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After Cape Cod Shark Attack, Manage Humans, not Seals

Photo by Terry Goss

Christopher Myers’ recent encounter with a shark in waters off Cape Cod has led to all the usual conversations about what we could and should be doing to keep swimmers safe.

Myers was bodyboarding with his son J.J. on Monday when he was bitten by what Dr. Greg Skomal, a biologist with the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Marine Fisheries, suspects was a white shark.

“It’s not likely to be a mako, a blue, a porbeagle, or … any of the coastal sharks,” Skomal says in this Good Morning America video. “All this (adds) up to a white shark being the most likely candidate.”

If Skomal confirms that it was indeed a white shark who bit Myers — who’s doing just fine, by the way — it will be “the first attack by a great white in Massachusetts since a fatal strike in 1936,” according to a story published in Wednesday’s edition of the Boston Herald.

While some on Cape Cod have suggested that the presence of white sharks in the area is good for the tourism industry, others think it’s time for man to prevent future “attacks” (a misleading word if ever there was one) by diminishing the species’ food supply.

The Boston Herald reported on Thursday that “tourism in Truro and other parts of Cape Cod where there have been shark sightings this summer appears to have received a slight boost, if it has been affected at all.”

Thursday’s Boston Herald report tells us that “up until (Myers’ shark encounter on Monday), media coverage of the sightings actually had increased business overall because of tourists hoping to spot a shark, said Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.”

Many humans, you see, like to admire wildlife as long as doing so doesn’t ruin their vacations.

From Wednesday’s Boston Herald story: “‘Nature is out of balance,’ said Michael Snell, a former Truro beach commissioner. ‘Until we start harvesting seals, we are going to keep having these kind of problems.'”

Seals, it should be pointed out, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

Brian Rothschild, the Montgomery Charter Professor of Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, was quoted in Wednesday’s Boston Herald story as saying, “Society has some tough decisions to make … Most people believe the seals are attracting the sharks, and the only thing they can do is control the seal population. But to do that would require a revision of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and that’s a big deal.”

Skomal was quoted in Wednesday’s Boston Herald report as saying, “I think, clearly, we’re going to have to live with the scenario of having a robust seal population and white sharks responding to it.”

But it was in yet another Boston Herald report — this one published on Thursday — that the voice of reason appeared.

George Burgess, the director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, told the Boston Herald that “unless there is a huge modification in human behavior … you can expect more attacks over time. It’s something we can predict with some certainty unless people decide not to go in the water. We are not going to eliminate the situation.”

Unfortunately, there will always be those who advocate any measure that might “eliminate the situation” (to borrow Burgess’ words). These are the unsophisticated greed-heads who’d just assume “harvest” (Snell’s word) any species that poses even an indirect threat to ours. These are the folks who travel to Las Vegas to experience Europe, the folks who experience our planet’s most magnificent creatures through safety glass, the folks who admire wildlife as long as doing so doesn’t pose even the slightest risk.

These are the folks who give us every reason to aggressively “manage” (a euphemism) the world’s human population.

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