The first summer after a 26-year-old man was attacked and killed by a shark on Cape Cod, the community searches for solutions

By Colleen Cronin
June 28, 2019 06:05 PM
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As the busiest season on Cape Cod begins, this year the local community has bigger problems to consider than dealing with traffic and making Fourth of July plans.

Last September, a 26-year-old man was attacked and killed by a Great White shark at a beach in Wellfleet, a small coastal town on Cape Cod.

Arthur Medici’s death marked the first fatal attack in Massachusetts since the 1930s and was the only fatal shark attack in the United States in 2018. His death came only a month after another man was attacked at a beach a town over, the Cape Cod Times reported.

Reminders of the attack are constant, especially as the season is getting started. This week, there has already been one shark sighting in the area, according to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, and tragically, a 21-year-old American college student was killed in a shark attack in the Bahamas on Wednesday.

The first summer after the fatal attack, the area is working to come up with a solution to the problem.

Arthur Medici
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Suggested solutions have included a buoy that would detect shark activity and alert swimmers, an underwater fence that would keep sharks out of swimming areas, and even a bounty on seals, the Great Whites’ biggest source of food, according to the Cape Cod Times.

“The fact that sharks are there, I think we’re wired as humans to be fearful of any predator that’s above the food chain from where we are,” Brian Carlstrom, the Cape Cod National Seashore superintendent, tells PEOPLE. “It’s a concern, absolutely, and we had an unfortunate tragedy with a fatality last September and a very serious injury about just a month earlier. I’m absolutely concerned and want to be as prepared as we possibly can.”

Carlstrom oversees roughly 40 miles of coastline, home to many Atlantic Great Whites.

Two people look out at Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, after it was closed following a shark attack that killed Arthur Medici in September 2018
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Although Jaws was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard’s shores back in the 1970s and the Cape has become known for its summer visitors, shark-infested waters have not been the norm for the area.

“It’s a wild marine environment, and the sharks have been away and not present in the numbers they are in many, many years, and the seals were hunted to near extinction,” Carlstrom says.

As federal laws began protecting seals, their populations increased and the sharks came to feast, he explains.

Since the attacks, towns across the Cape have been trying to protect beachgoers. One town on the seashore narrowly rejected a $100,000 shark fence at an annual town meeting and money donated by the community for the shark-detecting buoy was returned, the Cape Cod Times reported.

The high tech solutions are “intriguing, and it would be amazing to be able to do something that’s reliable and cost-effective and completely thought out at some point in the future,” Carlstrom says, but it is uncertain that a fence or a buoy could work in some of the Cape’s roughest and most dynamic waters.

One of the more controversial ideas, offering rewards for killing seals, is illegal, as the Marine Mammal Protection Act currently protects the animals.

“A guy got killed, a guy got bit, this is all new to the Cape,” local sports fisherman Jeff Kadesh told the Boston Herald following the deadly attack. “You got to say, ‘Why are all of the sharks here all of a sudden?’ It’s because of the seals … So, you cut off the food source and they’re going to go somewhere else.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, and those [opinions] are certainly a part of the discussion, but we are required to conform with the Marine Animal Protection Act,” Carlstrom says.

Carlstrom emphasizes the need for education, saying that since the attack last year, they have been adding more signs to remind beachgoers of the risks. He also encourages people to look at the Cape Cod Nations Seashore website and be “shark smart.”

“What’s so different about Cape Cod from other areas around the world where white sharks are present and people are recreating is that the recreation here developed when the white sharks and seals weren’t present,” he says, explaining that people have to break bad habits developed when waters were safer and make an effort not to swim or surf by themselves.

In case of an attack, many beaches have added call boxes so that emergency personnel can be reached even from remote areas of Cape Cod’s shores. Lifeguards receive “stop-the-bleed training,” and visitors can now find tourniquets and hemorrhagic bandages right on the beach.

“We still have over 4 million visitors a year coming here — about a million of those use our beaches,” says Carlstrom. “I‘ve personally been out on the beaches the past few weekends, and a lot of people are still coming and choosing to recreate here on Cape Cod, and it’s a great place to do that.”