteras, North Carolina: a certain sub-surface something bumps me off my board.
  • 2000—Roca Bruja, Costa Rica: a tiger shark cruises by so close I can see its stripes.
  • 2000 to 2005—Moonstone Beach, California: in four separate incidents, surfers are attacked by Great Whites at one of my favorite spots. Each one survives by shoving their boards in their attackers’ mouths and punching themselves free.

Surfers just accept that sharks are out there. We voluntarily dress up like seals, paddle out into the unknown and leave it up to fate. We weigh the risk of being attacked with not doing what we love.

Here’s what I think about what’s happening right now off the shores of Massachusetts:

  • Cape Cod doesn’t have a shark problem it has a seal problem

They’re everywhere now. While tourists think they’re cute, the local fisherman I’ve talked to can’t stand them. They eat a lot of fish and there’s not enough to go around. Great Whites, one of the most highly evolved creatures on earth, now know the seals are here and have come to dine on the all-you-can-eat blubber buffet.

Now my normal stance when it comes to nature is to just let it be—the sharks will eventually thin out the seal population and then move on. But if we don’t want anyone to get hurt (seals included), why not relocate the seals? This is what they do with bears. Also, let’s stop tagging the Great Whites. Poking them with sharp sticks is probably annoying and I don’t want them taking it out on me on my day off.